Eagerly anticipated by many to be the ‘definitive’ adaptation of one of DC’s most treasured one-shot novels, The Killing Joke is easily DC’s most recognizable and beloved comic books, and with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill on board as the voices of Batman and the Joker, it seemed this adaptation would be a solid success.
Unfortunately, some poor animation and outright bizarre new segments absolutely ruin what should have been a straightforward adaptation. When sticking to the main story, it’s fine (if nothing spectacular), but attempting to introduce new motives, new elements and new themes fall completely flat in a completely misfired way to handle the darker themes with more depth.
What’s new is a 20 minute prologue detailing the fracturing relationship between Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl and Batman. The main problem with this new segment and that in trying to add more depth to Barbara Gordon, it basically does the opposite and exacerbates the problem that the original one-shot had, in that Batgirl is nothing more than a sexualised object used as a mere prop. In an attempt ot humanize Barbara, the film turns her into a cliché.
Without spoiling too much of the new segment, it adds literally nothing to the Killing Joke story and turns Batman into a confusing, emotionally dead pillar, while ruining the tone of the next hour. The dialogue also feels jarring; turning Batgirl’s and Batman’s relationship into something that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a romantic comedy. That in itself isn’t a terrible thing, but when you’re tacking it on to one of the darkest stories told in comic books, it just feels incredibly jarring and completely kills the tone of the film.You could easily skip the first twenty minutes and miss out on nothing.
As for the main story, it’s basically a faithful recreation of the novel, with a simple animation style that isn’t really remarkable. This was probably due to the lower budget because of the R-rating that was given, and thankfully the adult themes and dark nature of the novel has not been toned down for the movie. The best bits are probably the flashback to a more human Joker, as Mark Hamill really shines in creating a sane and more sympathetic Joker. I feel a bit more time could have been given to make his eventual fall into insanity more gradual, as it felt incredibly jarring here. In fact, the death of his wife is completely downplayed and isn’t as effective as I felt the novel was.
Gordon’s descent into madness, and Batman’s final confrontation with the Joker is fantastic, and is well worth watching, but it’s a shame that what should have been the definitive adaptation of a Batman comic turned out so half-baked. Overall you’re better off sticking to reading Alan Moore’s novel, with a fantastic style crafted by Brian Bolland.