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. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.
Warning: This review WILL contain spoilers about The Killing Joke. Yes, the movie is new but if you have not picked the book up in the last 28 years that is kind of on you.
The Killing Joke graphic novel was one of the most influential works in comic book history. Author Alan Moore created his own version of the Joker’s origin and the psychology behind The Clown Prince of Crime’s madness. Largely considered to be one of the most definitive stories in DC Comics, what was original supposed to be a one-shot non-canon story laid the groundwork for what became widely accepted as the Joker’s origin story. Furthermore, it provided a set-up for the future of the character Barbara Gordon and provided readers with a concrete in-universe analysis of the Joker and Batman’s relationship.
Skip forward almost three decades after the graphic novel was originally produced and now we have a film to go with it. Nothing from the book was left out; in fact, quite a bit was added into the film version. Normally adding a bunch of stuff in when taking a book to the big screen is a bad idea. But for this story, it was necessary for two reasons. First of all, The Killing Joke is a short book. Just taking it panel and panel and turning that into film form would probably have not been enough to give audiences a full-length film. Secondly, audiences who are unfamiliar with this story needed what was added into the story as a prologue.
Before The Killing Joke truly starts, the film version opens up with a story about Barbara’s last adventure as Batgirl before hanging up her cape and mantle for a civilian life. Making this movie, the creators needed to do something like this. In the Killing Joke itself, the only time Barbara appears is when she is shot. If audiences do not know anything about her and do not have a reason to care, her paralysis will not have the emotional affect it is meant to convey. The issue was how they choose to handle it. This segment shows Barbara displaying feelings for Batman and she kind of has sex with him under some gargoyle statues on a rooftop (lucky gargoyles…). People who are familiar with the comics know that this is pretty out of character. She dated Dick Grayson, the first Robin, and the other members of Batman’s team are generally portrayed as looking up to him as a father figure. Having her suddenly lusting after him was just not the way to go. While they did need something at the beginning of the movie, it was not this.
Ok, into The Killing Joke itself. Everything from the graphic novel is in here and then some. A few scenes were expanded in order to lengthen the film, such as Batman searching for the Joker after discovering his latest escape from Arkham Asylum. The film is just as dark and gritty as the comic; the Joker torments Commissioner Gordon by injuring, paralyzing, and sexually abusing his daughter. He does this all to prove a point: that anyone can be driven as mad as him under the right circumstances. But at the same time, seeing the Joker’s origin story and how he became insane makes him kind of a sympathetic character in this story. At both the beginning and the end, Batman attempts to convince the Joker to let him help. To get rehabilitated. And both of these scenes, particularly the final scene of the film, is made all the more powerful by having Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their iconic voice acting roles as Batman and the Joker. While this film adaptation is not everything it could have been, it is still an excellent watch for any comic book fan.