The Killing Joke is by far one of the darker Batman comics ever written. The comic blended a look at Joker’s past with what the reality of the relationship between Batman and The Joker was coming to. In it Batman gives a speech about knowing that they are on a path where one will have to kill the other. Batman doesn’t want this to happen, The Joker wants to drive him to it.
It was a little surprising to hear that this comic was being made into an animated movie. The material is very dark, and in the past Batman animated movies/series have stayed slightly more on the kid friendly side. Frankly there is no way to make The Killing Joke kid friendly while still honoring the source material. However when setting out to make this movie, the worries about a broad audience weren’t considered. The Killing Joke as a movie was meant to be exactly what it was as a comic, a dark look into the psyche of one of the most insane enemies in the world of Batman, if not comics overall.
Going into it, I was a bit confused as to what to expect. The challenge would be turning a relatively short comic into a feature length film, as well as building up the four essential characters of the story. The movie took an interesting approach in that it focused largely on Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) in the beginning before shifting. The movie is really two parts, Barbara’s case in which her relationship with Batman is explored. Following that we kick off with The Killing Joke. Barbara is often a forgotten character when people talk about The Killing Joke. While The Joker is clearly looking to torture Commissioner Gordon and then Batman, his means of doing so his attack on Barbara.
Choosing to give half the movie over to her helps to remind people that she suffers just as greatly as everyone else in the story. It also builds a deeper emotional attachment to her both via Batman, and the audience. Interestingly enough there is also a direct parallel between a criminal who is “in love” with Batgirl and Joker’s relationship with Batman. At the end of it all the attack on Barbara is not shown in much more detail than it was in the comics, but the impact is massive. You’ve had some time to see her develop with Batman then watch her be taken down in a cruel, and frankly disgusting manner.
This also drives Gordon’s mental torture further. Gordon being forced to watch what The Joker did to his only daughter was difficult to read in the comics, it’s equally unsettling in the movie. The one aspect that is damaged by this is the rather startling ending. Batman reacts pretty poorly to Barbara’s attack in the comic, but pulls himself in for Gordon. Having a deeper relationship build between the two, but still seeing him be so controlled is slightly less believable. You can make the argument that Batman has to hold it together for Barbara and Gordon even more because of the depth of the relationship, but it remains a slightly iffy choice.
As far as translation from comic to big screen this was pretty flawless. The art choice is interesting as The Killing Joke had a lot darker style. Yet it’s a perfect way to tie it in to Batman TAS as it was clearly meant to be. Bringing back so many of the voice actors was also lovely, only that cast could have really pulled it off. It feels in part like a blast from the past, and Batman TAS, while still feeling new and approachable for those maybe unfamiliar with the older series.
There is also the added bonus of bringing moments to life like the comic was unable to. Most notable is probably The Joker’s song that he sings while attempting to drive Gordon mad. Seeing The Killing Joke in a new format was something truly wonderful. It’s a comic that deserved to be seen in film form, and was done well.
At the end of the day, much like the comic it’s hard for me to say that I liked this. It was extremely well done, but a rough ride, and makes “like” feel like the wrong word. The content of the story is nothing to sniff at, and it will make you uncomfortable at times. Yet it’s more than worth watching, and impossible for me not to appreciate.