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Batman: The Killing Joke
15 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Batman: The Killing Joke is a rare misfire from DC's animated studios. This comes as a unfortunate shock because it is an adaptation of the very dark and well received graphic novel by Alan Moore. While the animation is as solid as always and Mark Hamill shines again as the Joker, the whole thing feels very messy and disjointed.

As you have probably heard this can be partially chalked up to the prologue of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon. This section does not appear in the original graphic novel but I was happy to give it a chance. Unfortunately, it's not so much a prologue because it lasts over 30 minutes, almost half the run time of the film. This first half features stereotypical side characters and half baked villains like Paris Franz that only appear for the first half of the film.

Tara Strong is okay here as Batgirl, but the script does her no favors. Instead of writing Barbara as a strong character, screenwriter Brian Azzarello makes her spend most of her time complaining about Batman to her gay co-worker or moping to Batman about how she is ready to take on more responsibility. I was getting ready for her to shout, "It's all master Obi Wan's fault!" As the scene gave me traumatic flashbacks to the Star Wars prequels.

And all this time Batman is a apathetic jerk to Barbara, as you don't get any sense of a partnership between these two. This all builds up to an infuriatingly unearned scene where the two have sex on a roof. At least they didn't do it to Leonard Coen's "Hallelujah". At this point in the film I was sure the prologue was just a ploy for the screenwriter to showcase his DC slash fiction.

After this scene the actual storyline of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke begins and there is a noticeable increase in the quality of the film as Batman arrives at Arkham only to notice that Joker has escaped.

For the life of me I can not think of a good reason why the writers chose not to even reference the Joker until the halfway point. We are introduced to The Joker as he seizes an abandoned carnival. These scenes are also coupled with flashbacks of when the Joker struggling comedian and his transformation to the Joker.

Maybe if the film had the Joker as it's main character, or if the film had a main character at all, these flashbacks could of had more of an impact on me. However, these scenes don't have anything deep to say about the character pathos as much as just showing the Joker's origin story.

The Joker's kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and shoots Barbara Gordon, paralyzing her. At the forty minute mark of a seventy-six minute movie, our the main character is gravely injured and is never to be heard from again. This is one of my biggest grievances with the film are, there is no closure to any of these story lines, making the loathsome prologue ultimately pointless.

In theory and on the page The Joker's intentions for Commissioner Gordon are interesting and profound. He wants to show Gotham that you can take a hero and through a single bad day you can turn him into a villain. He does this by taking the Commissioner on a carnival ride showing naked photos the Joker took of his daughter. However, we don't see the Commissioner in many scenes before he is abducted so we don't get the dramatic tension of his principals clashing with the Joker's.

Nolan applied this very idea to The Dark Knight as Heath Ledger's Joker took the cities hero, Harvey Dent and turned him into a murdering vigilante. It works so damn well in Nolan's film because you see that Dent is a hero that can inspire the city as he spends his time locking up the criminals of Gotham. Which makes it all the more tragic when the loss of Rachel transforms Dent in to a murderous vigilante.

However the musical number, "I Go Looney" juxtaposed with the Commissioner going through the carnival ride screaming his daughter's name made for a really haunting scene.

But this does not excuse the lack of an arc I feel for Commissioner Gordon's character. The closest thing we get is when Batman saves him and he tells Batman to arrest the Joker, "by the books." This is supposed to prove the Joker's philosophy as wrong. But a passing line didn't feel like enough. The themes and the character arc's are handled so poorly in this film.


There are fragments of a better film here but it really takes off. All in all, I wouldn't recommend this film to Batman fans especially fans of the graphic novel. Unless you want to be mad about something.