There’s a lot to this one, lets get straight to it…
In this adaptation of the seminal graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, we ostensibly follow Batman as he comes to terms with the very probable dark outcome of his and The Joker’s toxic relationship with one another.
Mark Hamill based on his work in Mask of the Phantasm and Return of the Joker is my favorite incarnation of the character. His body of work is uniformly solid and his performance in The Killing Joke is no change to this.
When a writer has to have a character literally announce to the audience to check their expectations in the movie’s opening seconds i know that i’m in for a bumpy ride. The movie’s first 45 or so minutes (may have been shorter it certainly didn’t feel like it though) is spent dealing with a boring story concerning Batgirl and her frustrated relationship to Batman.
I know why the writer did this, its to give the scene where Barbara is shot and crippled much more weight and impact (and to be honest about this day and age probably to avoid unfounded calls of sexism). As the novel has the benefit of existing canon that the film does not, concerning Batman and Batgirl’s relationship. However it’s poorly written, with the laziest method chosen for the fleshing out of their troubled relationship in the creation of a romantic interest.
Successful romantic movies like In the Mood for Love and Titanic know that romance works when shown from both sides, and most importantly time has to be taken to build up to a deserved pay off (kind of like how any relationship needs time invested into it). Which is why when Batgirl and Batman have Batsex on top of a building it is just as cringy as it sounds as it comes wholly out of the blue. It isn’t earned, it isn’t deserved, and it isn’t properly motivated as it seems more motivated from Bargirl’s emotional frustrations then any sort of mutual attraction between the two characters (this is why Batman’s perspective is necessary).
Aside from the poor writing itself, the story is just boring. Once again i have to stress these action laden superhero movies derive much of their appeal on their villains; so you can imagine the snoozefest that results from the Batduo tracking down a run of the mill date raping douche bag mobster, instead of you know… The Joker. The driving force that everyone in the theater, and everyone who will potentially watch this movie came to see.
Front loading the movie with a boring, overlong, and poorly written subplot distracts from what i came to see as an audience member. I came to see The Killing Joke which is ostensibly about deepening the relationship between Joker and Batman, thus Batgirl and Batman’s relationship is not a pertinent issue . If they wanted to make an origin story for The Oracle (which is honestly what it is) they should have titled it Batman: No One Cares and released it to fend for itself.
There are also more examples of bad writing in other unnecessary story alterations and horrible dialog. Having a carnival house trial where Gordan literally “throws the book” at a card board cut out of Batman then later proclaiming that Joker has to be taken in “by the book” is not a Kafkaesque use of metaphor, it is a transparent and ridiculous irritation. Taking the scene from The Man Who Laughs where Batman discovers a room full of smiling corpses does not strengthen his and Joker’s interactions, it dilutes the tonal mastery and pacing of the original opening. Having Batman spout lines like:
“… You haven’t been to The Edge yet Barbara…”
Do no grow or develop character, they are embarrassing groan worthy moments to hear as they are to see their unsurprising foreshadowing play out.
Poor writing would be easier to forgive if the movie itself didn’t look so terrible. The art style is very bland and undetailed, with a muted colour palette and clean illustrations in place of Brian Bolland’s and John Higgins’ colourful and creepy work in the one shot. Add to this some clashing time periods between the Joker’s flashbacks that very clearly are meant to invoke the 30’s to the present day in all its modernity make for a very toxic combination. Thankfully the animation is decent throughout (with only some minor hiccups) the run time. All of which make me recall how much better looking the 23 year old Mask of the Phantasm looks in comparison.
Lastly and most pressingly is how horrible Kevin Conroy is in this. In total juxtaposition to Hamil, Conroy is completely asleep at the wheel here. With stilted line readings and wooden emoting that once again contrast night and day to his work in earlier Batman related projects.
Batman: The Killing Joke is a misstep to say the absolute least. It is hampered with poor writing, poor visual design, and poor voice work and it fails as an adaptation to offer any interesting insight into the characters, all the while pursuing a very bland direction for a large chunk of its running time.
My honest suggestion is to avoid it and either pick up Batman: The Killing Joke‘s graphic novel, or hunt down a copy of Mask of the Phantasm or Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. All of which offer more insight and more engagement for those interested in learning more about Batman and the Joker’s twisted relationship.
OUT OF FIVE