Movie Name: Batman: The Killing Joke
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Genre(s): Animated/Comic Book/Action/Adventure
Release Date(s): July 22, 2016 (San Diego Comic Con)/July 25, 2016 (US)
MPAA Rating: R
Batman and the Joker have had a long history of violence. While the Joker’s actions have ranged from pranks to murder, Batman has always attempted to stop him without killing him. When Joker escapes Arkham and takes his actions to the next level by targeting Barbara and Jim Gordon, Batman must act…while the Joker’s final joke be a killing joke?
Directed by Sam Liu, Batman: The Killing Joke adapts the classic and controversial 1988 graphic novel by Alan Moore. Following Justice League vs. Teen Titans in 2016, the movie is part of the DC Universe Animated film series. The film premiered at the San Diego Comic Con and was widely released on July 25, 2016. The movie received mixed reviews from critics.
Batman: The Killing Joke has a troubled past. The graphic novel arose at the heart of the “adult” comic book business boom and was in such stark contrast to the Batman and Joker of the ’66 TV series that people didn’t know how to take it. The dark broody nature of the graphic novel doesn’t quite reflect the comic book market today (despite even darker and grittier comics) and therefore is a tough sell as a movie…plus, as filmmakers discovered, it is really, really short.
The biggest problem that people had with the film is that in order to boost the length of the movie, they had to add to it. They decided to develop Batgirl and her relationship with Batman, but they took a really wrong turn in doing it. In the original Batman TV series, Batgirl was seen as a romantic lead for Batman, but in most of DC Comics’ she’s been linked to Batman’s ward Dick Grayson because of the age difference between Bruce and Barbara. Here, that is thrown out the window and the always intelligent Barbara comes off as a bit of a fan girl that Batman sleeps with…it is a letdown to both Batman and Batgirl.
The second problem is the actual Killing Joke itself. The story takes this already besmirched Batgirl and cripples, strips, and brutalizes her. There is implication in the film that she’s been raped (though filmmakers deny this), and with a bigger push to have equality for women in comic books and to have powerful role models, this isn’t necessarily the best story to bring out…especially when Batman has a huge collection of stories to choose from (like a really good adaptation of Batman: The Long Halloween would be nice).
The animation and the voice work is top notch. The animators do a good job bringing the graphic novel to light and the always stellar Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker are good. I like Tara Strong’s Batgirl, but I wish we could have seen her in a better story…perhaps a solo adaptation of Batgirl: Year One.
Batman: The Killing Joke is interesting in its problems, but many of problems are the same ones that made the original graphic novel a good but also problematic story. The film does leave a bit of the ambiguous ending (aka what does Batman do with the Joker after his “joke” since Batman is the only one heard laughing after a bit), but it feels a little less ambiguous here. The R-Rated movie is definitely not for kids (something that parents might accidentally fail to notice). DC followed Batman: The Killing Joke with Justice League Dark.