Batman: The Killing Joke
review by Bobby Blakey
Warner Bros. has been on a major role with their animated films. Everyone seems to get better and better. Most of them are based on varying story arcs, but after they took on the iconic Dark Knight Returns and knocked it out of the park fans began to wonder if any other historic stories would be making their animated debut. Now one of, if not the best Batman story of all time is doing just that with latest animated film Batman: The Killing Joke.
The film follows the Clown Prince of Crime from his humble beginnings as a struggling comedian to his fateful encounter with Batman that changes both of their lives forever. Years later, and now escaped from Arkham Asylum, The Joker devises a plan to prove that one bad day can make anyone as insane as he is setting his sights on Commissioner Gordon. It’s up to the Dark Knight to put a stop to The Joker’s latest scheme and save one of Gotham City’s finest. For anyone that didn’t already know they spoke during the bonus feature on their previous release Justice League vs Teen Titans about their choice to expand the story with a more Batgirl-centric opening to set up where the original source material kicks off due to it not being that long of a book. While the first half of the film works to set up the relationship between Batman and Batgirl they took it in a direction that really wasn’t necessary. For anyone that heard the rants coming out of SDCC regarding it knows what I am referring to, but for those that don’t it is kind of a spoiler, but one that needs to be told to prepare people for what they are getting into. This set up offers up some great action and a cool little story to where they are heading, but involved a more romantic building relationship between the two characters that didn’t need to be there. They could have told the same exact story down to the nose and left out the romantic and sexual nature of it and still gotten the same results they were trying to accomplish. This is the section that hardcore fans of the source material will no doubt hate, but if you can put it aside and just let it be for what they were attempting then you are in for a real treat with the second half.
The second half of the film is perfection totally capturing everything about the iconic book. I was worried even with the R rating that something would just be lost here in translation, but they really delivered a sinister dark story that brings it off the page perfectly. It is near impossible to capture the sheer brilliance of artist Brian Bolland, but they did decent job of it. There are some truly great visual moments of the Joker here and matched with Hamill’s iconic voice it delivers everything I could have wanted it to be. Conroy back as Batman also brings it home as these two belong on screen together and coupled with some of the animation looking like an episode of Batman the Animated Series, mostly the Joker back story sequences, gave it a nostalgic feeling. They could have really embellished on some of the darker moments in this story that were always implied and I applaud them for not doing so and allowing the exact story to be told how it should have been. This is not the typical Batman story and has always been my personal favorite of any Batman book to ever be released outside of the Cult mini-series so getting to see it come to like with such perfection put a smile on my face as big as the Joker himself.
Executive Producer Bruce Timm’s involvement here was very evident and fans of the original animated series will no doubt love what he has brought to the screen along with the performances of everyone involved. Where the controversy will stand is with that first half. I personally don’t think it hurt the overall film as I knew what I was getting into and understand what they were trying to do as well as know that with most of these animated features they take liberties with bringing it to life. Sure I would have loved it just as much if it had just been the short version of just the Killing Joke, but I have to admit I still loved getting to see more Conroy as Batman and Tara Strong’s Batgirl in action even if it wasn’t in a way that we are used to. The transition between the two stories is a bit clunky, but also makes it easier to revisit it later and just skip right to the Killing Joke portion without missing out on anything. There is a missed chance for perfection here as a whole due to some of the issues with the beginning, but the second half is so brilliant that I can look past it because I still got the film I wanted with that portion.
Besides the film, this release includes a variety of special features including featurettes, two cartoons from the DC Comics Vault and a sneak peek at the next DC Universe Original Movie. For those lucky enough to grab the Blu-ray Deluxe Edition will also get an exclusive limited edition Joker figurine to add to their collection.
Be there as this iconic story comes to animated life when Batman: The Killing Joke comes to Blu-ray Deluxe Edition, Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD on August 2nd from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.