Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke Animated Film Review and *SPOILERS*

Just One Bad Day

Directed By: Sam Liu
Screenplay By: Brian Azzarello
Executive Producer: Bruce Timm, Sam Register, and many others

*Non Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*

It certainly isn’t a stretch to say that The Killing Joke is one of the most iconic and loved comics of all time. So it isn’t such a surprise that one of the biggest stories in comics for the past year or so has been about the animated film adaptation of the comic. I’ve heard so much about this film for a long time now. We all heard about the film adding a lot to the story in order to make a longer film and of course we all cheered when it was announced that both Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong, and Mark Hamill would be returning to the roles of Batman and The Joker. In addition, almost everyone was happy about the film receiving an R rating. However, not that long ago, the film was leaked on to the internet and suddenly there was a flood of people talking about it. Some people loved the film claiming that it did justice to the original comic. Other people hated the film and claimed it bastardized the story. In addition some spoilers were released by people which had several people in an uproar, forcing the creators of the film to respond. Despite everything though, I was determined to see the film in the theater so I avoided most everything. Some details slipped through the cracks and I was obviously familiar with the story but I was going into the film with very little knowledge about what was added. I had high expectations, but I think that’s fair with a story as great and important as The Killing Joke. Did the film meet these expectations? Let’s jump in and find out.

The part of the film that was added to the story was put at the beginning of the film. We get a story featuring Barbara Gordon as she spends time fighting crime as Batgirl. She faces off against a young mobster named Paris Franz. (Yes, that’s actually his name). Paris and Batgirl face off against each other several times and Paris develops an obsession with her. He even has a prostitute wear a bat mask when he sleeps with her Batman notices this and attempts to throw Barbara off of the case. She talks with her gay coworker about a guy she is seeing but actually uses the conversation to secretly talk about Batman and her role as Batgirl. Despite what Batman has said, Barbara still investigates the case which doesn’t end well for her as she finds herself outmanned and in the middle of a firefight which Batman saves her from.

Batgirl and Batman fight again as he accuses her of simply trying to prove something rather than being smart and unemotional about a case. In the heat of the moment, Barbara attacks Batman. Batman doesn’t attack back but keeps her from hurting him until she gets an upper hand and pins Batman. In the heat of the moment, Barbara kisses Batman before the two end up having sex off-screen. I’ll address this right now as it seems to be one of the biggest complaints that people had with the film. Several people have a problem with the fact that Bruce and Barbara sleep together because of the traditional portrayal of their relationship. Usually, there tends to be more of a father and daughter relationship between the two. This was one of the spoilers that fell through the cracks before I saw the film. I thought it might be a little weird but ultimately, if it was handled well, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. That said, I can’t say that it was handled well. It feels very forced and sudden. I knew it was going to happen and still I was surprised. The film attempts to set it up but does it poorly and it ultimately feels out of place.

Anyway, Barbara notices that Bruce has been avoiding her since the night they spent together so she calls him. During the conversation, he gives her an update about his investigation into Paris and it seems he wants her to stop being Batgirl. She is obviously upset but he ends the conversation. Just then, he is hit with a missile fired by Paris. He is able to get out of the Batmobile before it is destroyed but he is injured in the process. Batgirl, who was hanging out on the rooftops, sees this and decides to hop into action. Batman fights off a few men but it looks like he is pinned when Batgirl shows up and takes out a few more men. Then she has a faceoff with Paris where she beats him mercilessly. She reaches a point where she is being brutal and cruel. She is taking her frustrations out on this man. She finally stops and Paris is taken in. Not long afterwards, she meets with Batman again and returns the Batgirl outfit and weapons to him. This basically ends the new content of this film.

