Arguably the most famous Joker story of all time, Batman: The Killing Joke was an obvious yet bold choice for DC to bring to the screen with a R rating. Alan Moore’s story dug into The Jokers past and motivations, giving us concrete answers about the famous yet mysterious clown for the first time in the characters history. Add in spectacularly haunting art by Brian Bolland, and you’ve got the makings of a powerful story.
The movie starts off with Batgirl (voiced again by Tara Strong) patrolling Gotham. She picks up on a criminal named Franz who develops an obsession with her. Barbra is desperate to pursue him, creating conflict along the way, resulting with her and Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy). The story jumps between Barbra’s work life and crime fighting life, culminating in a puzzling sex scene that will certainly draw ire from Batman fans.
Adding in a new Batgirl story isn’t an entirely bad idea. In recent years, Batgirl’s role in the novel has drawn some controversy, so trying to go for some development could have made her circumstance carry more weight. Unfortunately the new segment, which is the first 35 minutes of the movie, falls completely flat on it’s face. The attempt is appreciated, but it feels haphazardly thrown together in an attempt to please everybody, and features some shoddy story choices. Driving the uselessness home further is the ending of the story. Right when Barbra’s story ends, the plot of The Killing Joke segment begins, edited in such a fashion that rather than creating a unified story, it creates a massive disconnect between the two tales, thus leaving Barbra’s story feeling more like a Bluray extra, rather than a memorable attempt to flesh out her role.
When we dive into the main story, things pick up a little and have a bit of a more focused feel to it. Batman is suspecting that the Joker, currently locked up in Arkham Asylum, is behind a crime. When Batman discovers The Joker has swapped out for an impostor, the one bad day begins.
From here on, we get a pretty straight adaption of The Killing Joke. The story has aged pretty well, but it’s briefness does rob some of it’s power in transition to the screen. The Jokers past backstory rings a tad corny in it’s opening scene, and more character development would have aided the emotional stakes in the proceedings. If anything needed to be expanded upon, it’s these scenes. The modern day segments are pretty spot on however, with some fantastic voice acting from the ever-reliable Mark Hamill. When Hamill delivers some of the more iconic lines in the story, it’ll be exactly as most fans envisioned it. When we arrive at the last 15 minutes of the movie, every word out of the Jokers mouth is felt and his seemingly unexplained motives bear more weight to them.
Technically speaking, the film could have used a bit more work. While the animation resembles it’s classic counterpart, it manages to feel a bit stilted and mechanical at times. Some standouts however, are The Joker’s theme park mayhem, and the films take on the ending. The voice acting is mostly solid across the bored, with Hamill, as previously mentioned, being the standout. Kevin Conroy is a bit low energy in the early Batgirl segments, but comes alive in the second half, playing off Hamill in their classic fashion. Tara Strong is extremely likeable as Batgirl, but her segments as Barbra when she’s discussing her “yoga instructor” feels like a bad teen comedy. The major disappointment is Ray Wise as Commissioner Gordon. He just simply doesn’t express the emotion of depth require to accurately convey the ordeal Gordon is put through. Wise’s delivery of Gordon’s final request of Batman is downright laughable.
It’s unfortunate that the first act of the film fails it so miserably. When the adaptation sticks to it’s guns, it’s an enjoyable if not perfect adaptation of the famous graphic novel. But as a whole, The Killing Joke stumbles in it’s attempt to bring a classic story with a new spin to our screens.