Batman: The Killing Joke earned criticism from die-hard fans of the titular graphic novel. Fans, and critics, are unhappy with the first half of the movie, which was created solely for the movie. I agree with those fans, even though I never read the graphic novel.
BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD
Batman: The Killing Joke is an animated feature-length movie, that’s based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore. The movie begins with Batgirl and Batman chasing down criminals in a stolen tractor-trailer. The lead thug, who gets away with his henchman, takes an unhealthy interest in Batgirl. Batman tries to keep her from the chase, but Paris Frans (yes, you read that right) keeps baiting Batgirl. The criminals set a trap for Batman. Batgirl saves him, but in the ensuing violence, comes close to the edge of the “abyss” about which Batman warned her. After that, she hangs up her cowl.
Batman learns the Joker escaped from Arkham Asylum. Joker shows up on Commissioner Gordon’s doorstep. He shoots Gordon’s daughter (formerly known as Batgirl) and kidnaps Gordon. While Batman is trying to locate the Joker and Gordon, the green-haired nutcase is busy tormenting Gordon at a deserted amusement park. Batman eventually finds them. He and the Joker fight, during which, the Joker reveals his reason for the whole scheme. He wanted to prove that anyone could go as mad as he did, if they had “one bad day.” Batman, of course, beats him down and wins. The movie ends with the Joker telling Batman a joke, that actually gets the caped crusader laughing.
During the credits, there’s a short scene when we see Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair. She takes herself into a secret room that’s decked out with computer monitors. We see an image of the Oracle, her new moniker, on the screen before it fades to black.
The Bad News
I have issues with the first half of Batman: The Killing Joke. My husband accused me of taking it too seriously as a feminist. Maybe he’s right, but it rubbed me the wrong way. And, it’s just bad storytelling.
In the first half of Batman: The Killing Joke, Batgirl is ineffective as a superhero. She tries to catch the bad guys, but they always defeat her and get away. She spends most of her time thinking about whether or not Batman returns her affection for him. The taciturn superhero keeps warning her away, but she keeps coming back, trying to prove she’s as good at fighting criminals as she is. Then, in the heat of an argument, she winds up on top of him. Cue cliché fight-turns-into-sex scene from the ’50s. (Man, did that rankle.) She finally hangs up her hood when she nearly beats a man to death.
So, I have two problems with all of that. First, is that really all Batgirl is good for? To pine for Batman? Can a female superhero have nothing else to do, but be crappy at her job and lookin’ for love? I’m so over that. There’s no reason Batgirl couldn’t have been good at catching criminals. She could have been invaluable help to Batman, rather than a lousy apprentice with puppy eyes. She could have been smart and strong, rather than simpering.
The whole reason she is painted as female in a taking, is to serve as a plot device later on. I guess Batman wouldn’t have been as upset about the Joker shooting her (and raping her, as it’s implied) if he hadn’t bedded her, right?
One of the criticisms of the graphic novel was that Batgirl was only used as a plot device. Lots of fans were hoping that, upon hearing about a full-length movie, her role would be handled better. She could have been a great crime-fighter, working in tangent with Batman. She could have shared a close bond with Batman as a friend and a partner. There was no need for all that romantic nonsense. Then, when the Joker shoots her, Batman would have been just as — no, more — upset. I think having Batgirl be an effective superhero would have made her downfall that much more powerful.
My second problem with all the Batgirl/Batman nonsense is that, as IGN points out, it’s super creepy. Batman is her mentor, her teacher. And he takes advantage of that? Dude, Batman is way more honorable than that. He would have never gone for the nookie with an underling. Also, she’s Barbara Gordon, his best friend’s daughter. Super ew. (To add to the creepy factor, while they’re getting it on, the camera pans up to a gargoyle who’s looking down on them, like some kind of granite peeping Tom.)
Beyond all that, it’s just boring. And a waste of time. Nearly half of the movie is spent on this so-called relationship. Meanwhile, the second half, starring the Joker (the reason everyone wanted to see Batman: The Killing Joke) could have used the time wasted on Batgirl’s crush. Batgirl’s part in this tale could have taken ten minutes, while the rest of the time could have been spent showing us more about the Joker, and his relationship with Batman. Did they really not have enough imagination for that?
The Good News
With that rant over, Batman: The Killing Joke has a lot to recommend it.
Even though the first half feels like a separate episode from the second, the entire movie is entertaining. The animation and style of the movie is dark, echoing the dark, R-rated storyline.
Once Batman: The Killing Joke gets to the Joker, the movie takes a turn down an even darker path. We explore the Joker’s past, and what made him into a crazed criminal. I’ve heard Mark Hamill as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series for years. But hearing him as the regular guy, before he goes insane, was a treat. Hamill’s brilliant turn as the Joker shows many facets of his wacko character. And while the song and dance seemed a little too nutso for me, I know there are fans who relished it.
The relationship between Batman and the Joker is the centerpiece of the movie. I enjoyed watching Batman struggle with his role in the Joker’s life. His torment about their possible end was fascinating. More of that, and Joker’s past, would have been appreciated.
Tara Strong, as Batgirl, was wonderful. She’s one of Hollywood’s go-to voice-over actresses for good reason.
Overall, I would recommend Batman: The Killing Joke to anyone, die-hard and casual fans alike. The story takes us deeper into the relationship between Batman and the Joker, and even Batman and Batgirl. Just prepare yourself for a clear divide between those storylines.
A free copy of Batman: The Killing Joke was provided to me by Warner Bros. Home video in exchange for my honest review.