A DC animated adaption of one of Batman’s best stories with the voice talents of Hamill and Conroy. How could this not be one of the best Batman films in recent memory…Right?
Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) is a DC animated adaption of the graphic novel of the same name directed by Sam Liu. It stars Kevin Conroy as the caped crusader himself as he deals with his complicated relationship with partner Batgirl (Tara Strong) and Joker’s (Mark Hamill) new sinister plot attempting to prove that deep down everyone is one bad day away from going mad.
The Killing Joke comic is widely considered as one of Batman’s best graphic novels, and the quintessential Bats-Joker story in their long history. Therefore, its a shame to say that the movie version does not live up to the source material. While the majority is almost a shot-for-shot recreation of the comic, the film also boasts an additional 30 minutes of story at the beginning apparently designed to flesh out Batgirl as a character and make the events of the graphic novel more impactful. And it just doesn’t work. Not only does this segment feel like a completely different film, what it does to Batgirl doesn’t strengthen her as a character so much that it her destroys her. I’m a massive fan of Barbara Gordon, but sadly the highly intelligent and driven comics version has been replaced with a horny teen that pens after the Dark Knight himself for unbelievable reasons. How the freaking hell did the writers decide that altering the mentor relationship between Barbara and Bruce into a completely unnecessary romance would improve her character?! Its a baffling creative choice and unfortunately undermined almost the entire experience for me. This movie actually would have been better served as a short film rather than a feature length due to the new material needed to bolster the run-time was so poor.
But now that massive flaw is out of the way, there is still plenty to enjoy in The Killing Joke. As I said its very comic accurate and so touches on all the fascinating ideas the graphic novel does, including Joker’s ‘origin’, the notion of ‘one bad day’ and ultimately how the Joker and Batman are perfect parallels. Not only that, but the disturbing and dark elements of the comic appear intact (which is likely what warranted the higher rating), making this a happily adult-oriented Batman escapade that the character needs in many respects. The voice casts also are, of course, perfect. Conroy’s time is limited, but used to its full potential, and Hamill gives the Joker performance of a lifetime, knocking out one iconic line after another (as well as an impressive musical number). Tara Strong also lives up to her name (even if her material is poor) and Ray Wise gives an excellent uncomfortable performance as Gordon, so all around the voices deliver. As an overall adaption of the graphic novel, its solid. Its just dragged down by the most unnecessary first act in recent memory, and sadly only barely manages to recover.
Removing the first half an hour of The Killing Joke and you would have an authentic almost shot-for-shot recreation of the graphic novel. But unfortunately, they just had to go ruin Batgirl and shoe-horn in so much unnecessary material that the final product suffers as a whole. This is not the film we deserve, nor the one we need right now. Shame. But at least we’ll always have the original graphic novel.
General Audiences: Meh
Film Buffs: Meh
True Believers (Batman): Recommended
Winner of the 2016 Batsie Award for Fear of Victory.