How excited were we when The Killing Joke animated film was announced as a sure thing? Add on to that the electric joy when Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Tara Strong were confirmed as the main voice talents as Batman, Joker, and Batgirl respectively. Toss in another extra few points due to the R rating of the animated movie, theoretically meaning no punches would be pulled.
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland crafted a pretty stellar one shot comic book in March of 1988, becoming arguably the greatest Joker story ever told in the medium. We get to the root of his past (or at least one of the main roots), the struggling comedian with a pregnant wife at home to support through whatever means necessary. If you want a more indepth and wonderfully written bullet point for “The Killing Joke”, read this post from Screenrant. But in this telling, we get 45 minutes of prologue before the meat of the story.
Batgirl and Batman are doing their thing on the rooftops of Gotham, and there is severe tension between them. Is this unrequited love? Is it merely the teacher and student issues? Does it matter? Not in the way the majority of written reviews would have you believe. Many, like io9, claim Barbara Gordon’s sole motivating factor for becoming Batgirl in this narrative is “her desire to have sex with Batman”. Yes, you read that correctly. One of the most steadfast female characters in the Batman world became her caped and cowled alter ego JUST TO FUCK BATMAN. I cannot words. Anyhow, it goes from a scene of Batman and Batgirl fighting into them having intercourse on a rooftop. Man that Batgirl top comes off easily.
From there we get the impression that Batman, feeling regretful after the doin’ it, is avoiding Barbara because sex. It should come as NO GODDAMN SURPRISE that Batman is a dick. He’s ALWAYS been a dick, and doesn’t share his toys with anyone. The script doesn’t do the audience any favors, a few choice lines of Batman paint him in an even worse light. Is he going out of his way to avoid Barbara? Yeah, it really does feel that way. But is it his motivation to punish her with his silence? I don’t really think it is, having been on both sides of this type of adult fallout. In any case, the result is Batgirl retiring her suit and walking away from the Batfamily.
There is a time jump from that point, and we’re back into the main story of “The Killing Joke”. The Joker has escaped from prison, and everyone is dreading what his first strike will be. We see him purchasing the amusement park, and formulating plans for “the main show.”
He shows up at Barbara’s apartment and shoots her in the spine, her twitches and tears perhaps egging him on. We see him run his hands down her body and unbutton her shirt, baring her skin. The Joker lifts his camera and starts snapping photos, while the scene fades to black.
It should be said the general consensus has always been that the Joker physically violates Barbara, as in rape. I’ve never believed this, as it’s not necessarily in his wheelhouse of disgusting actions. He horribly violates her by striping her naked and taking photos as she slowly bleeds out, but I don’t believe he rapes her.
Barbara is shown in the hospital, a brooding Batman standing over her. Bruce shows concern of course, but not in the way other reviewers are claiming. “Batman only goes after the Joker to get revenge for the assault on his property”. Um. No. Batman would have gone after whomever did something that heinous had the victim been Robin, Alfred, Harvey Dent, etc. The fact that it was a woman he’d had a physical encounter with really doesn’t factor into his desire the beat the crap out of the Joker.
If you know the rest of the story, then you are familiar with the kidnapping of Commissioner Gordon. The Joker Clockwork Orange’s him and forcefeeds him images of bleeding Barbara, in an attempt to bring Jim to insanity. It doesn’t work, and Batman shows up in the nick of time to release Gordon. “Take him by the book”, the Commissioner tells Batman, letting the audience know he is NOT broken.
The big fight commences, Batman and Joker in the house of mirrors, and comes to a head where Batman has the choice to end the funny man’s life. He of course choses not to, and it comes to an end with The Joker telling a joke in the attempt to make Batsy laugh, which he does.
Did this film need to be made? Probably not. Does it stand up to the previous animated tales of Gotham and her peoples? Not really. Does The Killing Joke deserve the venom it’s getting via the internet right now? Eh. It’s not as troubling as you’d believe, but it’s not as good as one would hope with the talent behind it.
SCORE: 5.5 OUT OF 10 There is nothing new, nothing special, nothing really GOOD about this film other than the amount of animated headshots to random goons.
Just go watch the opening sequence of Birds of Prey for the perfect non-comic book telling of the story.