The film was released in 2016 and is based upon the DC Comic of the same name, Batman The Killing Joke sees Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill returning to voice Batman and the Joker respectively. Other characters from The Animated Series also return to voice their previous characters, namely Tara Strong as Barbara Gordon with Ray Wise as Commissioner Gordon.
Let me ask you a question: What turns someone into a monster??
Perhaps monsters aren’t made over years, perhaps all it takes to transform an ordinary person into a monster is one really rotten day. A day in which everything bad that could possibly happen, happens, the worst that life can throw at someone, all heaped into a person in a single moment that causes them to buckle under the strain, causes them to snap, and ultimately transforms them into something else entirely…something other than a human…
It seems that I am starting to get ahead of myself and look at some of the ideas of the film before we have looked at the film itself, so let me bring things back to the beginning, and tell you a little about The Killing Joke…
Batgirl (Tara Strong) is on patrol and manages to apprehend a criminal with some help from Batman (Conroy) whilst the other members of the gang escape. The mastermind behind the crime, Paris Franz, is one of the ones who gets away and seems to be developing an obsession with Batgirl, to the point where he starts sending her messages. Concerned about her safety Batman orders her off the case (without explaining to her why he wants her out of the way), leaving Batgirl feeling outraged and angry, she ignores Batman’s instructions and continues trying to apprehend Franz. Batman again warns her off saying that she is in more danger than she realises, Batgirl is outraged by the way he is treating her, and things ultimately come to a head between them that makes their relationship a lot more complicated.
Not long afterwards the Joker (Hamill) escapes from Arkham Asylum once again after Batman tries to convince the person posing as him that they needn’t have to kill one another but sooner or later that is precisely what is going to happen if they carry on as they are. Once he realises Joker’s deception Batman frantically tries to find him and scours Gotham’s underworld but the Joker is nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile the Joker is preparing for something big and is about to try and illustrate his point, that all it takes to create a monster is one really rotten day…
I realise that I have given very little to actually go on regarding what The Killing Joke is about but that is entirely deliberate, I don’t want to give away too much because to do that would be criminal, as this film needs to be seen firsthand.
Mark Hamill is without a doubt the best Joker in animated form. He expertly voiced the character in The Animated Series along with Kevin Conroy as Batman. Apparently the strain of doing the Joker’s voice has taken its toll and Hamill retired from voicing the character after the game Arkham City, however, he mentioned a willingness to return if The Killing Joke comic was made into an animated film. This prompted fans to start a campaign to get the adaptation made, and in 2016 that is exactly what we got. I am not a fan of comics as you know so I don’t know how close this adaptation follows the comic book story as a result I am just going to be looking at the film without looking at its similarities to the comic book.
I have seen a number of animated Batman films and they seem to have the balls to go where the live-action films won’t. Assault on Arkham carried a 15 certificate whereas the Suicide Squad was a child friendly 12 despite the premise of the two films being very similar. On the big screen it seems mass appeal is what studios are going for rather than looking towards a comic-book movie for a more adult audience.
Anyway, the nature of Batman’s character means that he is going to be darker and edgier than the Marvel comic-book films. The Killing Joke also carries a 15 certificate and it is well deserved because the film is pretty brutal. Blood does splatter across the floor and numerous gangsters are murdered. Batgirl is even pushed to the edge a few times by both the criminals and her frustrating regarding her relationship with Batman. Plus, this film shows how truly dangerous and savage the Joker actually is, and who the Joker is can be summarised by the line uttered by a gangster “We may be scared of you [Batman] but we’re terrified of him [the Joker]”. That basically sums him up. The criminals are more afraid of one of their own than they are of the Dark Knight. When scary people are terrified of someone, then you know that person is going to be the stuff of nightmares. The Joker is truly and utterly insane with no regard for human life or even his own. He knows that one day either he is going to succeed in killing Batman or he will leave the Dark Knight with no choice but to kill him instead…and the most frightening thing about it is that he is not bothered about which of those two options happens.
The first half hour is about Batgirl and her clashing with Batman over Franz’s growing obsession with her, this has little to nothing to do with the Joker, it is just about Batman and Batgirl. Whilst it is interesting and serves to show how frustrating it must be to work with someone who is as controlling as Batman must be, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the story, so it could have been cut or part of a separate story and the film wouldn’t have lost anything.
Still, the hype that surrounded The Killing Joke was that it would give an insight into the origins of the Clown Prince of Crime, and whilst it does that it still leave some holes in the story. The man the Joker used to be once had a wife but all it took was that one day in which the world turned on him and he snapped, then he received a chemical bath at the wrong time and the Joker was born. We see in flashbacks what happened to the man that became the Joker but we still don’t learn much more about him, we don’t know his name and as we cut to present day the Joker’s own memories of who he once was have been twisted so that even he isn’t sure about them anymore. I remember one of my skin’s sacks friends (who was into comics) telling me that at one point Batman asked the Joker how he got the scars on his face and the Joker told him that he has lied about their origins so many times that even he cannot remember what the truth is any longer.
The links between Batman’s origins and the Joker is at the forefront as both are driven by their hatred of the other, as all it took to create Batman was the same thing that created the Joker…one rotten day. Why did one go down the path of justice and the other insanity?? Is Batman, in his own way, as insane as the Joker?? He ignores the law, does what he wants, and the police turned a blind eye to it…why is Batman given a free pass when another vigilante would be hunted down and arrested??
According to the Joker everyone is only one bad day away from transforming into him, and honestly I could see his point, if everything that someone held dear was taken from them in a single day. If someone lost hope, if everything that made them human was ripped away, would they ultimately snap only to become a monster that cares about nothing but continuing with their own insanity??
There is also a great moment between Batman and the Joker…I honestly cannot say anything more than that without risking spoiling so I cannot say anything more. Trust me you will know the scene I am talking about and it really shows that both Batman and the Joker are still ultimately human.
The voice cast are all on top form and like I said the film is pretty brutal at times, it is welcome to hear so many actors from The Animated Series reprising their roles. Kevin Conroy is the best Batman hands down and his steely delivery of Batman’s lines bounces superbly of Hamill’s insane Joker.
Whilst the first part of the story which deals with Batgirl is interesting it doesn’t really give anything more to the overall film, still I went into this film with a lot of anticipation, and happily I was not disappointed. The Killing Joke is a great film that reunites a very talented voice cast with excellent animation plus a brutality that the live-action films sadly lack. It should come as no surprise that my Thumb is Up, if you are a fan of Batman then you need to track this film down because it will not disappoint, oh, by the way there is a bit after the credits so stick around for that.
9/10 – A great film that has the stones to be brutal and show how truly dangerous the Joker really is. Forget his recent portrayal in Suicide Squad, this is exactly how the Joker should be, insane, dangerous and a nightmare of criminal and hero alike.