Batman: The Killing Joke Review
Batman: The Killing Joke is the newest WB animated Batman film from DC comics. I loved what they did with Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, so I was excited to learn that there was a special screening of The Killing Joke on Monday night.
For those unfamiliar with the property, The Killing Joke is one of the most celebrated Batman stories of all time from probably the most acclaimed comics author of all time: Alan Moore. Alan Moore is the brains behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and much more. All of these have been turned into feature films, and Moore famously doesn’t want his name attached to anything out of Hollywood. For good reason, in my opinion. The only film on this list that I really enjoyed was V for Vendetta, and even that one was drastically different and toned down from the superior comic book.
So how does The Killing Joke measure up? It’s a mixed bag.
The Killing Joke has just a few good things going for it.
- The voice work. Fan favorites Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy return as the Joker and Batman, respectively. It was slightly odd to see my childhood cartoon Batman and Joker taking on a more adult story, but it was like comfort food. The rest of the voice cast did a fine job, as well. Hamill, as always, stole the show.
- The story. This one comes with a caveat. The material taken from the graphic novel was excellent, as it followed the book very closely. Credit for this one should go mostly to Moore for telling a dark, compelling story, but the filmmakers deserve praise for sticking to it.
- The song sequence. The Joker puts on a Broadway style showtune towards the end of the movie, and it’s simultaneously fun and disturbing. The tune was original and I think it captured the duality of the situation’s tone quite well.
- The Mark Hamill introduction. Technically, this isn’t part of the movie, but I really enjoyed the Mark Hamill introduction prior to the film. In it, he discussed his history voicing the Joker, including how he got the role, the animated series, and the Arkham video games. Hamill is always compelling and he’s a pleasure to watch as he geeks out about Batman.
The Killing Joke has lots of major flaws, which prevent it from becoming a classic adaptation. Here are a few:
- The animation. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s jarring. The car chases are done well, but there are too many sequences in which the mouths seem to float around on a character’s face. For such a high profile title, this is unacceptable. The animation isn’t totally off, but where it is, it’s very noticeable and it takes you out of the movie. The character designs aren’t great, either.
- The first 30 minutes of padding. For some reason, the filmmakers decided to add a thirty minute introduction to explore Batgirl and Batman’s relationship. While it’s not god-awful, it’s not very interesting. The crime boss isn’t threatening, the new characters are ho-hum, and it makes Batgirl look like an emotionally weak character. It also takes the focus away from the Joker’s story, where it should be, and puts it on Batgirl. This is the worst aspect of the film.
- The music feature at the end. Again, while not terrible, it’s a bit boring, especially after the fantastic Mark Hamill introduction. Hardcore film scoring fans may like it, but for everyone else, I say skip it.
- Selling the R-rating. Much ado was made about this being the first R-rated animated Batman movie. The movie earns the rating as there is some graphic violence, suggested sexual content, and partial nudity in the movie. However, a rating doesn’t make a movie good or bad. To me, it seemed like a ploy to fill the theater with fanboys that were hoping the animation would be true to the comic. Largely, it isn’t due to the padding at the beginning.
The Killing Joke isn’t great, but it’s not complete trash, either. I found it to be mostly just disappointing, especially considering the talent involved, the source material, and the last few Batman animated movies to be released. Skip the theater, and if you must watch it, rent it when it comes out on August 2nd. (There’s graphic violence and sexual content in the movie; it earns the R-rating. Keep the kiddies away.) Better yet, skip the movie and just read the graphic novel. It will probably take you the same amount of time, anyway.
Story: ★★★ of 5
Action: ★★★ of 5
Animation: ★★ of 5
Overall: ★★½ of 5
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