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Batman: The Killing Joke Review


1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke is rightly lauded as the definitive Joker story and one of the best Batman stories ever published. From the pen of comics legend/delightfully entertaining mad man  Alan Moore, it presented a (possible) tragic origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime (and if you believe some pretty convincing theories acts as the final Joker story), dealt with the character’s trademark madness in a sobering and realistic way, and paved for the Batgirl character to be reinvented as fan favourite Oracle. An animated adaption has been something fans have been wanting for years, and now it’s here on DVD and a limited theatrical run, re-teaming Batman: The Animated Series producer Bruce Timm with the three people many (myself included) consider their Batman, Joker, and Batgirl: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Tara Strong. With such a high calibre of talent behind it, this R-Rated animated feature was expected to be a home run, but sadly it doesn’t live up to the legacy that precedes it.

Let’s start with the movie’s biggest problem. Imagine you’ve just sat down in the world’s top restaurant, and ordered it’s signature dish, a main course that has received nothing but universal praise. But before it arrives at your table, you have to sit through three increasingly bland and tasteless appetisers. That’s the opening thirty minutes of Batman: The Killing Joke, a specially created, and almost unconnected, prologue that focuses on Barbara Gordon/Batgirl’s attempts to take down Paris Franz (yes, that is his name), an up and coming mobster who has developed a dangerous obsession with her. It’s understandable why it exists. The original book clocks in at roughly forty eight pages, and all of that is up there on the screen. So an extra thirty minutes was needed to bump up the runtime, but what director Sam Liu and writer Brian Azzerello (another comics legend) have settled on feels like a massive misstep. The focus on Batgirl is to build up her character ahead of the emotional and physical wringer the events of The Killing Joke put her through, but instead of humanising her, she becomes a walking cliche, her defining trait being an ill advised romance with Batman (something Timm toyed with way back with The Animated Series), who becomes an uncharacteristic jerk after they cement their relationship. Despite some solid voice work from Strong, the character is absolutely wasted, and ultimately the prologue has no real bearing on the rest of the movie.

But make your way through that tonally jarring thirty minutes, and you’ll be rewarded with the movie’s biggest strengths as Conroy and Hamill put in the best performances as their respective characters to date, as The Joker once again escapes from Arkham Asylum and aims to prove to Batman that anyone, in this case Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise), can be turned just as mad as he is. Hamill especially is having so much fun as the Clown Prince of Crime, delivering each line with relish and the requisite menace as the Joker we all know and love, while finding the humanity in the character when the story flashes back to his life before the pale skin and green hair. The movie’s faithfulness to the source material is also one of its strengths, with the animation capturing some of the book’s most striking moments beautifully, and the main story proves to be endlessly compelling once it finally kicks in.

Once The Killing Joke actually becomes The Killing Joke, the movie justifies its existence. Unfortunately, getting there proves to a slog to get through, and what should have been a must for Batman fans is hurt because of it.


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The Movie Bit: Batman: The Killing Joke Review
Batman: The Killing Joke Review
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