Batman: The Killing Joke: Film Review
Cast: Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong, Mark Hamill
Director: Sam Liu
"First off all, before the horror began, there was a time when capes and fighting crimes was really exciting."
So begins the 26th animated DC Universe film, an adaptation of one of the most praised iconic storylines in the series - the origins of the Joker, from a 1988 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.
However, Batman: The Killing Joke is predominantly the story of Barbara Gordon's Batgirl (narrated brilliantly by Tara Strong) and her relationship with Batman.
The film starts out with more of a background to Batgirl, her abusive relationship with the Bat (he's emotionally cold and distant from her) and her quest to take down a criminal from the Mob who's obsessed with her.
But then, Batman: The Killing Joke segues into the original graphic novel and what you'd expect from the film - lifting panels from the page and transposing the iconic imagery created by 2000AD supremo Brian Bolland.
Vocally, the film's sound with Conroy and Hamill giving their usual all to Batman and Joker respectively. And Strong's particularly, er, strong with her Barbara Gordon - even if creatively the filmmakers appear to turn this Batgirl into someone who is fawning a little over the non-availability of the Batman.
It's an odd choice and along with a controversial sex scene (yep, you heard that right), the Killing Joke appears to have dangerous things to say about the portrayal of Batgirl and women in general. While it's understandable there's plenty of online commentary on Batman's behaviour after his controlling instincts kick in and he ignores after the Bat-booty call, the film's handling of Batgirl in the aftermath is weak.
And given the backstory is supposed to give some drive to Batman's desire to punish Joker for Gordon's paralysis, it's odd to note that the original novel lent more weight to that side of the story by making Joker's inherent cruelty seem more random and therefore nastier because of its cold-blooded nature. As with the novel, there are hints that she suffers a sexual assault as well which seem to be backed up in the film.
Perhaps that's some of Batman: The Killing Joke's strength - it faithfully adapts the novel in a way that enhances the original and embraces some of Bolland's original artwork.
But potentially, a lot of the back half of the film is weaker anyway, with the set-up being the more interesting elements of Batman: The Killing Joke; as with most comic books, denouements tend less to hold water and flounder in the face of such story-telling odds. Flashbacks weave into an origins story for the Joker as per the original, and Hamill engenders his Joker with the definitive touches.
All in all, even with the controversial elements and an ending that is up for discussion after these two yin and yang nemeses share a joke, the over-riding feeling with Batman: The Killing Joke is that it's an animated tale that is more Batgirl's story.
Whether that's a good thing, or whether the joke's on the audience, time will perhaps tell.