Batman: The Killing Joke

The Killing Joke is one of the greatest graphic novels of all time.  Perhaps my favorite Batman story, and, certainly, my favorite Joker story of all time.  It was brutal and vicious and very psychological.  Of course, when I heard that the book was being adapted into an animated movie by DC and that it was going to be rated R, I was very excited.

And even more exciting was that Fathom Events would be hosting the movie on the big screen in select movie theaters for one night only.  Well, that eventually became two nights only (as they added July 26th to the original July 25th date) but I knew that I wanted to see this on the big screen.  The DC animated movies have always been extremely well done, and I was sure that The Killing Joke would be no exception.

After seeing it, I would say for sure that it was no exception, but it was not quite as brilliant as I thought it might be.

Here was the thing.  The movie added about 30 minutes of story to the graphic novel.  I understand that fully.  There was no way that the graphic novel’s original story could be adapted for a run time around 90 minutes. As it turned out, with the new material, the film ran for 76 minutes.  And, the only other option was really changing the story around and just barely being recognized as The Killing Joke.

Marvel Studios do this very well.  Captain America: Civil War doe snot resemble the comic series at all.  Basically the theme or overall concept is similar while what the movie does is very different.  That works for Marvel Studios.  However, it would have been disappointing for the animated version of the Killing Joke to follow suit.  The animated version of The Dark Knight Returns was remarkably adapted.

Because of that, DC had to add content to the story.  They chose to spend those thirty minutes or so focusing on Batgirl (Tara Strong).  That was an interesting choice, since Batgirl really is a peripheral character in the Killing Joke.  She was important, but only for motivation.  And there is actually less of that here.

That first 30 minutes feels long, and not vital to what was going to happen.  The whole story arc of Batgirl and the villain Paris (Maury Sterling) was just too tacked on.  The controversial sex scene did not seem to push forward the story either.  If that first section was its own animated episode, it would be fine, but here, it just felt superfluous.

However, once Batman went to see Joker at Arkham Asylum, only to discover that this was not the actual Joker, the story really picked up,  Of course, this was where they started to make a much more faithful adaptation of the comic.

The back story of the Joker is heartbreaking and tragic.  You can almost feel sorry for him, despite the maniacal murderer that he developed into.  This is one of the most epic confrontations between these two characters who are opposites of each other, and the story is such a tale of strength and of the human spirit.

The ending is spot on perfection.  If you do not know how The Killing Joke ends, I will not spoil it for you, but the adaptation to the screen was wonderful.

Reuniting Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the Batman and the Joker was a masterstroke.  No voice actors have nailed their parts like these two.  Mark Hamill’s Joker is so iconic that this is the way most of the generation of Batman fans imagine the Joker to sound.  Many other voice actors who have tried to tackle these two characters over the years simply do imitations.  So it was amazing to hear these two maestros at work again.

The evening’s activities began with a short interview with Mark Hamill, detailing his past as Joker and his reasoning for returning to this role.  I really enjoyed his comments and his story.

Ray Wise (Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks) voiced Commissioner Gordon and he did a fine job as well.  I have always enjoyed Wise’s work and I am glad he continues to add to his resume.

The animation was nothing to write home about, being kind of choppy at times.  The score though was dark and beautiful, perfectly complimenting the darkness that was happening on screen.  The song The Joker sang was a highlight.  Mark Hamill does an amazing job with that song.  There was a short documentary about the music after the film that was also very entertaining.

Overall, the film does a magnificent job of adapting one of the greatest comic issues of all time, but the tacked on section of the film, while understandable and acceptable, was, at best, fine.  It felt too forced and did not add anything to the story that would follow.  However, when you get through the Batgirl material, this film really takes off, with the return of the iconic voices of Batman and Joker, and the dark and twisted story of the Joker and his origin.

3.7 stars

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