Monday, August 8, 2016

Movie Review: Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

Batman: The Killing Joke - Directed by Sam Liu; Written by Brian Azzarello; Voices of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise, Robin Atkins Downes, Brian George.

By Kenny Howell

If the Batman: The Killing Joke graphic novel wasn't controversial enough, the new DC animated film adaptation of it adds a whole new layer to it.

The original graphic novel written by Alan Moore drew criticism for its treatment of Barbara Gordon. The Joker shoots her, which paralyzes her, then strips her naked for reasons that become clear later in the book.

The book was deemed too sadistic by some because of that incident and some things later in the film. I understand that criticism, but I think that the Joker needed to take that route to deepen the Batman lore, basically grow it up, and get the Batman we know today.

The book is a pretty sleek, small piece of work, so turning it into a feature length film required some embellishments, much like The Hobbit did. It is that embellishment that has angered many comic book fans because the film's beginning focuses on Batgirl, aka Barbara Gordon who is training with Batman, and also has sex with him on a rooftop after an argument. It turned that relationship sexual, which it didn't need to be, and added some elements that feel a bit off from the Batman that's been throughout the years.

It attempts to build drama to land a bigger impact when Barbara is injured. Controversy aside (there are plenty that have written about it out there better than I can), the setup is what really dooms Batman: The Killing Joke. It ends up seeming like two films. Batgirl is the protagonist in the first part of the film, then disappears almost completely in the last half, which is the story that is actually told in the book. The last half is what the book is actually about, the duality of man, Batman and the Joker, and whether one bad day could push someone over the edge. It works as an origin story of the Joker, which sees him as a failed comedian who loses his family, then reluctantly turns to crime when all seems lost. After an accident, the monster we know is created.

I appreciate the effort of DC of trying to bring these more mature Batman stories to the screen in an animated form. It's what the great creators deserve. They should have just stuck with the story on its own, and perhaps made this shorter or found smaller ways to embellish it. The core is the best part of the film, and everything else just seems separate.

Rating: **1/2

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