Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke

Being a huge Batman fan I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t read a lot of the major stories about the character in comic book form. I own a nice stack of graphic novels but can never find the time to sit down and give them a read. Note to self: Do that soon.

Anyway, whenever there is a new film or television show involving Batman I always jump on it as soon as I can. Warner Bros. Animation has been kicking ass on this front for decades now and their newest release is based on one of the most well known of these comic book stories, Batman: The Killing Joke, and had a limited theatrical release that I was more than happy to take advantage of.
The Joker (voice of Mark Hamill) nearly kills Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (voice of Tara Strong) and Batman (voice of Kevin Conroy) embarks on a personal crusade to stop him once and for all.

“The Killing Joke” is most well known for two things:
1.     Barbara Gordon gets paralyzed by The Joker.
2.     We get a nice bit of backstory on The Joker before he became The Clown Prince of Crime.

And that’s it. I haven't read the graphic novel, but in the film Batgirl and Batman have a nice little sexcapade on a rooftop, there is more than the average amount of violence spread around as well as an implied rape. The story goes to dark places that most comic books usually shy away from. But outside of those two plot points there really isn’t much to the story of “The Killing Joke”. This translates to the film version exponentially as I was alternately bored and underwhelmed by it.
For starters, The Joker seems like an afterthought as are the lame and overly cliché flashbacks to his past. The character is just sort of thrown into the story randomly and there is nothing to trigger his flashbacks like a story parallel in the present day. They are just shoehorned in because, hey, why not. His motivations for why he takes over a carnival and employs the sideshow freaks isn’t made clear outside of his plans to drive Commissioner Gordon mad. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you think about it and comes off as tremendously fan servicey. Why is The Joker even there? Because that’s what people want to see - The Joker.

The first half of the film deals with what I thought was the more interesting story - Barbara Gordon getting a little miffed at how Batman holds her back only to realize the reason he is doing so is because they share feelings for each other. But once The Joker is awkwardly introduced at the midway point her character is just thrown aside. Sure she’s in a hospital recovering, but still. She was the focus of the first half and she’s abandoned for the second.

Sure the animation is awesome (love the design of The Joker) not counting the few times the CG-enhancements were plainly obvious (the carousel). The few action scenes are pretty fun. The voice acting is phenomenal. Tara Strong is one of my all time favorite voice actors (if you’re not following her Vine account you have yet to live) and Mark Hamill came out of “Joker Retirement” to play the character once again as did Kevin Conroy to play Batman. The musical score is phenomenal and only utilizes strings (my favorite orchestral section). Technically this is a great animated film.
It just saddens me that I could not get into the story. It’s fragmented and did nothing for me. Not even the final scene. As I looked around the theater as it played out everyone seemed completely enthralled and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t as well. It felt completely underwhelming and more than a little bit anticlimactic. The story (what was there anyway) seemed to building up to something big, like some sort of reveal or revelation. Instead The Joker tells Batman a joke (which I will admit was pretty funny), they share a laugh like a couple of bros and then the credits roll. The friend I was with at the screening looked at me and said “That’s it?!”

Yes, that is it. That is an hour of my life I will never get back. I felt infuriated that Batman just stood there knowing what this psycho did to Barbara and goes for the pacifist approach instead of beating his head in. I understand that Batman’s way of dealing with The Joker was trying to prove a certain point, but this was the cheesiest way of going about it. Sorry dear writers and fans. It’s just how I feel.

There are moments here and there that are fun and very well executed, but on the whole I just found the story to be simpley meh. This is one of the more celebrated stories involving these characters and I cannot figure out for the life of me why. “The Dark Knight Returns” undoubtedly deserves that honor. “A Death in the Family” as well. “Knightfall”, sure. “Hush”, oh hellz yes. “The Killing Joke”… why? I really need someone to explain it to me.
Maybe as a comic book this story works. As I’ve never read it I cannot claim that it does. As a film not so much. Some stories just aren’t meant to be translated to the medium as far as I’m concerned. This, sadly, is one of them. Just because Mark Hamill came back to play The Joker one more time shouldn’t get the film an automatic pass (which is all I heard people talking about after the screening). I kind of want a good story to go along with the outstanding voice talent. The former was missing. Sorry.

2 out of 5

P.S. Why was this rated “R” again? Oh yeah. Publicity stunt.

P.P.S. If you look closely at the screens in the Batcave showing the different pictures of The Joker, one is of Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight.

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