Batman: The Killing Joke Film Review

Theatrical Poster.
Theatrical Poster.

Warning: This post contains spoilers.

Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the greatest and one of the most controversial comic books of all time. It helped comic books become mainstream in the 80's along with other works such as, Watchmen, Batman: Year One, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It also featured one of the most criticized moments in comic history with the crippling of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. That moment changed how we talk about the role of women in comics and DC Comic members were so disgusted with what was done to her character, that she was given a new role as the genius hacker known as Oracle in future comics. Batgirl was restored to her old self in the New 52 reboot in 2011, but her crippling and subsequent sexual assault by the Joker has left a bad taste in the mouths of readers for nearly thirty years.

At Comic-Con 2015, Bruce Timm announced an animated adaptation of the classic comic that was met with immediate excitement and anticipation. Even better was the news that they were going to expand Batgirl's role in the movie in an effort to stretch the story into a feature length film. The added benefit would be that Batgirl would not be in the story to just be crippled as she was in the comic. A wrong was going to be corrected. In my opinion, controversy would always follow this movie because they were never going to escape that fateful scene where Joker shoots her, cripples her, and then removes her clothes so he can take sadistic pictures of her blood covered body in order to torture her father, Commissioner Gordon. However, adding to the story by expanding her role looked like a golden opportunity to alleviate that controversy. Unfortunately, Bruce Timm, Sam Liu, and Brian Azzarello did the exact opposite. They added a thirty minute prologue that had absolutely nothing to do with the actual Killing Joke story and they used those thirty minutes to take one long shit on her character.

Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill were tremendous once again.
Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill were tremendous once again.

The thought process behind the Batgirl prologue was "let's just add more controversy," which was admitted by writer Brian Azzarello himself. Like my earlier comments on DC and WB's struggles with the current DC live action movies, Azzarello's approach to the prologue represents a fundamental misunderstanding of why The Killing Joke has endured as a seminal work in Batman history. The controversy that came from Barbara Gordon being paralyzed and "stuffed in the fridge" is not why the comic was so celebrated. It was celebrated because IT WAS A GREAT COMIC. Instead of taking that comic and adding to it in order to right a wrong that readers have had for decades, Azzarello decided to pour gasoline on the fire.

He did this by completely undermining Barbara Gordon as a character and reducing her to a hot-for-teacher sexist stereotype. It was a damn shame to see such a strong, enduring character reduced to the worst tendencies of teenage infatuation. The villain of the prologue, who's called Paris Franz (yes, really) was a ridiculous, dumb, misogynist clown that had no business being in the story at all. It was so bad that I sort of felt like Brian Azzarello was projecting himself through the Paris Franz character so he could take every opportunity to invalidate Batgirl. This is all on top of the fact that Barbara being sexually attracted to Batman is very out of character and subverts their relationship. Not to mention the fact that it was creepy. However, I will give the filmmakers credit for adding the Oracle post credit scene at the end. I felt like that was a good nod to her future in a role that became a huge part of the Batman universe.

I just wish that everyone working on DC Comic movies would stop subverting their own damn movies. It is unnecessary and undermines whatever purpose you have for doing these movies in the first place. Marvel does not do this and it's been a big reason why they've succeeded with the MCU. THEY DON'T SUBVERT THEIR OWN UNIVERSE AND IT'S CHARACTERS.

The Batgirl prologue was terrible.
The Batgirl prologue was terrible.

Despite my very negative tone, there are some positives that allowed me to enjoy the movie despite the horrible prologue. Once the actual Killing Joke part of the movie begins, it's full steam ahead. The faithfulness and the voice acting honored the source material. Hearing Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy lend their voices to this classic story is a fan's dream come true. As someone who grew up on the Animated Series and is a huge fan of the Arkham Games, it was wonderful to feel the passion that Conroy and Hamill bring out in each other once again. If this movie had been done without Conroy and Hamill, then it would not have been the same and I don't think the adaptation would've been nearly as good as what we received.

I understand the need to add to the story in order to reach a feature length, I just wish that Bruce Timm, Sam Liu, and especially Brian Azzarallo had been responsible with the source material rather than succumb to the temptation to "add more controversy." They had a golden opportunity to elevate a controversial story and they chose to stick it's face in the mud and rub it in. That was very unfortunate. Like I said before, DC and WB really need to step away from subversion, deconstruction, and controversy. Stick the heart of the comics and if you know something's going to be a problem, fix it, don't make it worse.

3 stars for Batman: The Killing Joke


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