The Killing Joke’s Punchline Fell Flat
This movie really had almost no chance of being good, did it? As a gigantic Batman fan, Killing Joke may be my favorite of all the stories and it’s one of the few comics I own a physical copy of (got to make more money with this whole webcomic business before I can afford my own library). For years all I ever wanted was a proper adaptation of Killing Joke with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as their iconic characters… In me and every fans mind there was no way this could have been screwed up as long as they were in place.
But I think that was the biggest flaw of making a movie of Killing Joke. It’s such a revered classic, such a masterpiece, that any adaptation created from the comic would have such high expectations to live up to. It’s virtually implausible for it to be as good as the graphic novel which after all these years still haunts me every time I read it. I watched the film with my sister last night and was thoroughly underwhelmed. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t terrible, just very unimpressive save for a few parts here and there.
Let’s get it out of the way, the prologue they added was absolutely garbage. Killing Joke is a short comic at about 43 pages so the execs obviously felt they had to stretch it out as long as possible to sell it as a feature length movie. The weird thing was I felt the entire movie was too fast, and I’ll get to that later. Regardless I think the right thing to do would have been to make this a double feature with another adaptation of some famous Batman story rather than fuck up the classic writing of Alan Moore with a unneeded prologue that shoehorned in a hilarious awkward sex scene with Batgirl and Bruce. This whole story was so tonally off from Killing Joke that it muddied the actual story itself by reducing Batman’s conflict with Joker into just being pissed because he loved Barbara. They wanted to show Barbara being strong and cool before Joker shoots her, but she was really just grumpy about all the unresolved sexual tension between her and Bruce. It was dumb. Also Barbara had a token gay friend she bitched about Bruce to just to show that DC was politically correct. I love gay people and all but this guy just made sassy gay quips and was very out of place.
Let’s talk about the actual adaptation of Killing Joke… Jeez. Well for one the animation was very barebones, it looks like they didn’t even try for most of it. It felt like a budget episode of an animated series than a feature release by an animation studio. I know WB Animation isn’t ground breaking or anything but how could they so lazily animate a masterpiece like this? The color pallet was gross and washed out and didn’t follow either edition of Killing Joke very well. In the Joker’s flashbacks one thing I loved about the comic was they were all hazy and soft colors with the only highlights being bright red objects, so that it built up to the eventual reveal of the Red Hood helmet. This was absent in the animation and as a result all of Joker’s flashbacks felt devoid of personality…
The pacing was what killed it more than anything for me. It felt like it way too fast for what was originally a very haunting story. The dialogue in Killing Joke stings with emotion and pain in every sentence, and I just didn’t feel it. Hamill gave a great performance as he always does but I just don’t feel it was his best… I know Killing Joke means the world to him as he’s said in multiple interviews but this was not as great as some of his other performances. I don’t blame him though, the pacing ruined a lot of the emotion for me. The best parts in the movie was when Joker broke out into his song and his monologue towards the end. The animation just wasn’t enough to capture the complicated emotions of Killing Joke, the dialogue needed more pauses in my opinion. Conroy’s Batman seemed really off game to me, and I’m a giant Conroy fan. It felt like most of his lines were just grumbled out, the prologue really didn’t help this as all he did was bark out orders. I felt that his famous scene where he talks to Joker wasn’t very emotional, and he didn’t dwell on his words. It was supposed to be a scene where Batman tries to genuinely find another answer to his conflict with Joker but I just felt it was business as usual in the animated version.
The laugh where Joker finally snaps after he falls into the vat was really average at best, not one of Hamill’s most haunting at all. It was just disappointing considering how important this scene was… And finally, they kind of screwed up the ending. Joker’s delivery on the joke was ok, not as manic and emotional as I imagined it, but for those who don’t know the ending of Killing Joke is very ambiguous. Joker tells a joke, he laughs, Batman actually laughs and then places his hands on Joker’s shoulder, the camera pans down so you can’t see what happens and they both laugh for the rest of the final page before sirens and flashing lights appear. The implication is that Batman gave in and snapped his neck, thus the joke the Joker told was the KILLING JOKE. Of course, Killing Joke wasn’t meant to be canon but it was so beloved it was put into canon soooo all that really happened was they had a good laugh and the Joker goes back into Arkham like always. But the ending was written to imply Joker was killed. The movie made it a lot less ambiguous which I didn’t care for. When Batman starts laughing and he puts his hands on Joker, after the camera pans down only Batman is laughing and Joker’s is nowhere to be heard. Also there was no flashing lights and sirens, it was a lot less dramatic.
Plus what really pissed me off was in the mid credits they stopped and put in a random ass scene of Barbara as Oracle and show that even in a wheelchair she’s happy but that doesn’t fit the tone of the story at all holy shit. I’m just severely disappointed by this film all in all…