Movie Review: Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
“The madness begins.”
Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
Director: Sam Liu
Cast: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong
Synopsis: Batman once more confronts The Joker, who has kidnapped Commissioner Gordon after escaping from prison.
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DC continues to flesh out the legend of Batman with its animated version of Batman: The Killing Joke, a grimly unrelenting short feature which panders to the basest instincts of its fans by couching its familiar characters in situations one would expect to find in exploitation horror flicks. Batman: The Killing Joke delights in the nihilistic world in which it has placed Bob Kane’s Caped Crusader, although Kane would be hard pushed to recognize any trace of his creation in Sam Liu’s interpretation, a taciturn, inexpressive block of muscle drawn from Alan Moore’s graphic novel incarnation. Torture, rape, forced nudity and sexual humiliation are just a sample of the dubious delights to be found in a movie which appears to rate shock value over substance or worth.
Batman: The Killing Joke is really two movies joined together by a thin strand of connective tissue in order to make one feature-length movie rather than two shorts. Batman plays a supporting role for the opening story, which follows Barbara Gordon (voiced by Tara Strong – Ted, The Secret Life of Pets), who, as all Batman aficionados will be aware, is not only the daughter of Police Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise – The Lazarus Effect), but also Batman’s female counterpart/protégé, Batgirl, as she tries to come to terms with her feelings for her mentor while tangling with a persistent villain who has become infatuated with her. It’s a fairly bland concoction, particularly for those unfamiliar with the various characters’ back stories, but is, because of one brief incident, the part of the movie that has had internet message boards aflame.
Batgirl’s dilemmas are resolved in the blink of an eye, and the story shifts to The Joker (Mark Hamill – Star Wars, Kingsman: The Secret Service) whose belated appearance feels like a breath of fresh air, not because he lightens the tone at all – in fact he darkens it considerably – but because he lends some vitality to the proceedings. After escaping from prison, The Joker baits Batman by kidnapping Commissioner Gordon, whom he subjects to a series of degrading ordeals at the hands of a troupe of sideshow freaks in an abandoned amusement park in an attempt to snap the lawman’s sanity. This psychological torture and humiliation of Gordon is punctuated by flashbacks which reveal just how an impoverished stand-up comedian with a young family was transformed into the grinning madman the people of Gotham know as The Joker.
These days, it’s something of a novelty to see animation created by a human instead of a computer, but the texture and tone of Brian Bolland’s artistry for Moore’s graphic novel is largely abandoned in favour of more rudimentary compositions which are at odds with the grittiness of the storyline. But for all the adult content and morose soul-searching inBatman: The Killing Joke, there’s really very little going on beneath the surface, and the whole thing feels a little forced. It’s ironic, given the fact that the movie’s running time is shamelessly padded with no thought or concern for consistency, that Batman: The Killing Joke really would have benefited from a far deeper examination of how one bad day can tip an ordinary man into insanity. No doubt, fans of the previous animated Batman movies will find something to enjoy from this latest outing, but it’s unlikely to click with casual viewers who aren’t immersed in the Batman mythos.
(Reviewed 31st July 2016)