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The Killing Joke Animated Feature Review

The Killing Joke Animated feature Review

So, the much vaunted, much hyped animated version of The Killing Joke. I'm sad to say, this was not the best representation of The Killing Joke by a longshot. The Killing Joke is a Joker story about the origin of his madness. After the unnamed comedian discovers his disfigurement from the chemical bath, he becomes the Joker. Much later in his criminal career, which is the current time in the story, he embarks on an equally insane quest. His goal is to prove to Batman, and perhaps to himself, that anyone would do what he did given an extreme enough set of circumstances. "One bad day." The enactment of his plan includes shooting and crippling Barbara Gordon, and torturing her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon. They said the words, showed the panels, but the ooomph just wasn't there. They missed a huge opportunity here and didn't earn the emotional payoff of the original book. And I'll tell you why.

The Cons
1) This was a Batgirl story
This was framed as a Batgirl story right from the start.
And it was clearly a referendum on her relationship with Batman. I know they said they wanted to expand the story to give it a longer running time, but they used that to shoehorn in seeing Bruce and Barbara as a couple. There was a lot of noise from fandom proper about them hooking up, and I thought they were going to show her relationship with Grayson as well, which would've just been...ugh. But they didn't. And so, without that, I honestly didn't see what the flak was about. (They did it on the roof which was much more Bruce and Selina style, and I was like, whaaaat? Like Batman would uncostume in plain sight like that.) Barbara is a grown woman. And if she's grown enough to put on a costume and put her life in danger as a vigilante, then she's grown enough to decide who she wants to sleep with. And she had a crush on her teacher. Is this the first time in life such a thing has happened? So as an addition to the narrative, it was kind of disconnected from what was supposed to be the center of the story. The Bat hookup didn't really have anything to do with what the Joker was trying to achieve. We also didn't learn anything about Batman that we didn't already know.
2) Fetish, fetish, fetish, oh my 
Secondly, they used it as an opportunity to go for an 'R' rating, and show more risque and more grotesque scenes, along with a few more swear words. I couldn't quite tell if that was just for shock value or not, because very rarely do these things actually add to a story. This however, was also a Pro as I'll explain later.
3) The Animation
The animation was just kind of...plain in many places. Surprisingly so. Overall, it didn't have the noirish styling of Batman:The Animated Series, or the sleek kinetic energy of anime. It did have a few scenes that were exact recreations from the book, and those were striking and intense. I thought the whole feature would be drawn that way, but not so.
4) They didn't earn it
This was the big one for me. It was another example of, unfortunately, them not really getting what the story was about.
Which is kind of mind boggling. They had the 'R' rating to play with, but they still missed a true recreation of the emotional impact of the source material. Now I must admit here that I am biased, having read the original story so long ago. Maybe for an unprepared non-comic reader, they were genuinely moved. But for me, they expanded the story in the wrong way. Adding a criminal who was romantically interested in Batgirl, having most of her non-costumed scenes be about her sex life, and her breaking up with Bruce after angry-then-regret sex was just not what this was supposed to be about.
And the buildup to the first big scene; the shooting of Barbara...just fell kind of flat. Mainly because the combination of scenes that came before it didn't really directly feed it, at least to me.
Let me give you some examples of what I thought they should've done:
-Expanded the Red Hood story. I would've loved to have seen other men that put on that metal cylinder, and viewed their success or failure with their crime events. That adds to the impact of when pre-Joker puts it on, as we have more of a frame of reference.
-Told us the Joker's name. I know that's taboo, but it would've made this adaption of the material more distinctive.
-Seeing the Joker onstage. We should've seen him trying to make people laugh and failing. Everything about that adds to the weight of his character.
-Shown us the death of Joker's wife. I still remember seeing that panel with that pregnant woman lying on the floor being electrocuted, and then Joker's grief at what had happened as a result of their argument and his carelessness. They cut that out here, I was really surprised. It was one of the main things that built up to his mental breakdown.
-Shown us why Batman was all of a sudden so introspective and fatalistic about his relationship with Joker. We had one brief, barely there scene of a dead Jason, but that was never clearly addressed. If it had been, it would've given context to why Batman was trying to solve his relationship problem with Joker with negotiation, instead of his fists in the usual way. And why he was so melancholy, more than his usual schtick. We get a glimpse...a glimpse....of the Joker's brief moment of sanity at the end before he tells his final joke. They should've expanded on that moment between the two of them.
-Given us more time with the abused Gordons. I thought that's what the 'R' rating was for, not underwear shots and hookers on a boat. We were supposed to feel Barbara's brokenness and Jim's resulting anguish. Gordon is a veteran police officer, and you can see him using his training not to lose it from the humiliation that the Joker has heaped upon him. But the second big moment of the whole story is when he sees what Joker has done to his daughter. Barbara is shot, crippled, naked, and molested or raped in some way, all captured on film. That's when Gordon can't take any more. But it all felt kind of rushed and glossed over for some reason.

The Pros
1) The Voices
This has always been the strength of DC animated films. They really know how to put the right actors with the right characters, and Conroy and Hamill have become cemented as the quintessential voices of Batman and the Joker. Hamill gives an incredible performance here; his inflections and nuances are just brilliant. I wanted more of that, to go even further into the Joker's psyche. And Tara Strong was pitch perfect as Batgirl. Conroy's a can't miss when it comes to Batman, he hasn't lost a step. I have a hard time hearing Batman any other way besides him now. It was all vocally fantastic.
2) The Score
The music here was just outstanding. It actually did a better job of conveying what the scenes were supposed to be about than the scenes themselves.
3) The real Joker
This was the best part of the whole film for me.
We finally got to see the real Joker in full glory. The homicidal maniac who doesn't really have any rhyme or reason for his actions...yet he does. He has embraced madness and anarchy in all of their myriad forms, and is a terrifying figure. Not a comical one. Inflicting grotesqueries on others is what makes him laugh, and we found out why in this story. It's because life conspired to take away from him everything that he cared about in a tragic, almost operatic way. So he becomes a clown and pays it forward. And those frozen faced Joker death masks are his main trademark from the comics, since his very first appearance. They should always be a part of any Joker story. This was the best use of the 'R' rating.

Finally, I don't really know if we can count this as a Pro or a Con, but I wanted more of Oracle. That story is also one of Barbara's triumph, and it's what shows how much of fighter she actually is. Along with showcasing her incredible intelligence. A quick coda showcasing her new life I guess was apropos, but again, I wanted to see much more of that.

I was paying attention to how I felt when the film was over. And I felt kind of 'blah.' That scene of Batman and Joker at the end feels longer in the book. Maybe comic panels let you savor moments at your own speed better than animation does. I was expecting to feel like I did after viewing my favorite Batman:The Animated Series episodes, which are:
-Perchance to Dream and
-Over the Edge

I suggest watching both of those to dig deeper into both Bruce and Barbara's motivations, as well as the price they have to pay to be who they are. As for the Joker, again I really thought this was fully him at last, just that the film itself didn't really hit as hard as the original book.

But let's hope that this is not the last we hear of Conroy, Hamill and Strong in their signature roles. Long may they speak!

This post first appeared on Blerds Online, please read the originial post: here

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The Killing Joke Animated Feature Review


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