Review: ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ Theatrical Release

by Kevin Gunn
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[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers.]

Director: Sam Liu
Screenplay: Brian Azzarello
Cast: Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (Joker), Tara Strong (Barbara Gordon/Batgirl), Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon), John DiMaggio (Francesco), Robin Atkins Downs (Detective Bullock)
Executive Producer: Bruce Timm

Batman confronts the Joker in 'Batman: The Killing Joke'.

Batman confronts the Joker in ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’.

First off, let me say I had extremely high hopes for this film. I’m a HUGE fan of Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: The Killing Joke graphic novel, Bruce Timm, Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong, Mark Hamill, my local comic book shop (The Great Escape), etc.

Also, I saw Batman: Mask of the Phantasm when it came to theaters. And I know some of you will say it’s two different animation styles. But when you get any version of an animated Batman to theaters, it’s a pretty big deal. Not to mention a controversial book like The Killing Joke, and it gets an R-rating too boot!

For those of you living under a rock and haven’t seen the film or read the graphic novel yet… here come the spoilers!

Batgirl jumping rooftops in 'Batman: The Killing Joke'.

Batgirl jumping over rooftops in ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’.

After Barbara Gordon hangs up her cape and cowl as Batgirl, she seems content in her job as a librarian. One evening, while spending time with her dad, Commissioner Gordon, someone rings her doorbell. It’s the Joker! Barbara stands in shock for a moment, then notices the garish revolver pointed toward her. Joker shoots Barbara. Her father lunges to try an aid his daughter, but is subdued by Joker’s henchmen.

Batman arrives at the hospital to see Barbara who is bandaged from neck to ankle. The doctor diagnoses that Barbara will never walk again. Barbara awakens. But instead of feeling self-pity, she’s more concerned for the safety of her father, urging Batman to find him.

The Positives

I am glad Batman: The Killing Joke is finally being released in animated form. It faced many hurdles getting to this point. I also applaud Fathom Events and DC Entertainment for sponsoring the 2 night event to bring the film to theaters. Like Barbara Gordon, this event helped to rise above the tragedy that was faced in 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting during the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, that tragedy was one of the roadblocks which forced the delay of The Killing Joke.

The animation paid tribute to artist Brian Bolland and author Alan Moore’s masterful work on Batman: The Killing Joke Graphic Novel. Set to a divine, and at times, haunting soundtrack by Dynamic Music Partners. We are even treated to Mark Hamill singing as The Joker for the track “I Go Looney.”

Hamill, along with Kevin Conroy and Tara Strong, step into their former roles of Joker, Batman and Batgirl like familiar clothing that still fits. They were almost effortless. It was like a love letter written to fans of Batman: The Animated Series, such as myself.

The Negatives

I understand what Bruce Timm and screenplay writer Brian Azzarello were trying to do by giving Barbara Gordon more of an arc. This was something Alan Moore didn’t do in the original work. What I don’t get is why there wasn’t more of a tie between the arc and the rest of the film. In his search for Commissioner Gordon, Batman questions a mobster. The mobster favors Paris Franz, a criminal who developed a sick fixation with Batgirl in the first half of the film. Then another character appeared with dark hair and plump, maybe suggesting that time had lapsed and Franz put on weight. But there was no mention that this was Franz. It would have been a nice link to the big set up at the beginning of the movie.

I also don’t understand why this film got an R-rating. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox had more animated violence and blood than what was shown here. And as Batgirl so eloquently pointed out in a scene, “It was just sex!” This was in reference to her moment of passion with Batman earlier in the film. I’ve seen live action scenes on television that would push the ratings envelope. And more scenes in live action movies that made me question the MPAA’s rating system. I didn’t really see anything in this movie as to why it didn’t deserve a usual PG-13 rating given to other DC Animated Films.

The Verdict

Once my nostalgia passed for Mask of the Phantasm, I noticed that Batman: The Killing Joke was typical fanfare. It was good, but it could have been better. I will buy the VOD and Blu-Ray, but then again, I’m a comic book geek. I’m not really sure if the general public will get the punchline laid forth by Bruce Timm and company.


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