SPOILERS: This review dives deep into the film and assumes you have read the beloved Alan Moore tale. If not, you should, it's a great read.
It’s no secret amongst my friends that I am big fan of the Joker. Hands down, in my opinion, the greatest villain of all time. I’m also very much a fan of Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series. Now combine that with arguably the greatest Joker story ever told. Let me just say I was little more than excited to see this movie.
The Killing Joke lives in infamously as the story that brought the darkside of the Joker to life (Pun intended Mark Hamill fans). It’s also a story that changed Batgirl forever. And this animated rendition doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to recreating the famed graphic novel. Using the same voice actors from the Animated series all those years ago. Bruce Timm has definitely succeeded in bringing the tale to life. However due to the length of the actual story, instead of creating filler for the story during the events of The Killing Joke, the writers opted to take us on a journey into the world of Batgirl. Opening with a 30 minute prologue based around Batgirl tracking down mob criminal Paris Franz, they attempt to bring more Barbara Gordon to the forefront of the story, rather than leaving her as a footnote in what is otherwise a very much Joker-centric tale. As Batman is trying to track down the bad guys, Batgirl is also on the case and in turn gets Paris’ attention. So much so in fact, that he becomes obsessed with her to the point where he is having paid prostitutes wear a Batgirl mask.
Knowing full well that Batgirl and Paris are beginning to follow a similar path to that of Batman and Joker, Bruce takes her off the case worried about the potential severity of the relationship that is slowly coming to fruition. While I do appreciate what they were trying to do with these sequences, they are easily the worst part of the film. Also there is some ugliness in regards to certain scenes in this section of the movie that comic book fans and others are up in arms about, while I understand why, I think a lot of people have over reacted to it (in typical internet fashion).
It doesn’t affect my view of the main story however. When the actual Killing Joke story begins, that is when the movie really comes to life. The opening scene with Batman sitting down with Joker in his prison cell as he snaps cards into separate piles successfully manages to create the same chills as reading it on paper. I distinctly remember the snap audio cue and immediately flashed back to the first time I read the story. What follows is a straight up retelling of the famed story, virtually word for word. And the scene where Barbara is shot, left loud gasps from multiple people within the cinema audience, reminding me that maybe not everyone had read this excellent tale.
Only adding in extra animation and lines to flesh out the story, the actual Killing Joke half of the movie clocks in at roughly 45 minutes. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy masterfully return to the voice acting roles of the Joker and Batman respectively. And not only that, Tara Strong has returned to voice Barbara Gordon after having played her originally in the animated series. The animations are crisp and sharp and hugely reminiscent of Bruce Timm’s earlier works. Personally I loved watching the lighting come to life in the carnival, and the reflections in Joker’s eyes perfectly portray the controlled crazy within. If you have been keeping up to date with the other DC based Warner Bros animated movies, you already knew the artistic styling would be on point.
While I respect the attempts made to make this a Batgirl story, overall it falls flat and doesn’t add to the already fantastic story that comes in the latter half of the film. Thankfully this has reignited Mark Hamill's love of voicing the Joker and we will be getting more of those distinctive tones in the not too distant future with Justice League Action.
If you can get past the opening 30 minutes you will thoroughly enjoy this.
4 out of 5
+ Greatest Joker Story of All Time
+ Excellent Voice Cast
+ Beautiful Animation
- Bad Opening Dialogue
- Unnecessary Attempts at Turning it into a Batgirl Story