One of the most controversial Batman comics of all time, Batman: The Killing Joke has been adapted into an R-rated animated feature. The dark and disturbing content of the source material make the idea of adapting this to film a highly risky endeavor. The writers added an entire first act to make the story feature length but other than that they accomplish exactly what the comic does. This is the finest example of creating a parallel between Batman and his nemesis The Joker that audiences have seen since The Dark Knight (2008).
The film opens up with a beautiful shot of a full moon over Gotham City at night. The yellow moon contrasts the blues and blacks of the city exquisitely. All of the colors look really sharp and the glorious 2-D animation is refreshing compared to what all big animated movies have become. It recalls the days of the groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series from the 1990’s. For those that are familiar with The Killing Joke, they will not be disappointed and those that have never read it will be very surprised with what they discover.
The beginning does feel tacky and it is easy to understand people accusing it of being anti-feminist or one scene in particular between Batman and Batgirl being creepy. Plus some moments you can tell the writers were trying to extend the story especially scenes with Barbara Gordon at her college library. But once it gets past that and into the heart of the story and themes of fate and luck comparing Batman and his situation with the Joker and his origin story, the film gets much stronger. In fact they basically just animated the panels, shot for shot, frame by frame from the comic and added voices.
But not just any voices, the two most iconic voices to portray the Caped Crusader and his arch rival. Mark Hamill is back as The Joker and gives a devilishly good performance. His vocals are darker than fans will remember him from the animated series but it fits perfectly with the tone and themes of The Killing Joke. Kevin Conroy returns to voice Batman as he did on the series yet it does not feel like the same Batman from earlier incarnations that he did. Conroy’s voice performance here sounds more like Michael Shannon as Batman and is less commanding and more like a flawed anti-hero.
The best part about The Killing Joke are the risks that the original story takes and this film does not shy away from any of the dark and disturbing imagery. This is not a film for children and certain scenes will make adults that even know what is around the corner cringe. It was also bold enough to not alter its ambiguous ending one of the stories greatest strengths and it illustrates what was in the comic perfectly on screen. This was a faithful adaptation of one of the most daring and controversial Batman stories and is worth seeking out.
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