At Comic Con 2016 in San Diego, CA on July 22, 2016 the fandom world finally saw Batman: The Killing Joke, the latest animated film from DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation.
After being well-received at Comic Con, the animated feature was given a limited theatrical release in select cities for one night only on July 25, 2016. Nerd Nation was in attendance for one such showing in Charlotte, NC, courtesy of Warner Bros. and Regal Cinemas.
But with so much hype surrounding it, how did Batman: The Killing Joke measure up? Read on to see for yourselves!
The following review may contain MINOR SPOILERS. If you haven’t read Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” please read up first. We will TRY our absolute best to NOT spoil anything here, but it may prove difficult here. You’ve been warned.
Featuring the iconic voice acting of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their famous roles of Batman and The Joker, respectively; which they’ve both done for over 25 years in such titles as Batman: The Animated Series, the Arkham video game series, and various others, Batman: The Killing Joke is based on the legendary graphic novel of the same name by comics legends Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.
The story follows Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (voiced by Tara Strong) who has been struggling to capture a mob-driven criminal named Paris Franz. After Franz becomes obsessed with Batgirl and begins to stalk her, Batman becomes concerned with her safety and worries that the mind games will be too much for the young heroine. This leads to many arguments between the two, which ultimately leads to a very unecessary sex scene between Batman and Batgirl. To the surprise of exactly no one, this creates even more awkwardness and tension between the characters as The Joker eventually comes into the picture and kicks off the main story.
Worth noting is that the entire first half of this film is an entirely new addition to the story, and has nothing to do with the original graphic novel. When The Joker finally shows up, the audience finally gets to see the animated version of The Killing Joke wherein The Joker targets and torments Batgirl in an attempt to get at Batman, ultimately leading to Barbara Gordon’s iconic and tragic transformation from Batgirl into Oracle after being crippled by the infamous shot to the spine from the clown prince of crime. For fear of spoiling anything more than I probably already have for the few of you dear readers who haven’t read this legendary graphic novel (and seriously, if you haven’t, go pick up a copy right now and read it – it’s that good!) I won’t say any more, and instead will simply say that as much as the first half had nothing to do with the source material, the second half was about as spot-on as it could possibly be.
That’s where it becomes a bit difficult to properly review this one. While the second half of this animated feature is about as accurate as a comic adaptation can get, it’s pretty damaged by a less than stellar first half of add-ons that are chock-full of a lot of problems. Most notably among these problems is the presentation of Batgirl. My better half (a lifelong Batman fan, who attended the premiere with me and is admittedly far more well-versed in this particular topic than I) really helped me to understand and form into words what both of our problems were in this film adaptation by explaining to me the “Bechdel-Wallace Test” and more specifically its derivitive, the “Sexy Lamp Test” – in which a female character in a work of fiction is judged based on her ability to be more than a prop/object. For those unfamiliar, basically if the female character can be replaced by a sexy lamp and the story remains more-or-less the same, it fails this test. This film, at least in the first half, absolutely fails this test.
Batgirl is established as a hapless, bumbling, emotional train wreck of a character who seems to just be some girl that’s hung up on the dark knight. She’s given a walking-stereotype of a gay co-worker friend for the sole purpose of “dishing about boys” (seriously, that’s the entire role of this supporting character) and is of course thrown into the aforementioned Batgirl-Batman sex scene which serves absolutely no purpose in the overall story, apart from prompting the highly uncomfortable question of “wait, did Batman just bed a teenager?” – I don’t know if it’s actually that bad, but the question did pop into my head, as well as the heads of several others we saw the film with, so take it as you will. To make matters worse, the first half also presents Batgirl struggling to overcome even the lowliest of Gotham’s D-list villains before being taken out by the A-list villain that absolutely should have, which to be honest just devalues everyone involved.
That being said, once the second half of the film kicks off – you know, the half that’s actually based on The Killing Joke – things get 100% better all-around. The voice acting is just as outstanding as you’d expect from such a stellar cast that’s been doing it for so long, the animation is very good, and the score fits perfectly with everything. If this film started at the second half, we’d have a true animated masterpiece on our hands. But, as is the case with a lot of stuff DC has brought to the big screen of late, it just finds a way to fail despite incredible source material, mostly by sub-par screenwriting and overproducing.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Batman: The Killing Joke is a definitive example of a mixed bag. While the voice acting, animation, and source material really could not have been better, unforntunately its all so bogged down by a less-than-stellar first half and an extremely poor presentation of the story’s heroine that it really devalues everything else. It’s a real shame, because if the first half of this feature wasn’t present, this would have ranked up there with the best animated comic adaptations of all time, but in its current state, it just falls short. – 5.5/10
Editor/Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine
There’s a looooooong history of treating Batgirl like crap. Check out this quote from the inside when the writer of Killing Joke, Alan Moore, about what the then chief editor of the story, Len Wein, had to say after discussing the idea of harming her seriously with Executive Editorial Director, Dick (go figure) Giordano:
“In 2006, during an interview with Wizard, Moore expressed regret over his treatment of the character calling it “shallow and ill-conceived.” He stated prior to writing the graphic novel, “I asked DC if they had any problem with me crippling Barbara Gordon—who was Batgirl at the time—and if I remember, I spoke to Len Wein, who was our editor on the project”, and following a discussion with then-Executive Editorial Director Dick Giordano, “Len got back onto the phone and said, ‘Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.'”
Oh, DC, you so sensitive…