“Batman: The Killing Joke” is a Let Down

Maybe it’s the dad in me, but I found Batman: The Killing Joke, the latest DC Animated film and an adaptation of the classic Alan Moore/Brian Bolland story, to be incredibly pointless and at points, ridiculously offensive. All of this is mainly because of the first 30 minutes or so of the film, which seems to take a hell of a lot of glee in turning the character of Batgirl into a whining, petulant and misguiding apprentice. What the fuck?

The original DC comic was first published in 1988 and is a seminal piece of storytelling. In it, for anyone who hasn’t read it, writer Moore gives us a Joker-centric story in which we’re treated to what may or may not be the character’s origin (“If I’m going to have a past I’d prefer it be multiple choice”) juxtaposed alongside The Joker’s attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon crazy. In what’s become one of the most notable moments of the book, and one that made its way into DC continuity proper, The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon point blank, paralyzing her from the waist down, before proceeding to undress her and take photographs of her prone, immobile body.

This was and is intense storytelling, but in the book it never felt exploitative. It was horrible, but not dirty. And in this cinematic adaptation, written by Brian Azzarello and featuring the voice talents of the classic team of Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (The Joker) and Tara Strong (Batgirl), it isn’t either. It’s the stuff before it that feels wrong. Cheap.

For some reason that I can quite figure out, the filmmakers decided to make the first portion of the animated Killing Joke revolve around an upstart Batgirl, at odds with Batman as she tries and continually fails to lock down a psychotic mobster. The Batgirl on display here is unfamiliar and woefully depicted. The penultimate moment before The Killng Joke proper kicks in finds Batgirl and Batman engaging in some violence-driven sex. I’m not opposed to the two of them having a physical relationship, and in fact it could make for an interesting, original story, but what we’re given feels simply wrong. The scene isn’t empowering for the character. Instead it’s just sleazy.

In a summer where Ghostbusters are kick-ass women, Batman: The Killing Joke feels like its courting controversy simply for the sake of it. The original story is strong enough (though, to be fair, not necessarily long enough) to have been its own film without new padding that only serves to negate the strength the Batgirl has always demonstrated. As a fan of the original book, it was nice to see Brian Bolland’s art well served in this adaptation, but I can’t help but envision Alan Moore (once again) shaking his head at DC’s ineptitude in adapting his source material.

Batman: The Killing Joke is a disappointment.

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