I won’t lie, I came to Batman: The Killing Joke late. I didn’t read it until this year when I heard buzz about the feature film. That doesn’t, however, lessen the power of the comic book’s impact on me. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it had the same impact on me that it had for folks in 1988. It’s raw, smart, and compelling. Unfortunately, the new feature film doesn’t compare to the force of nature that is the graphic novel.
The film starts out with a voice over from Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong), Commissioner Gordon’s (Ray Wise) daughter, telling us that she’s sure “this isn’t how you thought the story would start”. It isn’t, but we’ll go with it. For the next thirty minutes we see the relationship between Batgirl and Batman (Kevin Conroy) as they try to capture Paris Franz (Maury Sterling), a pompous sociopath. Perhaps this deviation from the source material was to establish Batman’s motivations for going after The Joker (Mark Hamil). Perhaps it was to set up future animated features. Whatever it was, it detracted from the overall story.
The prologue gives us a soap opera love triangle amongst Bruce (Wayne), Barbara and Paris. It paints a misogynistic image of an older man being pined after by a young love lorn coed. (Bruce and Barbara are closer in age than the film made it look like.) It’s a forbidden love story of a teacher and student that feels forced. Especially when Batgirl rips off her top (costume) and makes love with Batman high above the city.
Once the story we know takes off, it’s an entertaining film. Your mind goes between what you know from the comic book and what’s been added to fill in blanks. Hearing Mark Hamil’s voice as the Joker once again is great. It reminded me of all those days of grabbing a snack and watching “Batman: The Animated Series” after school as a kid. Hamil has fun playing the unpredictable equal of Batman, as evidenced in his delivery. Kevin Conroy lends his controlled, powerful voice to the role once more and sells Batman.
If you haven’t read the comic book, do it! It’s awesome! Ultimately, this feature film, like many movies adapted from books, can’t compete with your imagination. The mind is a powerful thing, filling in thoughts and feelings where the page’s frames doesn’t. It paints an incomparable cinematic experience! While the feature lifts some of the iconic panels found in Batman: The Killing Joke and puts them into motion, it can’t beat the original.