Warner Bros. Animation presents the much anticipated cinematic adaptation of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s 1988 iconic Batman story, ‘The Killing Joke’. The story acts as a bottle-neck episode in the careers of both the Caped Crusader and Clown Prince of Crime showing their last climactic confrontation, as well as shedding some light on a possible origin story of the man who would become Batman’s arch enemy, the Joker. The movie welcomes back legendary voice actors Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy who uttered every growl, laugh and monologue for their respective characters from the 90s to the early 2000s. Also, Tara Strong, who is no stranger to lending her voice talents to DC animated films, joins the cast as Batgirl/Barbara Gordon.
I published a spoiler-free review which you can read HERE. From here on out I will be unpacking story points that spoil the movie. Ready? Here we go!
The romance between Batman and Batgirl in the first Act is where this movie starts to falter. As I said in my spoiler-free review, fans were made aware of the new plot point leading up to the theatrical release. So there’s sexual tension between Batgirl and Batman and its further complicated by the inclusion of the mobster, Paris Franz. Or does the romance complicate that story? Its unclear. Franz is out to prove to his uncle that he’s not afraid of the dynamic duo and he begins to flirt with Batgirl every chance he gets. Batman is clearly uncomfortable with this but he feigns jealousy by cautioning Batgirl to not let her guard down. She doesn’t listen and instead takes on Paris alone and is nearly killed for it before Batman saves her. He threatens to take her off the case and in a fit of rage the two trade blows before Batgirl gets the upper hand and plants a passionate kiss on Batman’s lips, and we fade out to to implied rooftop sex.
After that the movie becomes a strange relationship drama doing its best Marc Webb impression and its painful to both watch Batman avoid Batgirl, and listen to her complain about it (“My controlling Yoga instructor!”) to her coworker when not fighting crime. Its been 20 minutes and the Joker hasn’t been mentioned or referenced once. And he won’t be until after the Bat-romance and mob story are all wrapped up. Then it becomes another movie altogether, yet the movie we came here for, all the same.
So due to an over reliance on the romance the second Act is very jarring when the Joker finally appears, and there is no cohesion between the events in Act 1 and the rest of the movie. There is also some interesting misdirection. As likeable and charismatic as the thug Paris Franz is, he is almost a “red herring” for the Joker. His facial features vaguely resemble the Joker and he even dresses in purple and blue street clothes. I thought they had taken liberties with the Joker origin and borrowed his mob connections from the 1989 Tim Burton movie. Inserted of a sympathetic failed comedian, they turn him into an overconfident lackey gangster who takes a shine to the Batman’s attractive apprentice: sure why not? If they had done that it would have made for a well thought out connection between Joker and Batgirl when he inevitably shoots her. But eventually Franz is captured, hurls one last crazed/flirtatious threat at Batgirl and his story concludes. With the case closed, Batgirl quits and returns her gear to Batman in a scene very reminiscent of exes returning personal items a la every Rom-com ever.
Fade to black.
When “the killing joke” story finally starts to unravel it begins to feel like a different movie, which is strange because this is the movie we came to see. Sadly, all of the ideas about chaos, and the Joker’s “One bad day” philosophy give the viewer whiplash since the beginning of the movie was just a romantic drama. At least in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the Joker opens that movie and it doesn’t matter that he just appears without explanation as he does here. There’s a through-line and an established relationship Nolan creates. The lack of this connection hurts the Batman side of the The Killing Joke since there’s no discussion between him, Gordon or Batgirl about Gotham’s past with Joker whatsoever. Batman does disapprove of Batgirl’s thrill-seeking attitude about their war on crime and he hints at being near the edge of darkness or some such, but that’s as close to the Joker’s nihilism as we get till he shows up.
The rest of the film is dark and exciting, but the story feels a little rushed, and admittedly, the whole rivalry between Batman and the Joker seems after the fact. In the comic, the story begins with the jail cell conversation Batman has with the Joker where he appeals to what he hopes is the criminal’s last shred of humanity before someone else gets killed. But this happens in the middle of the movie and makes the whole scene feel random. There’s just no build up to the Joker, the movie just decides its time to talk about heavier things now that Batgirl is out of the way (don’t worry she lives), and this mishandling of the source material makes everything the Joker does seem out of the blue and robs the story of its emotional punch.
As I bring this to a close, I think this could have been avoided if the creative team instead focused the movie on Batman’s most critical relationships for what they are. His partnership with Batgirl should have been platonic and a study on vigilantism. His relationship with Jim Gordon could have been stronger seeing as they’ve managed to walk a silver lining while cleaning up Gotham. And lastly, their history with Joker and just how dangerous he is should have been foreshadowed. How these relationships work and intertwine should have been the bedrock for everything that follows in the movie. If they really wanted to highlight Batgirl here is a way (not the way) they could have done it. Prioritize Batgirl’s developing skills, such as learning a new fighting style or how to exploit computer systems, all things she is good at anyway and that foreshadow her post-Batgirl life as Oracle. And of course her dedication to fighting crime since policing was out of the question. I think this would have been a better setup as well as use of creative liberties, adding much needed cohesiveness later on while servicing the overall war against the Joker.
Those are my thoughts. Batman: The Killing Joke is on Blu-ray now! Tell us what you thought about the Batgirl romance and her character in the movie. Did the romance add to the movie for you or subtract from it? What would you have done?
Thanks again to Jasmine Jones for allowing me to share my love of comic book and movies on Neonfade dot com!
(Photos from Google Images)