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Batman: The Killing Joke

“To what degree” you ask? Good question. Is it only partially, or is it absolute obsession? I can’t say for certain. But in my view…I love Batman.

The infamous Caped Crusader has always held a special place in my heart. But as I said prior, I’m not sure where in the chart of fan others would place me. Honestly, I’m not one for comic books, but I do keep close to those who are, thus keeping informed. I love the Nolan epics (and avoid Batman and Robin like the plague), but then again, who in their right mind doesn’t? I may not have endured every cartoon available, though I have seen the ones that hold weight (including The Red Hood, Dark Knight Returns, the Phantasm, and of course, a great deal of Animated Series). So, I suppose I put myself into the category of an avid fan who still maintains his class and dignity (*insert your laughter*). But speaking of laughter, while some may question my love of Batman, there is still one thing I know for certain, when The Killing Joke becomes a film, that is something to keep tabs on.

Well, low and behold, the day has come. That’s right, one of the most popular Comic Books, one of the darkest commercial super hero tales ever told, and the story that actually gave a human side to the ever maniacal Joker, is now at your disposal to view in moving pictures. Not only that, but it features the likes of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprising their iconic roles as The Joker and the Batsy, respectively. So, there is only one question that remains? Is it as dreadful as you’ve heard? You’re not going to like the answer….

This isn’t going to be pretty, so let’ just get started *cracks knuckles*. We are indeed given a 45 minute (out of 80 mins), decent, rendition of this classic psychological tale. In it, we find Batman facing the truth that he is tired of fighting his old nemesis. He confronts the idea that either difficult amends must be met, or the death of one of them must take place. This is the intriguing plot and thread throughout the tale (as written by Alan Moore). But just as Batman is about to face his wretched foe, he discovers the Joker has already made further plans to drag the innocent down to his level, in this case Commissioner Gordon. Within this cruel plan, we see some of the Joker’s most humane, yet darkest of sides. He has gone out to prove that the reason for his madness and brutality is all because of the horrific circumstances he had to face one lowly day, the day the Joker came into existence. In this maze of discovery, we are meant to observe as Gordon faces unthinkable horrors and obstacles in the hopes that what the Joker has gone out to prove is far from accurate.

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Let me start with the good. First off, while some have criticized this aspect, I for one was left very satisfied with Mark Hamill’s performance. This film was to some degree his brain child, so it stands to reason his return here as an older and less animated Joker was a major highlight. Also, The Killing Joke tale itself, by its own merit, is a gripping and emotional tale, making it enjoyable to view. There were tense and intriguing moments, the ones you would expect with such familiar characters.  And of course, the overall theme and question posed by the film; will the most heinous of circumstances reap nothing but the worst of people? Have you started to catch on to the problem yet? The problem being; you have been given amazing source material to adapt to film, so what did you do decide to do with it? The answer; nothing. Have you ever purchased an old TV show/season in one of those cheap DVD bins? The ones that have the title and cover of your favorite show, and happen to have “2 hours’ worth.” When low and behold, there is only one episode of said show, and the remaining 90 minutes are some cheap fill in time from a show no one wanted. Yeah, may I present The Killing Joke, the TV show, not the film (as advertised)…

The film is split into two parts. The second part is the title tale (show), with the first half playing the role of an uninteresting, sappy, overly traditional, and surprisingly sexist (in the world’s terms) story about Barbra Gordon (AKA Batgirl). One where her biggest struggles to overcome are essentially her emotional feelings for Batman, and her fight against a pretty-boy mob kid who fights her with flirtation. Yes, I am being overly critical of the first half, but it was an unnecessary and ultra-clumsy way to give Barbra character development, as well as give it (almost) a featured length. Add into the mix that the darker aspects of the film, while upsetting and NOT for kids, were far from how emotionally impactful and groundbreaking they could have been (as seen perfectly in Under the Red Hood). Sure, there was over the top blood and disturbing aspects that helped secure their R rating (though admittedly, it didn’t seem to compare with The Dark Knight Returns. Not a put down, just an observation), but it came at the expense of interest and emotion, and that’s a major waste. Speaking of R, what was that sex scene about anyways? No, it may not have been very graphic in Hollywood terms, keeping it out of the MPAA radar, but it was pointless and inappropriate nonetheless (as was the scattered language).

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In short, we have an extreme case of cowardly screenwriters on our hands. There were a hundred different directions they could have gone in growing the story, circumstances, and especially the characters that the likes of a comic book, no matter how grand, are limited in. That’s the point in making it a film, right? Sure, there is the possibility of ruffling some feathers or making poor choices, but the poorest of them would be to try nothing at all. But alas, that’s the outcome here. What is especially sad is that the character of Gordon, while well developed in comics, could have stood as the tragic central character who demonstrates the most courage and victory (who perfectly contrasts the downfall of the Joker). And while the comic, as well as the film in its part, does show that one is able to overcome the worst of circumstances (1 Cor. 10:13 much?), think of how great and emotional it could have been when given the length of an entire film to develop. But c’est la vie, I suppose.

It goes without saying, but this film didn’t play well with me. There were problems upon problems contained therein that I have yet to mention, but time permits only for the worst offenses. Still then, we are talking about one of the most influential Comic Book tales of our time. So no matter how badly the production might be, the story can still come in and save the day, liked our favorite Caped Crusader. It is just unfortunate that it took so long for him to make a difference (and you can almost hear the disinterest in Conroy’s performance). No, this film does have its highlights, maybe even enough for a viewing or two. But I guarantee, no matter how much you try to set the negatives aside, they will stay with you like a bad aftertaste. In the end, while I may not be the most knowledgeable of Batman fans, there is one thing that isn’t hard to comprehend, this was a wasted opportunity.

5/10

Andrew Warnes

One thought on “Batman: The Killing Joke

  1. I was really disappointed with The Killing Joke. It had such potential to really deliver, especially considering the source material, but it all went horribly wrong – especially the first half. So much is wrong with this animated film, it makes you wonder what on earth they were thinking of really. A big letdown.

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