I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while, the animated version of one of the greatest Batman stories ever… but is it any good?
The graphic novel by Alan Moore from 1988 this film is based on is infamous for being one of the most brutal and graphic Batman stories ever. It went on to change Batman lore forever and is often cited as THE defining Joker story, its impact is still talked about today and fans still theorise on the ambiguous ending almost 30 years later.
But is this animated adaption any good?
Well, to be fair, its a bit of a mixed bag for me. Before I get to that, first the plot.
At this point I want to just say that if you have not read The Killing Joke graphic novel then go do that now as I’m about to spoil the entire story here and its a great story you don’t want spoiling if you don’t already know it.
So the film starts with Batgirl (AKA Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Jim Gordon) out trying to stop a robbery which she fails. But she does manage to stop one of the criminals with the help of Batman. It turns out the leader of the gang is somebody called Paris Franz (yes you read that right) who is the nephew of a major Gotham City crime lord; Francesco. Paris starts to develop a strange obsession over Batgirl and Batman becomes more and more concerned about her safety and worries she is not taking this situation seriously at all.
Paris eventually tricks Batgirl into finding his uncle’s dead body and this leads to Batman taking Batgirl off the case. The two argue and (controversially) have sex which creates a rift between them. The following night, Batman is ambushed by Paris and his men and Batgirl goes to help, she defeats Paris and on reflection she realises Batman was right and she is not taking this whole crime fighting thing as seriously as she should. So she decides to retire.
Sometime after all of this, Batman is called to take a look at a strange multiple murder scene and works out that The Joker who is locked up in Arkham Asylum could be behind the murders. Batman heads to Arkham to confront The Joker only to find an impostor taking his place and the real Joker has escaped.
Meanwhile, The Joker acquires an abandoned carnival park and begins to set up his most vicious attack ever. Joker eventually turns up at Barbara Gordon’s apartment while her father, Jim is visiting. Joker shoots Barbara while Jim looks on helpless. Jim is kidnapped and taken to The Joker’s carnival park while Barbara is left for dead.
Jim is stripped naked and subjected to all sorts of torture at the hands of The Joker, like showing him pictures of his dying daughter who has also been stripped naked. Joker hopes to make Jim snap and become as unbalanced and insane as he is himself. Back at Barbara’s apartment, she is found and taken to hospital where it is revealed she is permanently paralysed. The story is inter-cut with flashbacks telling of a possible origin story for who the Joker was before he became what/who he became and how Batman may have had a hand in creating the Joker after all.
Batman eventually finds where Jim is being held after The Joker sends him a clue. Batman rescues Jim as the Joker flees into a fun house. Despite The Joker’s best efforts, Jim doesn’t crack and remains perfectly sane and Jim demands that Batman bring in The joker “by the book”. So Batman goes after Joker following him into the fun house. Joker continually tries to get under Batman’s skin by taunting him and trying to point out that they are not so different, that just one bad day is enough to turn anyone insane, he even mocks Batman by suggesting it was one bad bay that drove him into becoming Batman in the first place.
Batman eventually subdues Joker and tells him that Jim is perfectly sane, that he failed in his attempt to turn him, proving that Joker is alone in his insanity. Batman then offers to help rehabilitate The Joker and put an end to their constant fighting which Batman feels will end it either one or both of their deaths. Joker refuses the help as he believes its too late for help now. The Joker then says how this whole situation reminds him of a (killing) joke, which he proceeds to tell Batman. The two begin to laugh and Batman places his hands on The Joker’s shoulders as the camera pans down so we can not see either of them. The Joker’s laughter stops and yet Batman continues to laugh as the credits begin to roll.
There is also a mid credit scene where Barbara returns to her apartment now in a wheelchair and reveals she will continue to help Batman as The Oracle.
So what about this whole “mixed bag” thing then?
First the bad…
The whole opening involving Batgirl, Batman, Paris, etc was not in the original graphic novel. The whole thing was added on just to pad out the story as the source material is a short and quick read. Its really quite pointless and feels disjointed.
Batgirl and Batman having sex… just NO! This is Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon’s daughter. Batman/Bruce Wayne is metaphorically Barbara’s uncle. The whole sex thing is just ‘uncomfortable’ and does not sit right.
Its been given an R rating, which is the hardest rating you can give a mainstream film in America. Yet the film really doesn’t seem to be that ‘hard’ a film to warrant it. Yeah it gets a little bloody and some very mild swearing but its nothing major and if this was live action, it certainly wouldn’t have got an R rating at all. It has a 15 rating here in the UK and that still seems a little too high for me, PG-13 at the most. To be honest, it just doesn’t get as dark or disturbing as its source material.
That’s about it for the bad, now the good…
The animation is amazing and very much reminded me of the great Batman animated series from the 90s.
The voice acting is top notch with my favourite Joker actor ever, Mark Hamill being the stand out performance. Kevin Conroy is back as Batman and is just as good as he ever was. With Tara Strong as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and Ray Wise as Commissioner Jim Gordon filling out the rest of the main cast really well too.
The art style is dark, brooding. Some very strong images and artwork. Plus there are some really great and disturbing images of The Joker that will stick in your head…
Its a fast moving film and never seems to drag on. It only has a run time of 1 hour 16 minutes and that is with the added on opening. I watched it twice, I just skipped the opening the second time.
Overall, I recommend it even if you have not read of the original graphic novel. Its a great story and this film does it justice… but that whole Batgirl opening is utterly pointless, especially if you have read and are a fan of the source material. If so, then just skip the first 28 minutes to get to the good stuff.
The ending is handled well as is just as ambiguous as the comic… does Batman kill The Joker or not?
Though this really should have just been a harder edged 45 minute short without all the Batgirl stuff, I still think what they have done is worth watching and recommend this. But I also highly recommend the graphic novel over the film. So go an buy yourself a copy.
The Joker: “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes a another. If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice. My point is… I went crazy.”