BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE review

Before anyone asks, no, I’ve not read the comic book. I’m not a comic reader. Having said that, I love my superhero TV shows and movies. Say what you will about DC’s cinematic universes, it’s hard to deny that their animated films are top-notch that even Marvel doesn’t have down. I am aware of the comic book this is based on, of course, and I have a general idea of what the actual story is about, but what really sucked me in is that this will not only be the first R-rated DC animated film, but it’s featuring the returning voice talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker, the same men who’ve been voicing these characters for twenty damn mother fucking glorious years. Some added sprinkles in the flavors of Tara Strong, John DiMaggio, Nolan North, and Fred Tatasciore make this outing to be a delicious epic sundae.

Early reviews though seem to have this movie fairly mixed. As I understand it, the movie actually expands on the comic by giving, if I remember correctly, Batgirl an origin story as well. I haven’t read too much into the early reactions as I don’t want my review to be influenced by other opinions that would probably have me going in with a preconception that wouldn’t be natural to my mind. I’m still excited regardless. But where do I stand with the flick? Is it yet another fantastic addition to animated DC library, or is it a disappointment? This is my honest opinion of BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE.

(SUMMARY)

Based on the celebrated and controversial comic book of the same name. Barbara Gordon (voiced by Tara Strong), aka Batgirl, fails at capturing a criminal name Paris Franz (voiced by Maury Sterling), who develops a sexual fascination with Batgirl. Batman believes that she can’t handle the case after both telling her to stay out of it and failing to subdue him a second time. Matters only get worse later on. One night, Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) has escaped from Arkham Asylum and Batman is desperate to find him. He manages to take control of an old carnival, some lackeys with physical deformations, and tracks down Barbara at her home while her father Commissioner Jim Gordon (voiced by Ray Wise) visits. Joker shoots Barbara in the stomach which tears through her back and captures Jim, with the intention of proving Jim and everyone else in the world, is just one bad day away from being as crazy as himself.

(REVIEW)

This is probably the most fascinating and deeply complex Batman story I have ever seen. It’s also probably the most heavily flawed of DC’s animated films.

You’re reading that right. The first third, maybe half of the movie, isn’t about the Joker or even feature him in appearance or reference. In this ninety minute movie, at least thirty to forty-five minutes worth of it is about Batgirl. Yup, in a Batman/Joker-centric flick, we dedicate a good chunk of that time to Batgirl. I have a couple theories as to why this is.

Theory one: I wonder if the makers had cut out too much content from the comic and inadvertently made the intended story too short, so they needed a giant-ass filler. Having not read the comic, was it overloaded with too much exposition or whatever? Or was the story itself very short? Seems like they got all the important stuff down. But what do I know?

Theory two: they clearly wanted Batgirl to be properly established before the story got underway and to give Batman a deeper reason to hunt down the Joker for some reason. Er, well, I guess shooting Batgirl and paralyzing her is good enough motivation, but… alright, let me dive into my thoughts as to why this storyline was attached to this movie.

A lot of the recent DC animated movies, specifically the Batman ones, are all sequels to one another. SON OF BATMAN is directly followed by BATMAN VS. ROBIN, then BAD BLOOD, and so on and so forth. At the very end of BAD BLOOD, nearly all of the “Bat” characters make an appearance with one notable exception: Batgirl. She just has one cameo, right before the credits roll. What followed was JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS. Wasn’t exactly going to dive into a story featuring the fan-favorite. Fans could easily feel a tad jipped to be forced to go without a Batgirl movie. Twice now at first glance since TITANS and KILLING JOKER were next and at some point, a solo Batgirl animated film was cancelled (WONDER WOMAN sales were slow, yet it’s considered to be one of the higher grossing animated movies… you interpret that as you will). I feel like since KILLING JOKE is about Joker doing horrible things to Batgirl, the story took advantage of her lack of solo films and opted to include that story so the audience would get attached and invested in her character so we would hate or fear Joker that much more. I do want to fully acknowledge that it is very likely KILLING JOKE is just an independent story separate from the other animated Batman films and all this is just a coincidence, but the timing of it does seem to be a little odd, wouldn’t you say? Especially since they just announced that the next DC animated movie would be JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK. Again, no Batgirl solo film.

