Batman: The Killing Joke follows the story of the graphic novel for the most part, focusing on the relationship between the classic rivals Batman and The Joker. The Killing Joke comic has formed the basis of many of the best adaptations of Batman, with its portrayal of The Joker being among the most imitated on film, so it’s amazing that it has taken this long for the comic itself to be adapted into a film.
The main problem with straight up adapting the graphic novel is its relative shortness, making it hard to stretch the story to a full feature. The Killing Joke film gets around this by opening on a story focused on Batgirl, introducing her character to the audience and establishing her relationship with The Dark Knight. This opening is by far the biggest flaw of the film, being oddly paced and really not fitting in at all with the rest of the story. The closest connection is that Batgirl is forming a nemesis-like relationship with a criminal throughout but it is loose at best.
It also changes up the Batman/Batgirl dynamic in an unfortunate and slightly creepy way; turning a relationship that is usually more like a big brother and little sister (or at times even father and daughter) into a romantic one. This combined with the sexualisation of Barbara at various times throughout the film adds up to a weird portrayal of Batgirl. The opening thirty minutes end up having absolutely no bearing on the next hour, which is a straight up adaption of the comic – the opening doesn’t even feature The Joker, arguably the key character. Its only true purpose is to establish that Barbara was for a time Batgirl, but it isn’t something that exactly needs clarifying.After the initial half hour, The Killing Joke is an almost perfect adaptation of the graphic novel, with many scenes being mirrored to the point that it’s difficult to tell the difference between panel and film. The thrill of the film is hearing Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill act out these scenes as Batman and The Joker respectively. They are so tied to the roles at this point that their performances feel almost like second nature.
Hamill in particular is exquisite as The Joker, giving the best performance of his career. His portrayal The Joker doesn’t falter throughout, expertly showing the madness of the character. His monologues on the nature of madness were always my favourite parts of the graphic novel and it’s amazing to hear them brought to life by Hamill. His performance of the man who became The Joker in the flashbacks is well done, being much more low key than his usual Joker voice while still harkening back to it. The voice sounds suitably pathetic for the pre-Joker, fitting perfectly with the story. Hamill’s performance throughout the music number is also particularly effective. The moment came as a bit of a shock to me but it makes perfect sense for the adaption, presenting a different way to showcase the cruelty of The Clown Prince of Crime.Sam Liu’s direction is effective, matching the style of the comic very well – a few unfortunately sexualised scenes aside (a scene of Barbara running, showcasing her butt and breasts in close-up, is particularly unnecessary). The framing of the spook house scenes featuring Commissioner Gordon being subjected to images of Barbara is very well done, presenting a general idea of what is occurring without directly showing it.
The film is mostly effective at mimicking the work of Brian Bolland on the original comic, though it falls short in the final comparison. However, some scenes feel like true mirrors of the original. In particular the birth of The Joker is painstakingly recreated, being almost as awe-inspiring and iconic as the original panels.
The final product is a very well put together adaptation of the graphic novel but it is a true shame that they felt the need to tack on the unnecessary prologue. The film stands at 77 minutes long, meaning that almost half of its runtime is devoted to the Batgirl’s introduction. The film would have been better served as a short film that simply focused on the The Killing Joke story and I’ll probably skip the opening on future viewings.
‘The Many Shades of The Joker’ takes a look at the influence The Killing Joke had on future adaptions of Batman, through talking to many of the men behind these adaptions, including the TV show Gotham and the director of various other Batman animated films. There isn’t much new information to be gleamed from this feature, though it is outright stated that the prologue was tacked on to expand the running time.
The featurette ‘Madness Through Music’ discusses the music choices of the film, being a slightly self-serving look at why they chose to score the film the way they did. The exploration of the Broadway influences on The Joker’s song is probably the most interesting part of a slightly dull feature.Like all DC animated films the disc comes packaged with two episodes from ‘The DC Comics Vault’, this time featuring two episodes from the classic Batman cartoon of the 90s. Both the episodes focus on The Joker, not surprisingly, with the second also touching on the relationship between Batman and his sidekicks. These episodes look quite good but the animation doesn’t quite hold up to HD. I also noticed some issues with the sound, explosions in particular sounding very tinny.
There are also sneak peeks at various DC animated films that have already been released as well as a look at Justice League Dark, the next animated movie to be released. The sneak peek mostly centres on the characters of the film and why they were chosen, and the decision to bring back Matt Ryan to play Constantine.