As a film by itself, The Killing Joke isn’t that bad. But as an adaptation to one of the most lauded Batman stories of all time? It’s downright terrible. Think of it like a guy who was telling a classic joke but said it in a monotonous tone completely killing the punchline. It didn’t matter he said the joke word for word, he completely blew it. That’s what the film just did.
The Killing Joke was written by Alan Moore and is considered by many fans and critics as the ultimate Joker story, which goes into detail about his origins and why he’s the sick twisted villain he is today. Originally considered as a stand-alone story, it was so popular DC integrated it into the Batman canon. But seeing this film and what it turned the story into is why Moore has such a cynical take on humanity. Let’s just go into detail about why this film laid an egg:
Batsex: disturbing and just downright wrong, I could write a thesis on why this one scene ruined the whole film. Brian Azzarello spends half the script developing Batgirl’s character and it includes romantic tension with Batman that culminates in them getting down and dirty. Never mind that Batgirl a.k.a. Barbara Gordon is Dick Grayson’s a.k.a. the original Robin’s lover. It’s just completely unnecessary and manages to spoil Batgirl, Batman and the entire film.
A Tale of Two Halves: Azzarello and the creative team tried to make Batgirl more relevant by developing her character but they don’t really show why and how she’s such a central character. The entire first portion could’ve been cut out and the film would’ve been fine if not better. Yet we’re forced to sit there and watch a pointless and overly long exposition into a character that isn’t too important because the story isn’t about Batgirl. It’s about the Joker! While the second half salvages some of the story, people are already bored or confused as to how everything fits in together.
Dead on Arrival: the Killing Joke was one of the darkest Batman stories with an ambiguous ending that leans towards a dark interpretation of Batman breaking one of his most sacred rules. While the film does copy the graphic novel nearly panel for panel, it just doesn’t have the same weight. It feels “run-of-the-mill”. It didn’t feel sinister and didn’t make you curious to think. It told a story without really understanding the point of the story.
If you haven’t read the graphic novel, I would recommend you read it first (there are many you can find on Youtube complete with voice over) and then watch the film. If you choose to just watch, you may enjoy the film. It still has great voice work from Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tara Strong as Batgirl and of course, Mark Hamill as Joker and the animation is up to DC’s best stuff. It isn’t by any stretch a horrible movie but in context to the source material and the reverence of the characters it was dealing with, it’s a Killing Joke. ★★