Batman: The Killing Joke (A Review)

Posted: 08/09/2016 in Uncategorized

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If DC could attain the live action standard being set by their animated runs, they would easily be the force to reckon with that they are striving to be. “Killing Joke” gets it right, including the Ostrander introductory segment fleshing out Barbara Gordon/Batgirl’s (Tara Strong) arc, making one invest in her character. There has been some negative commentary regarding Batgirl’s objectification particularly as regards her relationship with the Dark Knight but fans of Bruce Timm’s universe will recognize that this connection has been oft acknowledged by him as accepted lore. Of greater concern is a later sequence referencing the Joker’s proclivities upon his escapes from Arkham.  I will return to that point shortly.

The animation, lightly mirroring Bollards’ exquisite art is tour de force. The pacing of the story line is top tier. The BG opening is engaging enough for one to want it to continue. (Batgirl Year One was planned and dropped years ago when the Wonder Woman animated film was deemed to have underperformed). This run allows the viewer to see what might have been. Tara Strong’s voice work has always been superior and Killing Joke is no exception. That she is the narrator of the story adds greater gravitas as we know what is going to happen to her citing a decades- long history in comic lore.

Her student/teacher relationship with Batman is given a romantic tilt which rankled many, but again, this is the “Timmiverse” and this is how he sees the two eventually progressing. Batman’s overprotective manner however is more that of a parent than a lover. Her ultimate intercession on his behalf as he battles her personal nemesis “Paris Franz” (Maury Sterling ) unfortunately proves both their points. She is taken to the edge and does not like what she sees. Her demonstration of violence mirrored by her declaration that Frans “ruined everything” does present her in an immature light, but this is hardly a catastrophic failing. Ultimately, she stands true. Her post battle declaration that this would be the last time she would meet Batman as Batgirl is duly foreboding as she ends her narrative allowing for the second act.

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At heart of the story, however, there are two men, ultimate adversaries for seemingly forever. Batman/Bruce Wayne is voiced perfectly by the definitive animated Batman, Kevin Conroy. The Joker, is equally so, via Mark Hamill. Both are the alpha and omega of voice performances, having played their respective characters for over two decades (24 to be exact). Conroy brings something new to this role with his latest run. He brings a greater empathy than he has ever had to. With his protégé, he is protective, and with the early arc denouement, it would appear overly so. With his nemesis, however, he actually changes his tactics and reaches out to stop their destructive pattern.

His going to Arkham to meet with the Joker to suggest they simply stop what they have been doing is mirrored by the Joker’s doing the opposite, namely escalating the battle to the point one of the two has to end.  The remainder of the film is nearly a play by play of each panel of the still divisive, controversial work by Alan Moore. The presentation of the Joker’s origin story shows him as a man who was taking the wrong path from the beginning. When we meet him with his pregnant wife, we see none of what he eventually becomes but we do see a man mired in failure and poor decisions.  When one comes to the heart of the “Killing Joke” one posits the notion of what happens to a person if they have a truly awful day.  This isn’t new ground, as this idea has been kicked around forever in both written and cinematic form. With the Joker’s tale however, we finally catch a glimpse of the thorough ruination of a human being. With what happens to him on a given day, the presentation of his descent into madness seems not truly that illogical comparative to taking up a mantle and fighting in the streets for a nigh unattainable justice every night…  This theory too has been analyzed seemingly forever.  The idea of a “sexualized” Joker, however, is my only sore point with this film along with the implications of what he may or may not have done to Barbara Gordon. Bruce Timm addressed the issue by stating plainly that his version matched the book interpretation. Still, the intimation is there.

The flashback sequences, with alternating bright tones, add a greater depth of despair and confusion to the piece. Make no mistake folks -this is cinema, not just some comic book-y movie. The Killing Joke written 30 years ago is still a hot topic of discussion to this day. It is dark, grim and in some brief moments darkly funny. The Joker’s musings on “piss” as he brokers to “buy” the rundown death trap amusement park from its owner are genuinely funny. His later “well goddammit” declaration and surrender to the inevitable to the Dark Knight is equally so. The Joker’s attempt to annihilate Jim Gordon (Ray Wise) via destroying his daughter in the most humiliating fashion is irredeemable. He knows this as illustrated grimly by his “it’s too late for me” response to Batman’s offer to rehabilitate and help him. The Joker acknowledges that Batman too must have had a bad day. Batman’s ongoing mission and endorsement by an amazingly unbroken Gordon,to bring Joker in “by the book”, informs his later statement to the Joker – “It’s just you” regarding the path to evil the clown has taken. The shared moment in the final act translates well from book to screen and caps off the tale with the knowledge that neither man involved has or can truly change though for a brief moment they can share the revelation they aren’t absolutely different.

The final sequence establishing Barbara Gordon’s return and reinvention as a character that proved both an invaluable asset to the super hero community as well as a powerful representation for the physically disabled could easily play into its own movie. This movie was never going to please everybody, anymore than the book did. I do offer from my perspective, however, that “The Killing Joke” is simply outstanding and assuredly well worth your time.

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