This is when we get the first scene from The Killing Joke comic. Due to the popularity of the comic and the fact that so many know the comic well, I’m going to keep my summary of this section very short. Batman finds that The Joker that sits in Arkham is not actually The Joker but someone simply taking his place. The Joker is loose! We see him purchase a rundown amusement park before we cut to Jim Gordon. Gordon is at his daughter’s house when there is a knock at the door. Barbara is expecting someone so she answers the door to see The Joker in his iconic outfit. He points a gun at her and pulls the trigger before he kidnaps Gordon. Left alone, the Joker begins to undress Barbara and we cut away. During this whole story we get the story of a young comedian who falls on hard times and turns to crime in order to get some money for his family. Unfortunately, due to an accident, his family dies but he is still forced to take part in the robbery. During the robbery, he falls into a vat of chemicals and emerges as The Joker. Anyway, back to the present, Batman is searching for the Joker after visiting Barbara in the hospital and learning about Gordon’s abduction and eventually finds out about the amusement park.

Back with The Joker, he strips down Gordon and forces him on a ghost ride. Within the ghost ride he attacks Gordon’s morals and breaks him down, eventually even showing him pictures of his naked daughter lying on the ground, bleeding heavily. Gordon emerges from the ride a shell of a man and The Joker puts him in a cage. Batman finally arrives at the amusement park and fights off some of The Joker’s cronies before saving Gordon. The Joker had claimed that he had driving Jim to the brink of madness but Batman tells him that Barbara is still alive and Gordon asks him to do things by the book. After a fight with Joker, Batman finally captures him and The Joker tells him a joke. He and Batman laugh together as the camera turns away and we hear the Joker’s laugh fade away while Batman’s laugh remains strong. This is where the story ends. However, there is an after-credits scene in which Barbara, now in a wheelchair, goes into a secret room in her home and becomes Oracle.

Let’s talk about this film as a whole. Ultimately, it is still Alan Moore’s story and I like that story. That said, I don’t believe this to be an adaptation that does it justice. In addition, the section of the film that focuses on Batgirl just seems to have a different tone from the rest of the film. Once we reach that first scene from The Killing Joke, it’s like a switch has been turned and a new story is happening. It feels like I watched a 30 minute episode of a Batgirl show and it was followed by the actual Killing Joke film. Then there is the R rating. So many people (myself included) believed that this film NEEDED an R rating in order to portray the comic correctly. So, when news of an R rating came out, lots of people thought it was a step in the right direction. That said, this film is not an R rated film. I mean, technically it is, but with exception to characters saying “shit” a couple times, this film might have gotten a PG-13 rating. Sure, there are sexual themes but no sex is actually shown and the scene where Gordon is showed pictures of his naked daughter are all placed in a way that would prevent any nudity from showing. You can clearly tell that she is naked and bleeding but you don’t actually see anything. So, if you had taken a few curse words out, you would have a PG-13 rated Killing Joke film. If an R rating was a necessity for you to approve of this film, this film fails. There is plenty to like about this film though. First off, the voice actors did a great job (as to be expected), and the action in the film is pretty solid. The animation is pretty bland, but there are a couple scenes that are beautifully animated and really shine. However, when it comes to how I would describe this film to someone, a simple sentence comes to mind. The film was better than I feared, but worse than I hoped.

Bits and Pieces

Batman: The Killing Joke has a lot to live up to and unfortunately, it does not succeed. Granted, the film is by no means terrible. There is a lot to like about the film but also a lot to dislike. The film did not take advantage of the R rating that it was given and the added sections of the movie seems to be very disjointed from everything else. Is this a bad film? Absolutely not. The voice acting is amazing and the action is thrilling. However, if you ask if the film captures the brilliance of the source material, the answer is a resounding no.


1 comment:

  1. I would assume that as animated films go, the stuff they do here deserves an R-rating, just so parents aren't confused that this might somehow be totally kid-friendly (as animated films tend to be). It's a sliding scale, then. The Red Hood movie was fairly graphic for animated material. I would assume anything that takes a step up from that should come with the appropriate warning, which is what the R-rating is all about.

    I never really understood why the graphic novel was so beloved. It recklessly ruined a character while making a general point about how the Joker is homicidally crazy. But didn't we already know that? I've been known to be contentious about Alan Moore material in the past, but I honestly believe this one gets a free pass simply because it is Alan Moore material. I don't know how it was accepted into canon otherwise. Like other one-shots, it really shouldn't have been. I like the idea a disabled hero brought to the table later on, but that could have easily been achieved with a new creation. But anyway, my main point here is about the R-rating.