**SPOILERS AHEAD YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!**
Ok, so Pedro Bear and I went last night to watch the animated Killing Joke. Having been one of the first comic books that Bear gave me for our Pedro Pimps Pulp segments on our podcast, I was extremely excited when it was being turned into a movie. I was even more excited once the news was let out that it was going to have Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy and Tara Strong as the voice actors. AND EVEN MORE EXCITED when they decided to go with an “R” rating.
I bought the tickets as soon as they went on sale and was counting down the days. Earlier this week some hateful reviews had been let out that I decided to ignore. After all, in this geek world of ours, critics are harsh and I often end up enjoying a movie they bash.
So we get into the theatre and met up with some fans and sat on the edge of our seats waiting for the movie to start. The feature started with a short interview with Mark Hamill talking about how he got the role of the Joker originally. When the movie starts, we get an entirely new beginning, with the main focus being Barbara Gordon. It would have been an interesting story had it been a stand-alone episode for an animated series. However, with its attachment to The Killing Joke, it was not ok. I was actually rather bothered about it. They completely watered down Barbara’s character and made her this whiny, boy-crazed weak individual. I can only assume they thought they were giving the audience more information on her so that we cared more? Then we get this really awkward sex scene between her and Batman that just felt thrown in there and completely unnecessary. Unless they were trying to get the audience to understand why Batman would care so much about what would eventually happen to Barbara. Although, given that he is Batman, she is Gordon’s daughter and you know he hates Joker…we didn’t really need a weird rip-and-dip love affair to give us that sense of compassion from Batman.
Now on to the actual Killing Joke:
THE GOOD: The voice acting was absolutely fantastic. It felt just the way it needed to feel when it came down to their participation in this movie. Mark Hamill was absolutely fantastic. The time lapse between this movie and his last performance as Joker did not show. Actually I think this may have been his best Joker performance yet. Of course having Kevin Conroy and Tara Strong just turned up the heat on the awesomeness. At the end of
the film we got to see a short documentary on how they composed the score for the movie. It was a beautifully strung together score for the movie. My favorite instruments are the cello and the violin and it was heavily used throughout the entire flick so I was extremely please.
THE BAD: Ok, the bad was pretty bad. I really just disliked the way they made this movie a Barbara Gordon focus right down to the very end. This is really a Joker story. To my knowledge (remember I’m just a noob) this is the only Joker “origin” story we get, right? But yet it’s all about Barbara? Hmmm..I would say more but the rest of my comments must be saved for….
THE UGLY: So…this 2016 animated movie looks like crap. It felt like their entire budget went to just the voice actors and not the actual animation. The artwork falls flat several times and you can see various moments where things were added in later to save on time/money. Oh, and my two most important scenes in the entire book were completely washed over. Remember that moment when Joker falls into the chemicals? Remember how he crawls out and sees his reflection in the puddle and then loses his mind? Yea….THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. Well he crawls out of the chemicals but he doesn’t see his reflection, because the animators didn’t put it in there.
Do you remember that last comic panel in the book? When you aren’t sure what ends up happening between Batman and Joker, when you are again given the puddle reflection to give you a better idea? Yea, THERE IS NO REFLECTION THERE EITHER! UGH! Seriously, we get a brand new Broadway dance number animation and you can’t give me a freakin’ reflection? Absolute garbage.
Also don’t worry. If you had a question about what happens between Bats and the Joker it will all be answered with a needless scene with Barbara again. Just to be sure that they started with and ended with a character THIS STORY WAS NOT ABOUT.
Overall, I give it a 5 out of 10. Worth the watch for the voice acting and that’s about it. Q Out!
While The Killing Joke is not my favorite Bat story, it ranks high in things I wanted to see. When DC started getting heavy into their animated adaptations, I knew it was an inevitability that we’d see TKJ at some point. When it was announced that it would be done with the Conroy, Hamill and Strong in their original roles, I knew it would be something special. However, it wasn’t without its fair share of concerns.
