The Killing Joke, which settled itself among the best comic books regarding Batman, never got close to being adapted to the screen for many reasons. Nevertheless, DC broke out of the shackles of the childish Batman years ago and Sam Liu’s animation is the best proof for it. It’s dark, well-structured and sometimes looney in some really bizarre ways, but most of all – it’s a beautiful tribute to Mark Hammill and Kevin Conroy – the legendary voices of DC.
Sam Liu begins with a short back story of the Batgirl – Barbara Gordon – and her rather intensive relationship with Batman, that leads both a rushed end of their common good-deeds-work. Only then, the director introduces us to the ultimate nemesis of Batman – the Joker – who captures Jim Gordon and drives him mad, trying to brake Batman’s self-righteousness.
“All it takes i just a one… bad… day” – this one diabolical line became the definition of the Joker’s obsession over breaking the will of Batman. The Killing Joke is one-of-a-kind story in the Batman universe, a classic story for the die-hard fans of the Batsy. Known to be the most compelling and surprisingly touching origin story of the Joker, the comic book discovers the truly pathological relationship that binds Batman and the Clown Prince of Crime.
Sam Liu’s adaptation is very consistent with the original material and that – at the same time – consitutes its strength and flaw. On one hand, the scenes are the flesh of the comic book, with all its graphic oddities and Joker-themed, vivid weirdness, but on the other – the narration of the film suffers from this greatly. The several scenes from Joker’s past are rushed and feel out of the blue, whilst too much time is spent on the forced-out prologue.
As a matter of fact, the prologue part, which introduces Barbara Gordon as the Batgirl, feels as if it was cut from another film. And this is the biggest drawback of Liu’s adaptation. The Killing Joke is therefore divided into two parts. One, which perception is constrained to waiting for the Joker and the second part – luckily much longer – that digs into the most harrowing interdependence of two individuals known to mankind. And from that particular point, once we see the Joker entering an abandoned theme park, The Killing Joke arrives at the right stop.
So, although the drawbacks of The Killing Joke are undisputable, this animated R-rated spectacle delivers the chills it promised in the first place. Mark Hammill returning to his iconic Joker role is at his finest, a bit similar to the one from Mask of the Phantasm. This Joker, sketched with the vintage “line” of the old animations, is portrayed like in the comic books, with all his masterfully malicious attitude, witty and mordant humor and demonic laughter. He’s paired up with equally-legendary Kevin Conroy, reprising the role of the Batman – stoic, fed up and doing his utmost to end the maddening rollercoaster that the Joker adores so much, he is the perfect anti-match for the aforementioned.
Yet what I really loved in The Killing Joke was that it’s truthful to the original source material in how the story reaches its climax. It proves, that Batman and Joker are two sides of the same coin – the concept on which the Dark Knight was based too, with the memorable “hanging upside down” scene with Heath Ledger. Batman allows the crimes to happen out of the vague presence of the self-righteousness, whilst Joker never meant to kill the “Batsy” – without him, he would be simply bored to death. And that peculiar, open-to-intepretation ending was the peak of The Killing Joke.
The transition of the Batman target audience proves, that DC seeks major changes – once a childish and lively comic-book graphics became darker, sinister and psychologically-oriented. Even though The Killing Joke is far from being flawless, it’s a step towards the DC Comics I would personally crave to see more of.
What’s cool: The Joker, the story that is consistent with the novel, the cool “vintage” graphics that remind of the old Batman animations.
What’s not cool: the narration that is not adapted to the screen accurately, the boring prologue.
UMP Grade: 32/50