This Adaptation of ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ is Like Painting a Mustache on the Mona Lisa

Have you ever wanted the Joker to have a definitive backstory? Of course you haven’t, but you’re getting one anyway!

All right, so this might not be Joker’s backstory as he says famously, “If I’m going to have a past, I’d rather have multiple choice,” but it’s a backstory nonetheless.

The Joker suddenly shows up at Commissioner Gordon’s house and shoots Barbara Gordon (That’s Batgirl, by the way) in the spine, paralyzing her. He then takes the commissioner prisoner in an attempt to prove a point… that anyone can be driven mad. Now Batman must save his friend from his worst enemy before the Joker is proven right.

The Killing Joke is a great comic. I’ve had it in my possession for years and I’ve read it multiple times so, just like I said when I reviewed John Dies at the End, I’m going to be biased here. I can’t help it. If you’re going to adapt something this well known and this well done, you’d better do it right. Then again, how hard can it be? It’s not like they’re going to throw in a thirty minute Batgirl prologue that has little to do with the plot or have Batman and Batgirl have sex on the rooftops or anything, right?

Oh no.

Okay, so that’s exactly what they do and, at best, it’s just bad. Why is the prologue there other than to remind us that Barbara is Batgirl? I hate to break it to you, DC, but if we’re here watching a Batman animated movie, chances are that we’re already aware that Barbara is Batgirl and, if you still had doubts, you could have cleared it up with a line of dialogue or a flashback (like you did in Under the Red Hood).

The Batgirl prologue, while mostly not offensive or bad, is just unnecessary. It’s tacked on and it feels tacked on, added as an afterthought or a “Oh crap, this is a short story! We’d better add some padding!” thought. In my mind, it would have worked out better as a separate feature or a short like they used to do with DC Showcase (my gosh, I miss those). As it is, it’s a mediocre story glued on to the front and getting in the way of the story we wanted to see. It throws off the pacing, it’s unnecessary, and it throws off the flow of the entire narrative. Come on… the Joker flashbacks don’t even start until halfway through the movie now and it’s supposed to be his story!

The sex scene was just weird and out of place. I’ve always seen Batman as a mentor and father figure to his sidekicks and not someone they want to jump. I’m not sure why that wasn’t enough for the filmmakers to feel like Bats was emotionally involved in catching The Joker.

Batgirl, on the whole, is done dirty in this movie. I know in the comic she’s not treated very well, but when she’s thrown into the spotlight here, it’s incredibly apparent. She’s shown as emotionally unstable, a sexual object, and then a victim and, for all of the creator’s blow and bluster about how they wanted to have more Batgirl in the movie because apparently audiences are just that dumb, once she’s shot in the back, the movie is done with her. Damn if she doesn’t just feel used and thrown away.

As for the actual adaptation of The Killing Joke, it doesn’t translate very well and really bungles the story. Everything appears flat and lifeless and, while Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill do fantastic jobs bringing Batman and Joker to life, the animation and style is only so-so… far from the psychedelic colors splashed all over the original book.

When the movie is actually telling The Killing Joke story and not wasting time with front-loaded garbage, the movie is pretty good. The dialogue between Batman and Joker is lifted from the pages word for word and it really zings. I know I’ve already praised Conroy and Hamill, but this could very well be their best performance as Batman and Joker in their entire careers. You almost forget about all of the problems this adaptation has shoveled on to itself.

I almost wish they would have released this film as a collection of shorts instead of a movie. You could have had your Batgirl story, you could have thrown in another dark R-rated Batman story, and then told The Killing Joke. I really think it would have worked better than this uneven hodgepodge.

When it’s good, it’s very good but the problem is, it doesn’t spend a lot of time actually being good. For such an iconic comic book story, this puppy is bungled embarrassingly and dropped right on its head. Someone needs to do an fan edit on this film pronto.

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