When Warner Bros. Animation announced that we would be getting a film based on the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke, I was speechless and immediately placed it right next to some of the biggest summer blockbusters as my most anticipated films of 2016. The famous Joker/Barbara Gordon scene from that graphic novel in 1989 has become one of the most gruesome and shocking moments in DC comic lore and has lived on in many comic and game iterations. Most recently, Rocksteady’s 2015 Batman: Arkham Knight video game. Does director Sam Liu (Batman: Year One) deliver a faithful adaptation? Yes and no. Was it a very entertaining animated film from the DC library? Absolutely.
The film begins with a completely new story arc that serves as the film’s opening introduction of the good old days when Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) was enjoying life running the rooftops of Gotham with Batman. Was quite a long introduction. At one point, I almost second-guessed if I was even watching The Killing Joke at all. The purpose of this new story arc was to give the viewer some insight into the mostly work and some love relationship between Barbara and Batman. Including one controversial scene on a rooftop that was only missing some XXX background music and a satin sheet heart-shaped rotating no-tell motel bed. Was it out-of-place? A bit. Did it ruin the film? Not at all. Was just a bit caught off guard, but it ultimately gave some more insight to Batman’s relationship with Batgirl when we get to the infamous scene when Barbara Gordon’s doorbell rings.
As always from Warner Bros. Animation, voice acting is fantastic. Was great to listen to Kevin Conroy (Batman) trade lines with legendary Mark Hamill (The Joker) again. Wasn’t too long ago we thought we would never hear Hamill’s Joker again and he did not disappoint. Hamill had a bit more serious and sadistic tone to this Joker and I loved every minute. The rest of the cast was solid including Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon), and the charismatic villain, Maury Sterling (Paris Franz). The real surprise stands out for me was Robin Atkin Downes (Detective Harvey Bullock), who in limited time truly delivered a gritty performance of a cop in Gotham who has seen it all.
There was a bit of mixed reception to the animation when clips started hitting the Internet a few months back. I can say that yes, in a two-minute clip, there was some sketchy animation sequences. However, viewed as an entire film screening in its whole, I loved it. There are some scenes that have a real graphic novel come to life ala Sin City vibe to it. Jazz music in background and all. I wasn’t wild about at first, but the Dark Knight’s facial animation took some getting used to. Has a very solid chin giving us the impression that this is a very seasoned Batman. In addition, the 1980’s style Batmobile and Bat-suit brought back many nostalgic memories from my days as a young comic reader back in the day. Very cool.
Now on to the meat of the review. The Barbara Gordon scene. For those that have not seen the film or read the graphic novel, I will avoid as always any major spoilers. What I can say is that it was a perfectly directed and filmed adaptation of the graphic novel–almost page for page and shot for shot. What I will add is this. Back in 1989, this was a holy s*%t moment in the graphic novel. As an adult, the scene didn’t have that “Oh my, this is wickedly gruesome and unexpected” feeling. Granted, a large part of that lost feeling is because I already knew what was coming. Still, even as the Joker began his evil speech as he undressed Barbara with camera in hand, it felt more PG-13 than Rated R in terms of shock and horror. I did enjoy the Gordon going crazy under the Jokers watch scenes a lot more than when I remember reading that chapter as a kid.
What made the graphic novels story of the parallel similarities between both the Joker and Batman so unique was the moment they both shared together enjoying a good laugh as the Joker tells a joke to the Caped Crusader. Decades of being arch rivals. Enduring Jason’s death, Barbara’s assault, years of terror on Gotham residents and in one rare moment, the two icons enjoy a laugh together. Was an amazing ending to a classic story. However as an animated film, especially with the newly added story arc in the film’s beginning, the faithful comic adaptation final scene came across a bit…trying to find the right word here–let’s go with underwhelming. Definitely did not have the same impact in a 2016 film as it did twenty-seven years ago. For an iconic graphic novel known for its gritty and violent reputation, I can say I have seen more bloody and gruesome films in the DC library. That said, it is a wonderful and faithful adaptation for the most part once the film gets passed its added on introduction.
I give The Killing Joke 3 1/2 out of 4 Stars.