In some ways, this works. In other ways, it’s an incredibly distracting detour. Yes, Batgirl is pretty bad-ass. She’s a fun character that seems to be like a classic Robin who’s in it for the adventure and thrill, but still has that serious edge to her. And it can’t be denied that Strong is fabulous lending her voice to this character that has so far been overlooked in the New 52 animated movies. However, I do complain that there is inconsistency in her fighting. Here’s what I mean, Batgirl has her first encounter with Paris. He escapes, she wants a second go at him. They meet again and now it’s a real hand-to-hand fight. She… gets her ass kicked. Er… okay, does Batman suck at training? Batman… who was trained by the greatest ninjas on the planet, the League of Assassins… who trained Dick Greyson who would become Nightwing… Tim Drake who would become Red Robin (Yummm – sorry, had to make that restaurant pun)… Jason Todd who would become the second Red Hood… I seriously doubt that Batgirl would so effectively get her ass handed to her BY A THUG! Even if you could argue that that she simply didn’t take to Batman’s training, explain how in another scene, she’d fight Batman himself and kick his ass?! Grr to the umpteenth power!

***SPOILERS***

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And… seriously, was Batman and Batgirl really a thing? Like, did they really have sex in the comics? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if they did, but… was this something fans needed to see? Was this necessary? Was this movie going to fall apart if Bruce and Barbara didn’t fuck? It doesn’t add anything to the story, so no, it wasn’t necessary! Batman doesn’t ever show that he’s more invested in finding Joker after what he did to her. And at the end of the movie, he’s still offering to help him change and having a laugh at Joker’s joke. Shyeah, really convinced you’re there to bring him to justice for what he did to Barbara and Jim. Someone record that shit on a phone and show the Gordons. Yeah, I’ll bet they’d appreciate that scene a lot!

But I do have to say that it’s interesting to see her walk away from being Batgirl after nearly beating Paris to death. She realizes that this life isn’t for her if it means losing her humanity like that. That’s something you don’t see in many superhero movies, to be that honest with themselves that the lifestyle is too demanding.

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***END SPOILERS***

But now moving on to the actual movie we paid to see: Batman and Joker. This stuff is bar-none, the best the film offers. You see how Joker was once a fail stand-up comedian trying to support his pregnant wife. As it turns out, he’s actually not a poorly written character. He’s very sympathetic and Hamill does a good job making him feel like an every-man.

All of his origin stuff is told in flashback while Joker is off doing his thing. What I really thought was interesting and unique is that this story takes different angles with the characters presented. We usually just get that Batman is trying to stop the Joker from doing horrible things because… well, that’s what they do. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen Batman actually contemplate making an solid effort into helping Joker recover, acknowledging that, in some ways, he’s not wrong. Anyone can become crazy if they had that kind of bad day, and he wants to help rehabilitate him.

***SPOILERS***

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Joker on the other hand is making his own psychoanalysis of Batman. That’s different too. I mean, one could argue that’s exactly what he does in THE DARK KNIGHT, but he’s more or less assuming, not questioning. Joker goes through his confrontation with Batman like he’s irritated, frustrated, even hints of jealousy. He can tell that Batman just had to have had a day that ruined his life to make him dress up like a bat. But clearly, whatever insanity he has, he still operates like a sane person and that seems to drive Joker crazy. He doesn’t understand why Batman is so different from him and he wants Batman to embrace his inner insanity. I just love how this story treats this side of the character. Even at the very end when Joker loses his fight to Batman, he doesn’t continue to resist. He doesn’t keep on fighting, he just gets it. He lost. He’s not overpowering Batman any time soon, so he just accepts that he’s done. But bar-none, my favorite moment in this scene is when Batman offers to rehabilitate Joker, extends his hand out to him… Joker hesitates. He’s sitting there looking at Batman’s hand and looks like he’s seriously contemplating his help. Obviously, Joker ignores the hand and quietly declines, declaring himself beyond that sort of thing now. But he does it in a way that makes it look like he wishes he could accept help. There’s so much that can be said about this scene alone, especially if you know the history behind these characters and how complicated it’s always been and I don’t think we’ve ever seen Batman and Joker like this before and it left an interesting impact on me.

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***END SPOILERS***

All in all, I think this movie is worth seeing, just know that the first half is all build-up to the real story and that build-up almost has nothing to do with the KILLING JOKE. But it’s certainly thought-provoking, unique, gritty, and despite its flaws, I really like it.

My honest rating: a strong 3/5

PS: Joker’s joke at the end… yeah, that was pretty funny.

Batman-The-Killing-Joke-2016-movie-poster

That’s all for this week, guys, but the next set of films start tomorrow and there’s a bunch of ’em (6 total). Keep an eye out for my reviews for them.

  • JASON BOURNE
  • BAD MOMS
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKCw-kqo3cs
  • EQUITY
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg2TSp5tJy4
  • INDIGNATION
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELKsrUssyQE
  • TALLULAH
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WSz2s-Gemc
  • NERVE
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX1BTiHzq-I
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