The definitive story of Batman and Joker’s endless rivalry is at last brought to the screen. And here’s the punchline…
So many fans were calling for an animated adaptation of seminal graphic novel The Killing Joke by Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), that it had to happen. But the production team faced a big challenge – though acclaimed, the comic contains one big controversial element that would need to be amended in a modern adaptation. But how could they successfully alter a text that fans know off by heart?
The Killing Joke shines a light on the eternal struggle between Batman and The Joker. Flitting between time zones, flashbacks outline the tragic origins of the supervillain while the present-day scenes see him deploy his most twisted scheme ever. He plans to drive Commissioner Gordon insane – by harming the person closest to him…
The big change from the novel is the addition of a new first act told from Batgirl’s point of view, where we find out that she is in love with Batman. It is a noble effort, but sadly flawed in execution. Though it is absolutely right to expand Batgirl’s role in the story from mere victim, putting her in an undeniably weird relationship with Batman is a strange way to do that. In attempting to ease one controversy, they have inadvertently created another.
It’s also a real shame that they slammed this segment onto the start, as the stitching is so obvious it harms the overall feature. It would have been much better to have this as a special feature on the DVD – a prologue to be watched before the film – rather than awkwardly gluing it on. After all, if we have to have a new backstory, we would prefer it to be multiple choice.
However, once the first half hour is up we are on much surer ground. From here on in, there is hardly any deviation from Moore’s seminal text. All those moments we’ve wanted to see on the screen for years are all present and in tact, realised in some great animation that faithfully recreates Brian Bollard’s original artwork. The story is just as horrific, disturbing and yet as beguiling as it was when you read the graphic novel, with the fascinating examination of the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime’s symbiotic relationship the absolute highlight.
It’s always a joy to hear long-term voice actors Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Tara Strong at work, but – understandably seeing as its the character’s definitive story – Hamill steals the show. Bat-fans are now very familiar with his manic, cackling delivery after all these years, but he manages to find a way to make the role fresh again. In the flashback scenes, there is a suitably everyman quality to the man Joker once was, while the present-day stuff sees him more terrifying than ever.
Overall, fittingly for something that focusses on the schizophrenic nature of the mind, this is a movie of two halves. On the one hand, it is a very reverent adaptation of one of the best Batman stories ever told. On the other, it fumbles an attempt to enrich it further and instead brings the whole piece down. To misquote the Joker, all it takes is one bad day to reduce the finest film to mediocrity.
First Half Hour:
Rest of Film: