The Other Side of Animation 49: Batman: The Killing Joke Review

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PARENTAL WARNING/HEADS UP: This film is not for younger audiences. It has cursing, brutal violence, and scenes of consensual sex, and applied sexual assault. It is not for a young viewing audience, and you should definitely skip out on this if you plan on watching it with your kids. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

This is going to be an interesting topic to talk about, due to today’s review. Have you ever watched a movie that you either love, enjoy, or hate, but then find that one scene that everyone talks about or notices about the film at hand, and it hurts the movie on many different levels? For example, the ending to From Up on Poppy Hill bothers me, even though I love the entire movie. The conclusion is so abrupt, and has no real closure for the viewers. They get the answer to their long requested, well, question, and then the credits roll. Heck, a lot of Japanese animated films do these abrupt endings, and it’s incredibly distracting, like in The Secret World of Arrietty, REDLINE, and Whisper of the Heart. The Wings of Honneamise has an incredibly uncomfortable moment that is essentially the male lead almost assaulting the female lead, and then the movie tries to paint it like it’s the female lead’s fault that it happened. Yeah, when you spot these moments, they can lead to a lot of problems in terms of the execution of said scenes, and how they impact the overall film. That’s why I decided to talk about the recently released (digitally at least) Batman: The Killing Joke. Directed by Sam Liu, produced by Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, with a script and story written by Brian Azzarello, The Killing Joke was definitely one of the more infamous events during the San Diego Comic Con of this year, with the controversy of the additional 30 minutes of story added to the original 45 minute run-time. It also got a lot of heat for a specific scene 19 minutes into the movie where Batgirl and Batman have sex. Yeah, we will get to that part in due time and talk about it. The overall reception of its release digitally (physical release in August) has definitely been mixed with much criticism aimed at the additional 30 minutes and the apparent sex scene. Anyway, what do I think of it? Well, let’s find out.

The Killing Joke is based off of the 20 or so paged graphical novel of the same name, revolving around The Joker, voiced by the always amazing Mark Hamill, essentially ruining the life of Batgirl aka Barbara Gordon, voiced by the also always amazing Tara Strong. The Joker essentially shoots Batgirl in the spine, causing her to be paralyzed, and kidnaps her father. It’s up to Batman, voiced by the also excellent Kevin Conroy, to stop The Joker and his schemes. The 30 minutes of additional footage are essentially about Batgirl taking down a sociopathic thug that has become obsessed with her while Batman attempts to teach Batgirl about not taking certain situations too far.

Yeah, let’s get to the biggest problem with this film, the additional 30 minutes. They have no reason to be there since they don’t connect to the main story. The thug Batgirl has to deal with is never brought up, or those incidences are never mentioned again from within the main plot of the film. They essentially said that they wanted to add more to Batgirl’s character so she isn’t just a plot item in the original story. I can respect that, but they don’t find a way to make it interesting enough to make the tragic thing that happens to her mean more. Instead of connecting the new footage and story with the obvious main villain, The Joker, they instead waste our time with what feels like a lost episode to one of the many Batman animated cartoons. They throw in this sociopath thug that has no real weight to the second half of the story. I have talked to a few people, saying that the thug is essentially Batgirl’s version of The Joker, but still. Not to say what happens to Batgirl and this thug wasn’t deep and scary, but if you are going to simply dump him in the second half, then why have him at all? Why not do what Jessica Jones did with Jessica and Purple Man? That could have given the reason for  The Joker to be obsessed with wanting to partly ruin her life in the main story. Have her humiliate The Joker in one of his heists, and then have him escape and cause the deed that made the original story infamous, or have The Joker be humiliated by the Gotham police which triggers him to “do the deed”. I know giving  The Joker logical thinking would be odd, but hearing him talk in this film made him seem like a logical individual (even if he is still a bit nutty). Now then, let’s talk about the notorious scene of Batgirl and Batman having sex on a rooftop. Thankfully, she is of legal age so it doesn’t get too creepy, but I have seen this happen a couple of times in the comics, and once in Batman Beyond, and, well, I don’t think it works. I never thought it worked having Batgirl be romantically tied to Batman. I can see her being sort of fan-girlish around him or like a daughter he never had, but sexually tied? Yeah, no. Also, it’s never mentioned again when the actual plot happens. It’s so infuriating to watch this movie, knowing that the additional footage really doesn’t do anything new with the actual plot, because there is some real good stuff in the later part of the film. They don’t even fix the main problem with The Killing Joke, where the incident of Batgirl getting shot and worse (I won’t say what was suggested happened to her), with how she was more of a plot element than an actual character or have any major reason to be there. They call this “Stuffed into the Fridge”. Essentially, something bad happens to a character just because they wanted it to happen.

By the way, this film got an R rating, and it really didn’t earn it. This is no more edgy than a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or Criminal Minds episode. This has to stop, really. Unless your movie deserves it, don’t think giving it an R rating is going to make it any more desirable. Just because Deadpool and Batman v Superman made it cool, doesn’t mean every movie needs to be doing it. Sometimes, having creative limitations can make you work harder on making a better product within the barrier. And whoever says you should enjoy this as two movies needs to go rework their logic. I don’t agree with that statement that you should enjoy both plots individually. The additional 30 minutes should have been connected to the main story, and it isn’t.

The animation and art is also a mixed bag. The designs of the characters are fine, and the voice work is excellent, but the animation itself is super janky. It feels very cheap. It comes off like the film’s budget went towards the action sequences and the voice actors. It’s definitely very distracting to see clunky animation for such a famous story in comic books. Even with some of the technical problems Justice League vs Teen Titans had, it still looks good in terms of animation.

So, what is good about this movie? Well, when you get to the actual plot, the story is creepy, atmospheric, and dark. Even though we have seen dark Batman and Joker storylines in animated form, like Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, this is probably one of the creepier stories with how far The Joker goes to break Commissioner Gordon. It’s easily one of the darkest moments ever in DC animation. The voice work is also excellent. It shouldn’t be a surprise with Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Tara Strong delivering great performances. The two scens of The Joker talking to Gordon, and the ending conversation between Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy are easily some of the best moments of DC animation.

I was hugely underwhelmed and annoyed by this movie. If the 30 minutes were done better, the Joker had more of a presence in the beginning with Batgirl, take out the pointless sex scene, and they fix the elements of the original story to be better, I think we could have one of the darkest and best written DC animated films around. I don’t agree with what Bruce Timm said in terms of defending what happens in the movie, and I think they should be ashamed they couldn’t find a better way to make the end product fantastic, which is a word I can’t use on any of the DC animated films that came out this year. If you love the original book or want to own every animated film made by DC, then by all means get it, but I can’t see myself buying this movie physically in the future. I have had a hard time thinking about where I would put this in terms of films, from worst to best of this year. I could argue and point out how terrible the first 30 minutes are, but could put it up in the middle ground area because the second half, while still having problems, is pretty fantastic. I guess I would just say to see it for yourself, and you tell me what you think. I might not like this movie, but believe me, I would rather watch Batman: The Killing Joke over and over, instead of what will be the 50th animation review. Thank you for reading, and see you all next time.

Rating: Lackluster

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