Batman: The Killing Joke

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Barbara Gordon as Batgirl fails to stop a robbery, but manages to stop one fleeing criminal with help from Batman. Unknown to Batgirl, the robbers’ leader Paris Franz develops a dangerous obsession with Batgirl. As Batgirl starts receiving messages from Franz, Batman shares his concerns that she is not taking the situation seriously. After Franz tricks Batgirl into finding his uncle’s dead body, Batman becomes even more concerned about Batgirl’s safety and takes her off the case. Outraged, Batgirl starts attacking Batman both verbally and physically. She eventually subdues him, shares a kiss with him, and they have sex. The next night, Batgirl tries to apologize to Batman, but he is ambushed by Franz and his men prompting Batgirl to go to his aid. When she arrives, she fights Franz and beats him, but relents from killing him. Realizing Batman was right, Batgirl retires from crime-fighting.

Sometime later, Batman investigates a murder scene with Detective Harvey Bullock and concludes that Joker, currently held at Arkham Asylum, might be behind the crime. He goes to Arkham Asylum to talk to him, only to discover that he had escaped. He then learns that Joker attacked Barbara and her father Commissioner James Gordon, shooting and permanently paralyzing Barbara in front of Gordon before kidnapping the latter. Joker takes Gordon to an amusement park and subjects him to torture, showing him photos he took of Barbara after shooting her.

While the present-day story progresses, flashbacks are used to explain Joker’s origins. It is revealed that he was an engineer who quit his job at a chemical company to become a stand-up comedian, only to fail miserably. Desperately trying to support his pregnant wife Jeannie, he agrees to guide two criminals through his former workplace at the chemical plant in order to rob a card company next door. In turn, the criminals tell him that he has to use the Red Hood’s mask and caped costume, intending to frame him. During the planning, the police inform him that Jeannie and her baby both died in a household accident. Grief-stricken, the engineer tries to withdraw from the plan, but the criminals talk him into keeping his commitment to them.

At the plant, the criminals have him don the red mask and cape. Once inside, they run into security personnel, and a shootout occurs. The criminals are gunned down and the engineer is confronted by Batman, who is investigating the disturbance. Terrified, the engineer trips and falls into the chemical plant’s waste pound, managing to escape Batman in the process, and is swept through a pipe leading to the outside. Once outside, he realizes that the chemicals have permanently bleached his skin chalk-white, stained his lips ruby-red, and dyed his hair bright green. The entire ordeal, combined with Jeannie’s death, drives him into insanity and leads him to become the Joker.

Back in the present day and after many unsuccessful attempts, Batman manages to find Gordon after Joker sends him a clue that leads him to the amusement park. He saves Gordon while the Joker retreats into the funhouse. Despite being tortured, Gordon remains sane and he demands Batman to capture Joker “by the book”. Batman follows Joker through the funhouse as Joker tries to persuade him that the world is just one big joke and thus not worth fighting for. He also states that just one bad day is enough to drive an ordinary man insane, and mocks Batman by correctly guessing that it was one bad day that drove Batman into becoming a vigilante.

Batman eventually subdues the Joker, tells him that Gordon remained sane despite everything he suffered, and concludes that Joker is alone in his madness. He then attempts to reach out to Joker, offering his help in rehabilitation in order to put an end to their everlasting fight, which Batman fears may one day result in their deaths. Joker declines, commenting it is too late for Batman to help. He then says that the situation reminds him of a joke, which he proceeds to tell. Batman starts laughing at the punch line, accompanying Joker’s maniacal laughter as the police arrive. The laughter then stops as the screen fades to black.

In a mid-credits scene, Barbara is in her wheelchair entering a secret room in her apartment. As she turns on the computers, Oracle’s logo appears on the screen

REVIEW:

Batman has been around for years and through that time he has amassed quite a few stories. One that many fans thought would never make it to film, animated or otherwise, is the intensely dark Batman: The Killing Joke. Well, this is set to be released on DVD, but tonight it was in theaters and I had the chance to check it out. Here are my thoughts.

What is this about?

Based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel. As Batman hunts for the escaped Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime attacks the Gordon family to prove a diabolical point mirroring his own fall into madness.

What did I like?

Voices carry. For those of us that grew up with Batman: The Animated Series and the series of cartoons that followed, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill were our Batman and Joker, even though other versions attempted to take their place. Do you remember any of the others who have stepped into these roles? No, and that is why they have such a lasting legacy and were chosen to voice such an important work.

Not for kids. Much has been said about the violent, dark nature of this film. Let me tell you right now, this is most definitely NOT FOR KIDS. There is violence, dark themes, and nary a cheery scene to be found, which is the only reason this film works. I am glad they didn’t water it down to appeal to the 13 and under crowd. I can’t imagine how that would have turned out, other than horrible.

Straight out of the book. For some reason, filmmakers have a really hard time keeping with the source material. They usually make the excuse of “it works better on screen if we change this or that”. This story works so well on so many levels that the filmmakers did very little changing, except for adding a prologue, which I’ll get to shortly. On top of that, they even ripped many of the images direct from the graphic novel itself. Very nice touch! My personal favorite is when the unknown man emerges from the chemicals, takes of the red helmet and begins maniacally laughing. What other way would there be to introduce…THE JOKER?!?

What didn’t I like?

Batgirl. In an attempt to make what happens to Barbara more of a tragedy, the filmmakers decided to give us a little backstory of her as Batgirl the night before. Had this been a Batgirl movie or a Batman and Batgirl story, it would have been great, but this just felt unnecessarily tacked on. I also must mention that they had sex (offscreen). I can’t be the only one who did not feel comfortable with that! In all the Batman/Batgirl stories I’ve read, there has never been any sexual tension between them. This seemed like a substitute Catwoman tale, in my opinion.

Character design. I didn’t hate the character design, but I have a small issue. As I was sitting in the theater tonight, it hit me that this is a more adult animated tale, but the animation reminds me of those geared toward younger crowds. What could be done about this? I don’t really know, to be honest. Just a small point I felt needed to be pointed out.

Length. It’s been a few years since I last read this book, but I know that it has to have had enough material to fill up a 90 minute film (minus that horrible prologue). Maybe I was just having too much fun seeing the comic on the big screen, but I felt as if this could have been about 10-15 minutes longer, giving us a little more time with Conroy and Hamill reprising these characters that we all want to see and hear from them again.

Final verdict on Batman: The Killing Joke. It is a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, there are so many things that just blew me out of the water, faithfulness to the source material, great music, the return of Conroy and Hamill, etc. On the other hand, though, I just can’t get over the Batgirl storyline that was thrown in here. Not only was it bad, but it didn’t accomplish the goal of making us feel something more for her. They would have been better served just letting us use our personal knowledge of the character, rather than whatever this was. *SIGH* So, do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! Once you get past the Batgirl stuff, you have a great story that we all thought would never make it past the pages of the graphic novel. For that reason, if for no other, you should give it a shot! Now I can wait for them to start thinking of ways to bring Green Lantern: Darkest Night to the screen!

4 1/3 out of 5 stars

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