Batman: The Killing Joke Review

As Jared Leto shows the world his take on the Joker in Suicide Squad, now playing in cinemas nationwide, a classic and more familiar take on the “Clown Prince of Crime” comes your way in animated form, adapting the much-acclaimed and revered 1989 graphic novel “The Killing Joke”…

The Crit

Voice Cast - 92%
Story - 80%
Music Score - 78%
Animation - 85%
Originality - 70%

81%

Killed It!

A faithful adaptation of the celebrated graphic novel with a stellar cast and crew...do the new additions enhance and does it live up the mammoth hype?

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As Jared Leto shows the world his take on the Joker in Suicide Squad, now playing in cinemas nationwide, a classic and more familiar take on the “Clown Prince of Crime” comes your way in animated form, adapting the much-acclaimed and revered 1989 graphic novel “The Killing Joke” by comic heavyweights Alan Moore and artist Brian Boland. Although Moore does not regard it as one of his best works and claims that he attempted to make this the the worst Batman story of all time, that has not stopped fans for nearly three decades gravitating towards this story; and with good reason. Aside from providing fans the first real glimpse at the Joker’s origins (or is it?) there is a simple plot that is deceptively intricate in its layering and also logical for the Joker, fantastically detailed artwork and an ambiguous ending that has been debated by fans ever since with no definitive answer one way or the other. It’s no wonder that has been the most anticipated direct-to-home-video DC animated feature to date and expectations were very high. So with all that build-up, does the film live up to the legacy preceding it?

The main feature is pretty much what you’d expect, a faithful near complete adaptation of “The Killing Joke” scene for scene and beat for beat, which might simultaneously be this films biggest strength or weakness depending on one’s point of view. The major difference comes in the form of original extra material for the first act of the film, focusing on Batgirl and providing more backstory for where she ends up during her first scene in the story proper.

There’s technically nothing wrong with this first act of new material and in of itself overall is good story that wouldn’t feel out of place as a stand-alone episode of Batman: The Animated Series or any other half hour animated series; language, excessive violence and graphic scenes aside. However, it does feel a tad out of place in this story as aside from setting up Batgirl’s role later in the film, which required little set up anyway, they story itself feels unrelated to the rest of the plot of The Killing Joke, in these events and criminals in this portion of the film are never referenced again. There is also a very strange plot choice that involves Batman and Batgirl that I felt very out of character for Batman and an unnecessary complication in their vigilante partnership given their roles as well as Batman’s continued relationship with Commissioner Gordon.

As mentioned, once the familiar plot kicks in, it is everything you would expect and hope to see; thus making this portion of the film through to the conclusion arguably the most faithful and near complete adaptation of an established DC comic or graphic novel in animation or film to date. As good as the story is and how logical the Joker’s agenda is in its psychotic simplicity, it is almost ever so slightly underwhelming as well in the sense that if one has already read the graphic novel and remembers it vividly, there are little surprises left to discover.  And given how the graphic novel ends, this may come across as underwhelming as well. However, aside from the first act of the film, there has probably never been as faithful a direct adaptation yet, so this is as a point worthy of applause.

The greatest area where this film excels is the voice casting. Batman and the Joker are both voiced by long time names associated with the roles, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, who have voiced the characters respectively for over 20 years from Batman: The Animated Series through to the Arkham video games recently. These two actors are so completely associated with their respective roles at this point that it is almost a disappointment when they are not attached to the characters. While it remains to be seen how much longer they will continue to voice the characters, their presence is so strong and their voices so rich with character that any opportunity to hear them voice Batman and Joker is to be savoured.

Conroy delivers as usual there is little to fault in his performance. Mark Hamill brings it too and you can hear through every line that he has been salivating for years at the chance to provide his voice to this story and it shows. The different inflections he uses when switching between Joker and his pre-villain self are very striking and certainly go a long way to painting both as very different characters. One slight disappointment with Mark Hamill’s performance as the Joker is perhaps not even his fault, but rather likely due to the maturation of his voice. His Joker does sound older compared to the heyday of Batman: The Animated Series and as such, perhaps comes across as having less frantic energy as he used to. When it’s time for him to delve into the sinister side of the Joker, he nails it every time, but the playful side of Joker’s voice does sound aged and it almost detracts a little from what is a great performance. Other voice actors include veteran DC voice actor Tara Strong (Batgirl), Ray Wise (Commissioner Grodon), Robin Atkin Downes (Detective Harvey Bullock), Brian George (Alfred Pennyworth) and Maury Sterling (Paris Franz) among others. Tara Strong is clearly the strongest of the supporting cast but all are good and portray their characters well with special mention to Brian George for being perhaps the best voice casting of Alfred since Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

