I didn’t think it would come to my town, but I was very pleased when friends informed me I was wrong. We sat down in the theater, a little irked that this ‘special event’ was $2.50 more than a regular ticket, but once the trailers were done and the feature started everyone fell quiet—I was focused. The opening had some talking, and then an interview with the Clown Prince of Crime himself, Mark Hamill, talking about the role and his nervousness having to follow the great Jack Nicholson in portraying The Joker, and that not even being the character he wanted to play originally. I was mesmerized, learning more and hearing about one of my favorite shows of all time, from the mouth of the man whose voice I imagine whenever I read a comic featuring the villain now.
“If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice.”
That’s why I was a little confused when our feature started with the story being told by Barbara Gordon. This takes the focus off of Batman and Joker for the first half, which is an interesting narrative point, but threw me off for a minute. The first and second parts of the film feel like two completely different episodes that have a tertiary link, but I understand why this all had to be added in. It was for runtime of course, but also emotional emphasis. The comics had years to build up Batgirl and her standing with Batman as a crime fighter, being part of the family. She was established, and so there was no need for an introduction like it was determined was required here. They gave her some time, a stereotype of a gay friend at the library to run dialogue off of, and a romantic relationship with Bruce for some reason. It wasn’t bad, just not necessary at all and lacked the addition the team wanted it to provide. Every time these two characters have been romantically linked it was an elseworld comic or in the animated universe, rarely, which is why it felt odd. I hate that most of the cringe-worthy moments came from this, especially her sitting on top of a water tower screaming into her bat-communicator, “it was just sex!”
The second half flows so much better and brought a story I know far too well to life before me. Several of the cruelest and most emotional moments in a DC comic were brought to new life in such a cool way. It becomes the Joker show at the end, with incredibly done flashbacks and some instances that felt truly tense between the two voice actors. The only part I’m not certain on is the musical bit, but that reminded me so much of the 90s cartoon and was performed well. That is why I still came out of this film feeling pretty positive and enjoying it. The Killing Joke felt like it could have been a missing episode that bridges The Animated Series and Batman Beyond. It was an amazing time hearing familiar voices and feeling like a kid again at the beginning, then growing up with the more mature story that I didn’t get to see at a young age. I even loved the abrupt ending straight from the comics and the small added scene with Oracle. We can debate whether or not Batman killed him another day.
The first section was written by Brian Azzarello, someone who writes comics I usually love. I’m not sure what happened here, except that Mark Hamill put it best in part of his later interview, talking about always wanting to do The Killing Joke, and being worried when it started to happen, because now they all had to deliver. In the case of a title that is so widely regarded, even by many who don’t read comics regularly, it was always going to be hard to pull off, and it was never written to be in any other medium than on the page. The creative team says that it is longer and can breathe more than a normal episode, but that may have screwed with the pacing, and although I see why the new bits were needed to do the desired format, it took away from the overall story and could have been executed better. There is some criticism over the movie and original story hinging on the violation of Barbara Gordon, but I have always thought this was handled as respectfully as it could while still remaining realistically set for the purpose of the narrative. It makes it so much more of an emotional moment for when after everything that happened to him—because let’s not forget what was done to him either—his daughter, knowing nothing would ever be the same, that he still wanted it done by the book. It also adds to Batgirl coming back to reinvent herself as Oracle, becoming an invaluable member of the team. Good stories have conflict, growth, and resolve, which will sometimes require terrible things to happen for them to be overcome. The issue is when these things are leaned on without any creativity or thought. This amplified the story, and or Barbara, she was given years after this in the comic to persevere and show how much of a badass she could be no matter what. She’s amazing, one of my favorite characters. Go read Gail Simone’s Batgirl run from New 52 or watch her be commissioner in Batman Beyond.
I’m having trouble figuring out whom to recommend this movie to, most likely someone who hasn’t read the comics, maybe just wants more animated Batman with these great voices, or a hardcore fan like me that enjoyed seeing this take on a classic tale. It has a lot of problems, some of which I’m positive came from trying to please too many people, but I enjoyed the experience, as I have many of DC’s animated excursions, and this one did not fall too far from the tree.
I just want my $2.50 back.
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