TKJ is probably most famous for its portrayal of Barbara Gordon as the victim of a violent crime in service of Joker’s plan to drive her father mad. Her only purpose is to “raise the stakes” in what is possibly Batman and Joker’s final confrontation. It’s an ignoble end and use of a popular character that is only redeemed later by Barbara’s later transformation into Oracle, the information dealer for the Bat family. Adapting TKJ would have to tread very carefully with her place in the story, considering the sheer amount of criticism it has gotten in recent years.
The second major issue would be the art. Brian Bolland’s art in TKJ is phenomenal and it is considered one of the best looking books in the entire pantheon of Bat titles. Getting that art style on screen would be expensive and, considering the budget for all of DC’s animated flicks, would probably get altered in significant ways. When the first trailer popped up, it became clear that not only did it get altered, it just didn’t look good, period. But hey, you know what? I decided to keep an open mind about it and just go into the showing with an open mind.
The movie begins with around 20 minutes of prologue, showing Barbara’s last case with Batman. In it, she fights a mob creepo, goes over the edge, pounds the guy’s face in and decides that she doesn’t want to possibly go over the edge in the future and leaves the cowl behind. Oh, and she has sex with Bruce on a rough top underneath a spooky gargoyle.
A sexual relationship between Babs and Bruce isn’t new. In the time between the original Batman Animated Series and Batman Beyond, the two had a thing going. The difference here is the way they angle her in the entire segment. In TKJ, she’s after Bruce the entire time and has a hard crush on him. So when she finally does bang him, she’s all tied into knots and is all confused and mopey. OK, that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad idea for a story. I’ve seen plenty of people hook up with somebody complicated and leave themselves a mess afterward. But when you’re trying to make a character a more active participant in a story that brutalizes them, the love-struck and confused angle is not the way to give them more agency. If it was framed like the above paragraph and you took out the hookup, you would have a Barbara that deals with the case at hand and decides for her own well-being to quit the cowl. It strengthens her and the tragedy that follows is more powerful. Instead, it just makes Bruce sad because an old friend and flame got hurt. It maybe works as an OVA prequel for Batman Beyond, but it definitely doesn’t work as a prequel for TKJ. It’s a shame too, as Strong’s work is great in this section of the movie.
As for the TKJ itself, it’s a faithful adaptation down to mimicking many panels from the original work. Hamill and Conroy’s work is stellar, delivering Alan Moore’s lines almost exactly how I imagined. In particular, this is some of the best work Hamill has done as the Joker. The Broadway-esque number that was added in during Jim Gordon’s torture trip was deliciously twisted and the behind-the-scenes feature after the movie showed Hamill getting into it. Conroy has less to work with here, as this is Joker’s story through and through, but he delivers the necessary amount of stoicism and manages to add several emotional beats several times that gives Bruce the right amount of humanity in a story that pushes its characters to the mental limit. Strong’s work is solid here, but she isn’t on screen much in the later half.
The real disappointment comes with the art and animation. While I was worried about how TKJ would look, I wasn’t prepared for just how many corners had to be cut. Most of the movie has low-detail stiff characters walking around and delivering their lines in the curtest way possible. The colors feel dull and the scenes that needed to be animated well are not. Joker’s reveal post-Ace Chemicals and the final seconds of the feature both feel anti-climactic and are almost after thoughts. I didn’t expect Mask of the Phantasm-style fluidity or Bolland-like detail, but come on, those are your biggest moments! You need to be able to nail the very moment that a man gets pushed beyond their limits and loses their sanity and they didn’t stick it. The whole thing just fizzles out. There’s also a scene added as an epilogue that shifts the story back toward Barbara and really feels out of place. It’s a reminder of the lackluster opening and it’s an added stumble on a bad landing.
I would recommend watching TKJ, but with some heavy caveats. First, skip the new material. Second, don’t go into the adaptation with high expectations and be ready to hear some of the best voice actors be really damn good at their jobs. Third, skip the epilogue and go straight to credits. If you do that, you’ll find the great in an overall mediocre package.