Director: Sam Liu
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill & Tara Strong
Synopsis: As Batman hunts for the escaped Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime attacks the Gordon family to prove a diabolical point mirroring his own fall into madness.
Rating: 15 Duration: 77 minutes Release date: 8 August (UK)
Released in 1988, The Killing Joke became a popular DC graphic novel which depicted the origins of the Joker as well as one of Batman’s most notorious encounters with his most popular nemesis. Written by Alan Moore, The Killing Joke became, quite possibly, the defining tale of the Joker and gained notoriety for its graphic nature and the implications of what the Joker may have done to Barbara Gordon/Batgirl after shooting her and paralysing her. It’s an intense story and one that will provoke a lot of reactions, both good and bad, but the animated film is not the home-run fans were expecting and may leave a few more than disappointed.
In a move that makes the two halves of The Killing Joke feel disconnected, there are two stories being told here. The first is Batgirl’s story as Barbara Gordon first fails to stop a fairly routine robbery and secondly develops an unconventional relationship with a criminal by the name of Paris Franz. Franz attempts to toy with Batgirl’s emotions and give her the attention she seems to crave but isn’t getting from Batman. Meanwhile, her relationship with Batman grows tense as he fears Batgirl’s naivety will get her into trouble and that she hasn’t been pushed far enough to take her role seriously.
The relationship between Gotham’s two crime fighters is as strained as any relationship with Batman is likely to be, but in The Killing Joke an air of sexual tension has been added to the mix. Whether this was in the original adaptation I have no idea, and one scene in particular will raise a few eyebrows as to its requirement to move the story along. Its introduction creates an uneasy air between the two and can either be seen as something that has a deeper impact later in the film or something that was added for shock value. As the film moves along, a sense of anticipation descends and one wonders when the film will get to the meat and bones of it and introduce the Joker.
As previously mentioned, The Killing Joke really does feel like it consists of two separate films. We all know this is the Jokers story and his introduction is a welcome change of pace. Once we know that the Joker has arrived back in Gotham, we are taken on a much more macabre journey than what we’ve been shown so far. As well as the main story we are also shown the Joker’s back story and what turned him into Gotham’s most infamous mad-man. His previous life as a struggling stand-up comedian lends some empathy to the character and as the Joker is keen enough to tell Batman, all it takes is one bad day to send someone over the edge. Granted, this goes to the extremes of what a really bad day looks like, but it shines a light on why he became so disturbed.
As with the majority of DC’s animated films, the voice work could not have been better. Kevin Conroy (who else?) returns as Batman, while Mark Hamill is clearly enjoying returning to the role of the Joker and is allowed to take things to a much darker level than before. Tara Strong showcases her multitude of talents lending Batgirl a youthful enthusiasm and fills the role with a tonne of energy. Ray Wise, famous for taking bad guy roles, instead focuses on Gotham’s other noble hero; Commissioner Gordon. And while he is given the least to do, Wise still manages to make his scenes count.
Sadly, not everything in The Killing Joke works. The uneven pace is the most unsettling factor and the film takes far too long to get going. Also, a story that was once so controversial, can seem a little tame at times with the Jokers threat level not as high as you might expect. While not wanting to spoil matters, it’s perhaps fair to comment that the ending is fairly abrupt and may leave some wondering how or why things are left in the way they are.
In the end, The Killing Joke is a mixed bag. It does some things well and others not so much, but manages to remain faithful to its source material while adding something new at the same time. Whether you enjoy it will remain up to you, but The Killing Joke is a solid entry in DC’s animated line and has enough going for it to please fans new and old.
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