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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016).


Batman: The Killing Joke
(2016).



I know a lot of people were very excited for this film, and it's not difficult to see why. The Killing Joke is an iconic part of the Batman comics, often lauded as some of Alan Moore's best work, and has played a massive part in defining the Joker's characterisation both in comics and in adaptations. Add to that that the film was bringing back Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (which always gets people excited, both for nostalgia reasons and just because they make an excellent Batman and Joker respectively), and that DC's animated flicks tend to be very well-animated, and it wasn't difficult to see why people were hyped.

I wasn't, but that's largely because I don't have the same attachment to the story that a lot of people do. I only read The Killing Joke fairly recently (a few years ago, I think - and I did enjoy it a lot, and I think it's a pretty good self-contained story), and I'm not massively familiar with Alan Moore's other works, so the story doesn't have that same nostalgic weight for me that it has for some people. I was interested, though, not least because I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype it had created.

As for whether it did - well, there's one glaring problem that kind of drags the whole thing down. We'll get to that.

The Joker, and a glass of water.

Following Batman and the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, The Killing Joke begins with the two attempting to track down Paris Franz, the son of a mob boss who is dangerously obsessed with Batgirl. Seeing similarities between the Franz and Batgirl's relationship and his own with the Joker, Batman attempts to shut Barbara out of the investigation. Once Franz has been taken down, however, the Joker enters the scene, escaping from Arkham and brutalising Barbara, kidnapping Jim in order to convince him that any normal person can go insane if they have one bad day.

Okay, so, I'm not against the prologue in theory, in fact, I think splitting the film into two halves with the first squarely focused on Barbara would have been a good idea, if it had been done right - in this case, though, it wasn't, because instead of actually fleshing Barbara out as a character, the writers used this prologue to shoehorn in a romantic relationship with Batman (and not just that, but a romantic relationship in which Barbara is presented as head-over-heels for him, while Batman is conflicted), and it's just creepy. 

A relationship between the two of them would have been creepy anyway, given the massive age difference, the power differential, and the fact that their relationship is more like an uncle and niece in the comics, but it takes on a whole extra level of creep in the film, because Batman is constantly exerting his power over her. The fact that Batman is framed as 'conflicted' (massive air quotes, since he's not conflicted enough not to sleep with her), while Barbara describes him several times as her teacher while also pursuing him, is also a little uncomfortable.

The final-ish confrontation.

It also frames the story in an entirely new light, because now Barbara is consistently seen through a sexual lens throughout the film - in the first half, there's a heavy focus on how she wants to sleep with Batman, and that means that that's on our minds going into the second half, and completely alters the tone of the story. Not only does it reek of 'now Batman is motivated by his girlfriend being injured!' and other refrigerator-y antics, but now her being paralysed and photographed (which the film goes out of its way to render more sexually than the comic did) feels much, much more sexual in nature, much more like a punishment for sleeping with Batman, and much more like it's trying to snidely suggest that now she's been desexualised by being disabled.

Beyond that, the film is there, I guess. It's well-animated and voiced, but not to the point of being especially remarkable, so I guess it scores moderate points for technical stuff. It hammers in, somewhat, that the story doesn't work as well when divorced from its medium - Moore is very good at utilising the medium of comics to create pacing, tension, prolonged moments of suspense and sudden moments of violence, and that doesn't translate over into the film. With a better director, possibly it could have.

It was nice to see more of Barbara, just - not with the creepy relationship angle.

Conroy and Hamill bring their A-games, as usual, and they're both a delight to listen to. Hamill especially does a great job of portraying both the Joker and the man he used to be, playing them as similar enough to be audibly the same man, but different enough that you'd never get the two mixed up. Tara Strong also does a good job as Barbara, although for obvious reasons, she's mostly absent in the latter half of the film.

All in all, this really isn't the masterpiece I think everyone was hoping for, and while some of the blame for that can be laid at the feet of the director, most of it is squarely because the writers decided to shove in an unnecessary, creepy, and frankly distracting romantic subplot between Batman and Barbara, in defiance of all logic and good sense.

... Also, was that random musical number in the comics? It lasted, like, three minutes and it was incredibly jarring, but I couldn't remember if that was in the comics, so I didn't want to specifically single it out, but wow, either way that did not work.

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