*Warning! There are Spoilers!
Film: Batman The Killing Joke.
Directed by: Sam Liu.
Running Time: 76 min.
Based off of the acclaimed graphic Novel of the same name, with animation design by famous Bruce Timm and the returning acting talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill; Batman The Killing Joke tells a Joker origin story in concert with present day Joker’s final extreme.
This was a film that many fans of both the graphic novel and of DC Animation had been looking forward to for months. Particularly with the knowledge that before the DVD release the following week, spectators would get a chance to enjoy it screened in theaters, something that hasn’t been seen for a DC Animated feature since Batman Mask of the Phantasm (though Batman Killing Joke was viewed in only a few select theaters).
DC Animation has had some hit and misses over the years with their animated films, with Batman Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), Batman Under the Hood (2010), The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and 2 (2013), Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Wonder Woman (2009), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015) etc. being a sampling of perhaps some of the most popular examples.
What all these films had in common was great animation/visuals, voice acting, and story in varying degrees of excellence that have earned them their little golden slots on the shelves of fans, bridging the cap between comic book fans and the movie fans alike.
The question then lies in whether Batman The Killing Joke can be counted among the pantheon of the DC Animation Golden.
Of the animation, this film did a fascinating job in combining the style inherent in the famous Bruce Timm animations with the gorgeous character styles of the graphic novel illustrated by Brian Bolland. The highlight having to be The Bolland’s Joker translated into animation.
The scenes, particularly the carnival were they had a decent balance of bright color saturation and creepy imagery, the throne of heads being an excellent example of this.
The only drawback in the visuals might be the transitions between present moment and flashback. In the graphic novel, the transitions between moments were relatively smooth (seen below), with the instant visual moment of the very first and the very last thing seen was utilized in pose of the character and what he was doing in the drawn mise-en-scene to tie the present frame with the flashback frame. Certainly there was some of it, but the instant final and first sight between time shifts was not as utilized and thus the lack of this key visual made the transitions between scenes less seamless.
Some could argue that there is a difference in the mediums, but this is a technique that has been utilized quite successfully in other films. This is especially odd considering how much else they were relatively faithful with in regards to the source material.
Also, there was that lack of nods in the mise-en-scene to the previous history of the Joker that the graphic novel had. It would have been interesting to see a few nods to previous animated Jokers perhaps, but of course this could be more of trying to play safe with maintaining a sense of visual continuity perhaps.
As far as animation goes, despite some hiccoughs with transitions, the animation team did a decent job in providing just the right amount of atmosphere to the film and faithfulness to the source material, a visual treat for spectators and fans alike
Voice Acting was another strong plus for the film.
Mark Hamill as usual blew the waters out from anyone’s expectations in continuing to prove his status as the number one Joker. He vitalized the lines he was given, seamlessly blending his various incarnations into Alan Moore’s Joker and coming out the other end with something altogether different and so deliciously a joy to watch.
Kevin Conroy brought his amazingly stoically deadpan Batman to the screen, but when the emotions where there, like other Batman he’s played, it was perfect. With the nostalgia surrounding his voice as well -because make no mistake, Conroy owns Batman almost as much as Hamill owns Joker- there was a certain added surrealism induced by nostalgia of Conroy voice induced memories of Batman Hey-days with Moore written Batman, particularly in the ending of the film that was particularly entertaining.
Tara Strong’s voice acting chops was also given some time to shine, and she did well in making Batgirl something of her own. Strong utilizes a unique ability of hers to not somehow induce the brain to think of her other characters when in other material, more as their own identities. When you hear her, you don’t hear Twilight Sparkle (My Little Pony) or Raven (Teen Titans franchise), you hear Batgirl.
Finally, does the story compete with previous DC Animated films?
The story is where some of the strongest and weakest points can be found. The original source material was determined to be to short by the filmmakers, so within the first quarter we see entirely original material from the production staff unrelated to the source material.
This original material, lets call this section the Batgirl Arc, was centered on the final days of her being Batgirl before the events of the graphic novel.
Within the canon of Batman the Animated series, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), and Batman Beyond (more so here) the fact that Batgirl had a romantic relationship with Batman was well known by this point, though the reason for her separation was only briefly explained, mostly in exposition, and never went really in-depth. After watching this Batgirl Arc, you could say that this story was that missing portion, if it just stood on its own and wasn’t attached to the rest of the film.
If it were just this on its own, a lost episode or something from that part of the Animated Series franchise such as a flashback episode in Batman Beyond, or even a short film tie in, then it serves its purpose as a mode of clarification on their relationship (if perhaps not a good one) from that quarter, then at least it held some sort of purpose.
Here it does not, and not only does it feel entirely random, but the story of this arc in and of itself was poorly handled, particularly in Barbra’s reasons for giving up fighting crime being colored because she was a “distraction” for Batman was definitely insulting to many spectators, and not complimentary to either Batman or Batgirl. It was an aggravating attempt perhaps to elicit more of an investment emotionally with Barbra after the events of the second quarter, but it failed spectacularly.
In the rest of the film, let’s call it the Getting-What-You-Actually-Paid-For Arc, is of course where the film shined.
The faithfulness to the source material’s story was almost exact, with a few additions here and there that didn’t take away from anything and fit somewhat seamlessly with the rest. It had all the dark iconic moments from the comic, (even Joker’s song number!) with an enhanced final scene that climaxed much as the graphic novel did.
Unfortunately, what keeps this film from becoming excellent story-wise, was the fact that these two arcs are not isolated single stories and are supposed to be read as all one film, which just frankly doesn’t work, and the insulting nature of the first arc soured some of the experience.
The connection between the two is much too tenuous, and the obvious fact that the Batgirl arc was so upfront filler, was a disconnected from the rest of the story and early the film if the second arc hadn’t been so good. The small ending credit scene of Barbra doesn’t help anything for the sake of the film and felt just as unnecessary as the first quarter, particularly as it takes away from the impact of the final image of Batman and Joker.
We know that DC Animation is capable of producing both really good original material, such as with Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), or comic source material such as demonstrated with the second arc here and previous films. So if they had to go this route of combination of the two, surely they could have done a better job?
Overall the answer of whether this film is worthy of the DC Animation pantheon is something of a question mark. If it weren’t for the focus on Batgirl, then the answer would likely be “yes”. It did have faithfulness to the material in the rest of the film, the voice acting was superb and the animation was spectacular, but with the first arc, especially with how badly it was handled, the answer would be “no.” Perhaps the answer would be that it straddles the edge.
The recommendation to fans would be to only watch the Getting-What-You-Actually-Paid-For Arc. Certainly it would be a shorter experience, but much more satisfying, and likely not to enrage you if you are a fan of Batman and Batgirl in particular.
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