In the Batman universe, no character is more essential to Batman’s psyche than The Joker.
In so many ways, he is Batman’s complete opposite. And yet, according to The Joker anyway, they have so much in common. Each one is staunchly dedicated to their belief system and to the rules they have set in order to achieve their aims.
Their philosophies are far more important than the results they get.
The Joker doesn’t commit crime for financial gain or to get revenge on his enemies. He does it for the pure thrill of the chaos that it causes. He believes that there is a dark side to everyone and that all it takes is the right circumstances to bring it out.
Batman exists in order to protect Gotham City and yet he won’t keep it safe at any cost.
He believes that murder is wrong in all circumstances and that everyone deserves a chance at redemption. No matter how far his enemies have gone, no matter how terrible their crimes have been, he still struggles to rehabilitate them.
The Killing Joke is considered the definitive Joker story in that it explores the relationship between Batman and The Joker in a way that hasn’t been done before.
They aren’t just battling each other physically; they’re really putting their philosophies up against each other in a battle of wills.
The Joker is determined to prove that all it takes to turn someone insane is one bad day.
He uses Commissioner Gordon as his test subject and puts him through a gruelling set of circumstances that he’s sure will cause him to lose his mind. What makes this fascinating is that it’s juxtaposed against The Joker’s origin story.
We learn that it was The Joker’s own set of unfortunate incidents that led him to become the sociopath that he is today.
It’s as if he’s trying to justify his own existence and needs to prove that it could happen to anyone. All this makes the character a lot more understandable and perhaps even relatable. But then we hear the present-day Joker say that ‘if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice’, making me question just how much of his origin story is actually the truth.
Batman is out to prove a different point.
He’s already had many battles with The Joker and even if he’s been able to imprison him multiple times in the past, he doesn’t feel like he’s accomplished all that much. When we see Batman visiting the Joker for the first time in the story, we hear that he’s been thinking about The Joker a lot. About where their feud is going and how it will end.
It seems inevitable that one of them must end up dead, killed at the hands of the other.
And yet no matter how far gone the Joker seems to be, Batman is not willing to give up. The Joker has gotten beneath Batman’s skin in ways that no one else has before, and yet for Batman, the ultimate goal will not change. If there is any good left in The Joker at all, he is the one who will find it and rehabilitate him. Most importantly, he will never be driven to the insanity that The Joker hopes to drive him to. Even momentarily.
Despite the brilliance of the graphic novel, there isn’t enough material for a full-length feature film and so the directors decided to add in a 45 minute prequel that features Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, as the main protagonist. This story explores the complicated relationship between her and Batman and even gives Barbara her own antagonist to take down, crime lord Paris Franz.
Unfortunately, this all comes off as a bit disjointed.
Batgirl continually gets outsmarted by her rival, who seems to enjoy sexually taunting her. Batman advises her to take a back seat as she has become too emotionally involved but she defies him and this leads to a weird romantic moment between the two. Even though she eventually comes to Batman’s aid to take down Franz, she ends up giving up her role as Batgirl and her relationship with Batman is never resolved.
Even though she only has a small yet critical part in the actual Killing Joke novel, I didn’t feel like this prequel added any weight to it.
If you didn’t know what was coming at all, you would probably be expecting her to have a major role down the line, and yet she is removed from the story quite early on. This really makes me question why they decided to focus on her so heavily in the prequel.
Surely they could have used those 45 minutes to give us a bit more history between Batman and the Joker.
The Killing Joke is meant to be about the relationship between these two legendary characters, yet The Joker doesn’t appear for almost the whole first hour. It’s not that the Batgirl story was all that terrible (even though others may disagree), but it just didn’t seem to fit in with what followed it.
Another odd thing about this film was the R rating that accompanied it.
Yes, it is a dark storyline, but it never quite crosses the line into R-rated territory. There is implied death and perhaps even implied rape, but I’ve seen a lot worse in films that were rated MA15+. If anything, the rating seems like a bit of a gimmick to build up hype to the film, and it’s quite disappointing to have audiences misled this way.
Despite some of the shortcomings of the film, there isn’t a bad word that can be said about the voice acting.
Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy have brilliantly portrayed The Joker and Batman many times before, and this is right up there with some of their best work. Even Tara Strong is quite solid in her portrayal of Barbara Gordon. Particular credit must be given to Mark Hamill for his chilling portrayal of the Joker; when he bursts into song, it is both disturbing and brilliant.
The animation was a throw back to the old school TV cartoon show and this suited the time period of the story quite well.
It wasn’t as fluid as the type of animation we are used to seeing now but I feel that this helped give the story the dark unpolished edge it required. The music, it must be said, was absolutely stunning. There isn’t a lot of action in this film and the use of strings keeps the tension constantly building and the audience on edge the whole way through.
In the end, I left The Killing Joke feeling somewhat disappointed.
There were plenty of entertaining parts, yet as a whole, the movie didn’t really work. The film was bookended by a couple of short documentaries that were quite interesting. But again, this just served to further highlight that there wasn’t enough original material to make this movie in the first place.
It’s quite a shame as there aren’t a lot of adult animation films in general and there’s so much that can be done within this genre that hasn’t been explored. Let’s just hope this film doesn’t deter future filmmakers from giving it another go.
My Rating: 6/10