Grappling with Change in ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ (Movie Review)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Story by: Brian Bolland and Alan Moore
This is one of, if not the, most difficult reviews I’ve found myself writing. Not because I had writers block or I hadn’t had the time to sit down and crank out this article. Rather this is one of, if not the only, piece I’ve reviewed that has left me feeling unsure. In order to parse out my own thoughts I’ve decided to break this article down into two main chunks: what worked and what didn’t.
Starting with what worked, I feel this animated movie is a great encapsulation of Moore and Bolland’s original 1988 comic. We receive the flashbacks to the Joker’s past; dialogue that is a direct parallel to the book itself; scenes and shots plucked right out of the story; and a number of other things that make us feel that we’re just watching the book in motion. Meanwhile, the voice acting behind the characters is superb. It’s hard to imagine another animated Joker done other than by Mark Hamill. The visual component is done well too for the animation is great.
I also enjoyed the more prominent role that Batgirl played in the film. While the original comic didn’t feature her nearly as much, the interaction between her and the Joker still resonates in DC’s more recent publications. The film was predominately divided into two perspectives: Batgirl’s and Batman’s. It did well to introduce the audience to Batgirl and, in turn, make the later scenes more impactful.
While these elements were well handled, there were those that left me feeling wary about the film. While the spotlight eventually shifts away from Batgirl, I found myself feeling as though the film had taken a different spin than the comic on her involvement. While the audience still carries with them the relationship between her and Batman as the plot progresses, I felt like this made The Killing Joke seem as more a revenge story for Batman. Standing opposed to how the original comic made it seem as though there was an ultimatum that had been reached between Batman and the Joker. Rather than a grappling between good and evil, the film seemed to take on some traits of a romance fueled revenge story.
When I finished watching the film I found myself feeling as though it was lacking in some way. That it somehow didn’t quite stand up to the original publication. Maybe it was because I knew the ending already. Maybe it was because I don’t watch too many of DC’s animated films. Maybe it was because when the film got to the plot of the the comic it was almost too word-for-word. I’m not quite sure what it was that left me feeling that there could have been more, but I walked away from it feeling as though there was something missing. Ultimately, my largest gripe with the film was that I didn’t feel that sense of ambiguity at the end that I did with the comic.
[Upcoming spoiler alert]
At the end of the comic I found myself wondering if Batman finally broke his code and killed the Joker. As the laughing was no longer shown, I wondered maybe he did do it. Maybe one of the running themes throughout the comic and film, either the Joker or Batman having to die, had happened. Although at the end of the movie it seemed so much more played down. It seemed as if Batman had held to his code and that sense of what if didn’t exist for me. Perhaps the film wasn’t able to entirely capture the soul that exists in the original comic.
[End of spoilers]
Despite my uncertainties, I feel as though those behind this film did an overall good job of translating the comic to the screen. While I felt the introduction could have been toned down or shortened and my above feelings about the ending, it does come off as an apt adaptation of that comic that, despite its infamous status, has itself become canonical in the world of comic books. Overall, I would recommend this to a friend, but would first suggest that they read the comic itself first.