The art style of this film is clearly provided by producer and long time DC Animated show runner, Bruce Timm and is directed by fellow long collaborator Sam Liu. His characters are clean and suitably detailed, but never overly detailed so as to hamper the animation itself. Colours are bright and vibrant when needed and moody when the situation calls for it. The use of de-saturating the colour palette for flashbacks is very effective in visually separating between past and present and captures the spirit of the graphic novel greatly. The final great touch is how the models are depicted to capture the art style of Brian Boland from the graphic novel. While nowhere near as detailed as Bolands work nor even overly resembling it, the switch to work it in to the animation in subtle ways is a nice nod to his work, without which this film would not exist.

Finally, the scoring of this animated feature left me somewhat underwhelmed as well. While serviceable and doesn’t detract from the movie, doesn’t provide anything memorable either; be it in the intro, the credit or the body of the film. This comes as a disappointment as the music is usually best when there is a clear identifiable main theme that weaves throughout that becomes synonymous with said film or show. This is even more underwhelming as some of the composers worked on past DC films and animated shows from the DC Animated Universe that where renowned for great scoring and unique, memorable themes and cues throughout. However, the one piece of music in the film you will remember and that will stick with you for weeks is the song provided by Mark Hamill. In a fitting and inventive adaptation of a song from the soundless pages of “The Killing Joke”, Hamill and the composer delivered a manic, zany and most certainly memorable musical number to capture the Joker’s madness. This is definitely a highlight to be sure and is a must see for any Joker fans.

Overall, The Killing Joke is still a good direct to video animated film and perhaps still one of the better ones in the vast catalogue of these films released since 2007. However, considering the voice casting attached, the story being told and the decades of anticipation for it as well as the director and personnel attached to the scoring; this should have perhaps been the greatest film WB Animation and DC have put forward to date. Sadly a largely unnecessary first act, strange character decisions on said act and a few niggles with Hamill’s voice at times and the lack of overall memorable scoring have conspired to prevent this sure first hit from reaching the great heights it was all but guaranteed to soar to. This is by no means a dud, but be aware that if you had high expectations coming in, it might not reach them. If however, you have no such expectations and are a fan of the characters and DC Animated works, this is still worthy of your time and would recommend checking it out.

Disclaimer: Be a aware that this has at least a 16 + rating and is not suitable for children. Please keep this in mind if you wish to buy this for a young child.

Additional Information

Reviewed on: DVD
Available on: DVD, Blu-Ray, Digital
Genre: Animation, Action, Crime
Age Rating: 16 +
Estimated RRP: R45 – R160
Release Date: 25 July 2016

Likes

  • The voice acting, in particular the two leads
  • The big song you won’t quickly forget
  • Faithful adaptation

Dislikes

  • The scene between Batman & Batgirl
  • Might have just fallen short of huge expectations

About Warren Kantor

Warren Kantor
A fan of most things pop culture related, from movies, to TV, to gaming, to comics and everywhere in between. A great lover of superheroes since my family bought me my first Spectacular Spider-Man issue in Umhlanga over 2 decades ago, having seen almost all animated series, movies and live action films produced by the BIG TWO from the 90's onward. My favourite hero from marvel is everybody's friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man and from DC it's a 3 way split between Batman-Superman-Green Lantern. Favourite Marvel villains are Green Goblin, Doctor Doom and the Mandarin. "Do you hear that Iron Man 3!!!!" >:( . Favourite DC villains include Joker, Two-Face, Clayface, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Darkseid, Sinestro and more. Can happily read anything written by Geoff Johns any day and everyday. Give me superhero movies and TV as well and watch that smile grow larger than Galactus. Been playing video games since the flea-market Nintendo cartridge days, through Sega Mega Drive, Playstation, PS2, PS3 and now PS4. Seen over 2,200 movies throughout my life and nowhere near done. Barry Ronge, Siskel and Ebert...eat your heart out boys. Also a huge fan of Pro Wrestling in all it's forms for 20 years, and a passion that consumes most of my days. Throw in some NBA on the side, a latent need to cook and a love of art with a just a pinch of writing and you begin to weave together the tapestry that is my life. Or make that the recipe that is the gluten free side dish that is my life. What tapestry will we weave together next and will you have room for seconds?

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