By now everyone has seen the Batman: The Killing Joke animated movie, and it’s hard to ignore the mixed, and slightly dramatic reception the movie has received. So let’s take a look at the film and how it stacks up compared to the original graphic novel.
Let’s just start with the biggest conversation point surrounding Batman: The Killing Joke: Barbara Gordon. Although I love the original graphic novel, the treatment of Barbara’s character cannot be ignored in it. Many like to thank the graphic novel as it led to the development of the Oracle character, but we all know that wasn’t Alan Moore’s intention. Just looking at the comic on its own, for a character so important, Barbara is treated like such a throwaway character.
Of course the film version attempts to fix this, but I’m pretty confused as to why they took the direction they did. They wanted to give her more of a role in the story, flesh out her character so she isn’t just used as nothing more than a plot device, but they do it in the weirdest way possible.
Its great when Bruce plays an almost father figure to members in the Bat Family. Dick, Tim, Jason etc. often seek a very unique form of guidance in their lives, that only a person like Bruce can provide. Although they often clash, at the end of the day they’re there for each other. I enjoy Bruce and Barbara’s relationship when they have a dynamic like that as well.
But you know that’s not what we got in the film and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who couldn’t help but cringe when Bruce and Barbara got together. Barbara is often portrayed as a very free spirited and strong-minded person, but in the movie we mostly saw her obsessing over a boy and framing her decisions around him. It was a weird direction to take, but I do appreciate them adding more to her story, the thought behind it was good at least.
So after the prologue we get to familiar material. In the original comic we don’t know why Batman is visiting Joker in prison, but in the film we get an explanation which is nice.
An important theme in most Batman material, is the question of Batman’s moral line. He uses fear to help save his city, but there comes a time when you need to question whether he is doing more good or more harm. The Joker often drives Batman to nearly cross his already ambiguous moral line. Before finding out he was talking to a phony, Batman talks about not wanting the end of the conflict between Joker and Batman, to be in death.
The film extends this theme as crossing the moral line is a question played in Barbara’s story as well. Part of the reason as to why she gives up being Batgirl, is because she found herself playing with a darkness she could no longer control.
And of course this theme further extends to the Joker. Like in the graphic novel we see a flashback of the Joker’s origin. I’ve always said that the flashback isn’t actually his origin, just a potential version of his origin. Because as the Joker said, he prefers his memories to be multiple choice.
The driving motivation for Joker’s plan is to show just how easy it is to cross that line. That all it takes is one bad day and you can find yourself dancing in insanity. In this version of the Joker’s past, he was a failed comedian who had just lost his wife. He was forced into a crime he didn’t want to commit before being dropped into some chemicals.
The logic of the Joker is that life is too absurd to take seriously. Order is nothing but an illusion constructed by the insane man to fake a life of happiness. Real happiness, real life, is accepting the irrationality of life and instead of fighting it, play along with it.
I guess the Joker was finally fed up with everyone shit talking him. In the Joker’s eyes, he’s the only logical one on this Earth. And to him, Batman of all people should understand this. As all it took was one bad day for Bruce to start his transformation into an also pretty absurd figure, Batman.
And just like the comic we see Joker try to prove this point, but fail to do so. I guess one of my issues with the film was that it didn’t really add anything to the original comic other than the Barbara prologue which didn’t really work. The comic explores such interesting themes and philosophical concepts, that it would have been good to see that expanded on more. The focus just felt too split in the film, between wanting to expand Barbara’s story and adapting the original one. Although I have to say, being able to actually hear Joker’s carnival song was pretty great.
The film ends the same way the comic did, with the Joker telling Batman his joke. So what did Joker’s joke at the end of The Killing Joke even mean? Well the joke represents the nature of the Joker/Batman relationship. In reality, they’re both crazy. They have the opportunity to escape their insanity, but their strong ideals and endless dance with each other prevents it. Batman still believes he can help Joker escape from his insanity, and even though the Joker contemplates it for a brief moment, he accepts that it’s too late for that now.
The discussion over the final scene often goes to the question, did Batman kill the Joker in the end? Besides the fact that Alan Moore himself said that no Batman didn’t kill the Joker, it doesn’t really make sense that Batman would kill Joker. The whole point of the story is that there is a fundamental difference between good and bad. It’s the way we react to the insanity and cruelty of the world. Do we choose to accept it, embrace it? Or do we choose to fight it “by the book”. Gordon stayed good, even after the horror that occurred to him. If Batman truly believes in the idea of there being a difference between good and bad in this world, he needed to uphold Gordon’s request. To take Joker in by the book.
So for Batman to then go off and kill Joker wouldn’t exactly make any sense now would it. But I can understand why people believe Batman kills the Joker, as just like in the comic, at the end we only hear Batman’s laugh as for some reason the Joker stops laughing.
What I especially like about The Killing Joke, is that it almost portrays the Joker in a sympathetic light (which was strongly brought across by Hamill’s voice work). Yes he’s a horrible human being, no doubt about it. But with the flashbacks and the brief moment we see of him wanting to change his ways, it shows a different side to the Joker. In the movie we see Batman extend his hand to the Joker, and for a moment there it looks like the Joker is willing to take it.
The final scene is sad in many ways because here are these two men, who are consumed in this insane world. One is so broken by the chaos and insanity, that he has chosen to personify the world he hates. The other tries his hardest to fight it by becoming a symbol that opposes it, but finds himself more often than not too close for comfort in the insanity. The laughing at the end seemed more like a desperate cry/laugh. Realising that this is their life and they’re probably never going to escape it.
The movie version does have something extra in the end with the mid-credit scene. We see the birth of Oracle with Barbara starting to put together the next stage in her life. Oracle is a great character, and it would be great to see some future Birds of Prey animated stuff.
Overall Batman: The Killing Joke was fine as a movie, but really isn’t up there for me when looking at some of the other DC animated films. I appreciate that they wanted to add more to Barbara’s character, but perhaps a different story would have been better, a story that didn’t feel so tacked on. The great thing about adaptations is that we get voice work, and both Conroy and Hamill did a great job. Hamill especially nailed it, not only giving us a crazy Joker voice, but also a scared and sympathetic voice as well. The animation didn’t bother me like it did others, I definitely liked it a lot more than the way they’ve been doing some of the recent Justice League animated movies.
So basically the movie is fine, and if you hadn’t read the original comic I’m sure it would have been quite an interesting watch. But having read the comic many times, I didn’t feel this film added much unlike other films like Under the Red Hood, Flashpoint, Public Enemies etc. which did a great job taking its own direction with the original material whilst still staying true to it.
Answering the original question: no it’s not that bad. The Barbara additions weren’t exactly great, but the film still explores the interesting and complex nature of the Joker and his relationship with Batman. The voice work really added to the intensity of the dialogue and really demonstrated the range of emotions of both Batman and Joker. And to be honest, it was totally worth it to be able to actually hear the Joker’s song!
Categories: comic book movies