There are lots of animated films coming out right now. Therefore, I’m doing an Animation Week here on the blog, starting with:
Batman: The Killing Joke has to be some sort of dream come true for long-time comic book aficionados. Images from the pages of what must be Batman’s most beloved story are brought to the big screen, accompanied by the most beloved voices to ever have portrayed the Caped Crusader and his clown-colored nemesis. A classic story by Alan Moore, brought to life by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. What could conceivably go wrong? Or at the very least, more wrong than Suicide Squad.
The Killing Joke, based on Moore’s similarly named graphic novel, does have shortcomings and letdowns. It goes without saying that it doesn’t hold too bright of a candle to its source material, but as a short and sweet animation about everyone’s favorite Gotham knight, it’s satisfactory. I will be reviewing the film as is, without too many comparisons to the book that inspired it.
The movie starts on a prologue about the final days of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Conroy) and Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Tara Strong) fighting crime together. This, to me, is the movie’s most obvious drawback. While Barbara does play a minor part in what transpires later in the film, most of Batgirl’s storyline as presented here could have been deleted without the movie suffering in any way. I am also told that her intimate relationship with Bruce and the needlessly cruel way in which she’s eventually abused by The Joker isn’t accurate to the book, but as I was saying, I’m not planning to harp on that.
After the prologue, it is the story you all know. The Joker (Hamill) escapes Arkham Asylum and gets his pale paws on Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) and takes him to an abandoned theme park that Joker and his goons have turned into a surrealist horror show of insanity. Batman follows him there, as we gradually about The Joker’s murky past and the way his irreparable psyche operates – both in flashbacks and in that one monologue from The Joker himself, which is still my favorite piece of writing from any comic book ever, where he explains that insanity is the only sane response to the world we live in. Then there’s the ending, which is as ambiguously disturbing as you’d hope. I won’t give it away here but I trust most of my geek friends know how it goes.
The voice work in this film is outstanding and there are several stars on board that I’ve yet to bring up. John DiMaggio appears as a high-profile kingpin named Fransesco (who has a nephew humorously named Paris Franz), Brian George plays Alfred, and even Bruce Timm, one of the main developers of DC’s animated universe and the creator of Batman: The Animated Series, gets a bit part. There is also a Two-Face cameo during a scene in Arkham Asylum, though he doesn’t really say anything.
When it comes to creating the right atmosphere with music and visuals, this movie certainly gets the job done. With that said, however, I do recognize the criticisms people have made regarding its unnecessary Batgirl plot and a handful of animation flaws.
The imagery in many parts is well-drawn and powerful with some great dramatic angles and lighting effects, but the animation department leaves a lot to be desired overall. The art quality is rather inconsistent, with a multitude of scenes that look more crude and have less motion than even the Motion Comic version of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. There are sequences in this movie that made me wonder if maybe we should have given the Motion Comic treatment to yet another one of Moore’s work. It may have been generally more pleasing to the eye.
In spite of the Marvel-biased and boring critic that I clearly must be since I disliked two DC comic book movies within that span of a singular year, I am awarding The Killing Joke a 3/5 and a thumbs-up. It is an interpretation of the Batman character that succeeds in being dark and brutal while still supplying us with characters that seem like real people who have real conversations and real senses of humor. If I were a Hollywood filmmaker named, say, Snack Zyder, I’d have watched this film with a notepad and a pencil at hand. And then stabbed myself with the pencil and made an excessively CGI-heavy “Rated E for Edgy” Batman vs. Superman movie out of it.