I went to see Batman: The Killing Joke having read the original graphic novel some years before, but not with it fresh in my mind and having read some SDCC-born concern over the treatment of Batgirl.
I left wondering why we had two separate movies held together by a narrator.
The first half has a definite focus on Batgirl. There could be some clever reasons for this; building up key characters so we care more later (George RR Martin style, as I heard one fellow viewer remark), a clever observation on what happens to people who get caught up in Batman’s dark gravity or foreshadowing whether people can climb out of the abyss should they fall. It doesn’t really matter though. Since I’m not smart enough to work out the intended connection it has been lost on me.
In a way, the first half of the movie was my favourite. It was a Batman adventure, told through the experiences of Batgirl, full of action and memorable heroes.
Then the Joker gets involved. Mark Hamill is at his creepy best with this dark incarnation of the Joker. This time the Joker is out to shock and destroy. His motives are pure black.
The arrival of The Joker into the lives of Batman, Batgirl and Commissioner
Gordon is why the animation gets an R in the United States. There’s a scene where the Joker has the aftermath scenes of a sexual assault playing on TV screens. It’s dark.
Weirdly, and as an indication of what doesn’t quite work in the animation is even while the dreadful scenes of sexual violent play out behind the Joker he won’t say the word ‘fuck’. The narrative uses ‘fig’ instead. What the hell? What sort of audience would see sexual assault as a valid part of the story but not the use of the world’s most common swear word?
I don’t get it.
In truth, the second half of the animation didn’t live up to my expectations. I really didn’t get the song and dance routine and the animation quality felt especially poor during it. I suspect the dramatic backdrops of Gotham and spooky fairgrounds helped compensate for the character animation at other times.
What worked for me in The Killing Joke was the voice acting and the music. The characters – with the exception of Commissioner Gordon – felt believable and part of the Gotham mythos. As usual the city brooded over the the landscape but it was the music that brought everything to life. The score succeeded in being creepy in time for you to be feeling uncomfortable or even admonished when the plot might lead you to suspect apologies were due.
I’m glad I got to see The Killing Joke on the big screen. This was a movie that had a lot to live up to and I don’t think it manages but it wasn’t a waste of time. I think it tried to be to appeal to too many audiences and pulled itself too thin, perhaps in half, as a result.