In the last few years, Batman has definitely saturated every available market he could appear in. We have had video games, live action and animated films, countless new comic books and this year is no exception. The Killing Joke by Alan Moore has always been considered one of the most essential comic books of all time. Showing a deeper insight to The Joker, we get to see what could be his origin story and experience one of the most adult pieces of work in the DC line. And this asks many questions such as…is Batman and The Joker connected to each other deeper than either will admit? And what does it take to truly go insane?
This film, though is mainly faithful to the original Graphic Novel, does take a few leaps. The biggest one was the 30-minute prologue to the main story. We get a narration from Batgirl/Barbara Gordon as she speaks of her story. The comic gives minimal focus on Batgirl, even though her part is rather integral to the story. Her arc in this prologue gives you a look at what got her to quit being Batgirl and how strong her relationship with Batman was. After dealing with a criminal who takes a lot of interest in Batgirl, we then get into the main storyline which we are familiar with…almost as if this was a whole different film. A lot of people have commented about this, and I feel that although it does feel a bit bloated, it goes some way to set up to the main events.
While a murder scene is investigated by Batman with him believing it to be the work of The Joker, he then goes to speak to his nemesis and Batman begins to talk about what the possible endgame will be between the two of them! Without giving too much away, The Joker then goes on to create one of his most terrifying schemes ever; to drive someone completely crazy. The Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon in a scheme to show that anyone can go mad with just “one bad day” and Batman heads out to save his friend. During this story, we also get flashbacks to The Joker from before he had his “bad day” and became the clown prince of crime. Even though I read this story years ago, it still does give you an uncomfortable feeling when you see the images in front of you. Fair to say the story needed to be given a stronger age rating than many of the DC animated movies that came before, but I don’t want to give away too much to why it deserves the mature certificate.
To have the winning combination of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the Dark Knight and the sinister clown is always bound to be a winner. Since their debuts in the 1992 animated series, these two have continued to be the most recognisable voices of these legendary characters. As this story is set quite late into their lives, it is good to have an aged and perfected cast for these parts. Tara Strong fits in well as Batgirl (am sure that the critics like her acting too), though is it fair to say she does a better job as Harley Quinn and it’s a shame the character has no part in this story. Ray Wise, though a distinctly different voice to Jim Gordon, definitely fits in well for the film. The animation may not be perfect, but the hand-drawn style which the animated DC films are known for is still striking. The Killing Joke had to look like the graphic novel was on screen, that was a great way to get the fans of the book to really leap into this film. There may be a lot of people disappointed with the prologue and think it’s nothing more than filler, and to a degree, it is. But I can see why it was needed for the film.
Overall, the highlight is seeing Conroy and Hamill as they show that they ARE Batman and The Joker! Hearing the legendary lines and beautiful images come to life will certainly bring a smile to lifelong fans of these characters and of The Killing Joke. Alan Moore won’t agree with this being made into a film, and with just The Killing Joke section, it may not have been able to come out as a film. Writer Brian Azzarello indeed does keep everything that made The Killing Joke a success, but his addition to the source material is a more hit-and-miss affair. I think cutting at least two Batgirl scenes (you know which ones) and adding a bit more on Joker or Batman would have been much better. But, to have Mark Hamill deliver that joke at the end giving one of the most ambiguous endings in comic book history will always sit with me! I grew up with Mark Hamill as The Joker, and this was indeed his best ever performance of the character. Whether or not we do learn his true origin (“If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”), he indeed owns every second he is seen and heard. No matter my other thoughts or small quibbles on the film, Mark Hamill got to do the part we all wanted, and he killed it (no pun intended).
Final rating: 8/10 (4/10 for the prologue, 10/10 for the main story and 10/10 for Mark Hamill)
Written by Jonjo Cosgrove
Here is the final scene from Batman: The Killing Joke, only watch if you have already seen the film or read the book…or want to see that “Joke” for yourself!