The Killing Joke is one of those books that every Joker story inevitably gets compared to and for good reason. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland crafted a psychological horror story that possibly explains the Joker’s madness and has influenced Batman/Joker stories for years to come.
And now it’s been translated to an animated film.
EDITOR’S NOTE: SPOILERS from here on out, kids!
As a fan of The Killing Joke, I was pretty excited when it was announced that Bruce Timm was not only doing an R-rated version of the film but he was also bringing back Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to voice Batman and Joker. I am a huge fan of the original Batman: The Animated Series so this was pretty much everything I had wanted.
That being said, I knew it was going to be a tough road. The graphic novel is short so I was curious how they were going to extend the movie. And would they keep it as dark as the original story was?
The answers turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag.
The film opens with a bit of a prologue to the actual Killing Joke story. We get to know Batgirl (voiced by Tara Strong) a little bit more in an attempt to put more emotional investment into the character for later events. While I completely understand what the film producers were trying to do, it fell a little flat for me. There’s a particular spot where in a fit of anger, Batgirl has sex with Batman. It just seemed awkward and out of place. Shortly afterward, Barbra Gordon gives up being Batgirl at which point we get into the meat of the original graphic novel.
The rest of the film is really faithful to the original comic. From the dialogue to the more disturbing scenes, it’s pretty much all in there. I was kind of surprised how faithful it was even with it’s more adult rating. You know that scene in the comic where it sort of suggests that the Joker paralyzed Barbara Gordon and then, at the very least, was sexually inappropriate with her? Yup, it’s in there and it’s really well done. In the graphic novel, it’s never made clear if Joker just undressed Barbra or whether he went further. It’s left a little ambiguous, letting your mind make the places in between the panels as any number of horrors.
But at the same time, portions of the film seem like it’s missing something. It’s hard to explain what that is but I’ll do my best.
When this movie hits it, it smashes it out of the park. Mark Hamill is just fantastic and this is probably his best Joker performance to date. He had often stated any time he had walked away from playing the Joker, the one story he was guaranteed to come back for was The Killing Joke and it shows. Every time he talks, it is pure magic. Kevin Conroy also does a pretty solid job as does Tara Strong. The animation for the second half of the film really does some great things and the Joker design looks as close as we’re going to get Brian Bolland’s art moving on a screen.
So what’s the bad? Why am I down on it? I mean, everything I asked for is in this film, right?
The prologue didn’t work for me. I completely understand what they were trying to do and honestly, maybe it’s because I’m a lifelong comic fan and that interfered with my viewing It might come off better for those who don’t know anything for Batgirl. The animation in the prologue also seemed kind of wonky in spots, especially compared to the later half of the film.
I can’t remember who it was (I want to say it was Alan Moore or Grant Morrison) but someone once said that part of the beauty of comics was the fact you can do things there that you can’t do in any other medium. Maybe The Killing Joke is an example of this. There are bits of dialogue that just seemed weird or flat but at the same time, I’m sure are in the original story. Other than the prologue, I think this is as faithful an adaptation we are likely going to get.
Overall, can I recommend it? Yes, but with a caveat. If for no other reason, see this movie to hear the amazing performance that Mark Hamill gives. I’m not sure if this qualifies for an Emmy or an Oscar but if this doesn’t win some sort of award, it’s a shame.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!