Quite possibly one of the most-anticipated graphic novel adaptations of all time, this animated take on Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “definitive” Joker story may bring some of the source glory powerfully to the big screen – largely thanks to Mark Hamill – but this is arguably outweighed by excessive narrative bloat and potentially offensive “refinements” to the original plot.
The Killing Joke primarily functions to present The Joker (Hamill) with a back story, while this version of the tale also adds a half-hour prologue where Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl (Tara Strong) fights crime as well as craving sexual and emotional availability from Batman (Kevin Conroy). Yep.
By far the most widely-derided aspect of this adaptation is that pesky prologue; not only does it pad out the original story in a woefully unimaginative way (Barbara chases down a criminal named Paris Franz), it transforms the Barbara Gordon character into a mopey teenager, who shags Batman only to spend much of the first act’s remainder whining about how impenetrable (pun intended) he is, to a token gay sidekick no less who feels like he fell straight out of the mid-1990s.
All this said, when the film works, it really works. The Joker’s back story is terrifically unfurled, while Hamill’s performance is beyond reproach and arguably some of his strongest work as the character, with many of the novel’s iconic monologues delivered with delicious menace. Even when the fairly cheap-looking animation is only satisfactory, Hamill ensures to give the Clown Prince of Crime towering presence, and the story’s unforgettable punchline in particular is a straight-up home run.
Still, given the enormity of the source and the wildly inconsistent quality of this adap, it’s difficult not to feel at least a little disappointed; an indulgent run-time and some grotesquely tone-deaf character choices early on make it a film many fans will likely want to reconvene with on repeat viewings at the half-hour mark, in essence forsaking that troubling prologue and embracing it as an hour-long feature instead.
Either way, this isn’t the faithful, savagely R-rated take many fans were hoping for, so it’s hard to recommend as much more than a curio for fans who’ve already made up their minds to watch it anyway.
Batman: The Killing Joke is available now on home video and VOD