I am a huge fan of the Batman animated movies. I feel that “The Dark Knight Returns” is the seminal masterpiece when we speak of animated Batman films. However, when I heard that “The Killing Joke” was being made into an animated film, my hopes rose. The proposition looked even more tasty when the film became the first animated DC movie ever to be rated ‘R’. I had read the comics long time back and had faint memories of it. However I was not willing to read it again before going into this film. I wanted every surprise intact. The only substantial recollection I had of the comics was that it was essentially a short story. One that was not big enough to be made into a full length feature. However, I felt that they might just think of some way to make it meatier.
When the film started, I knew, they had found a means to make it meatier as its beginning was nothing like what I remembered vaguely from the comics. There is almost half an hour of extra footage involving Batman, Batgirl and a local mob boss who develops a fetish for the Batgirl. This sequence ends when the Batgirl, after repeated failures, has the better of the mob boss and Batman is finally called to Arkham to find out that the Joker has escaped another time. As the story goes, The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl and kidnaps Jim Gordon and then begins a deadly game in a dilapidated theme park to test the very fabric of the society through two of its most worthy representatives. The idea is to see if the men surrender to their inner demons when faced with extreme situations or still remain sane enough to go by the book.
Unfortunately, what felt like a gripping and substantial plot in the comics, patters out here like tapering monsoon rain. The story feels like it has lost steam right from the initial Batman-Batgirl sequence and never really recovers from it. The character of the joker is in his elements and he has enough to do but unfortunately he is no way as menacing or for that matter interesting as some of the earlier films like “Under The Red Hood” or the earlier mentioned “The Dark Knight Returns”. Every time I see the scene in Under The Red Hood where he beats Jason Todd aka Robin to death, I have goosebumps. None of the scenes here come near to that level of power or finesse. Even his one to one with Batman is unable to extract emotions.
The comics uses, the back story of how the Joker came to be what he was, interestingly. Here too the elements are effectively interwoven but for some reason it just doesn’t have that punch that was required to make an impact. Joker’s back story and his present culminate in the climax and the film ends with both Bats and Joker laughing at a common joke. That’s material that would even make the most suspicious of fans lap up this film, but it fails to deliver on all counts. It’s really meek and I don’t understand why. Many believe that the initial thirty minutes or so of the film, that was an unnecessary add on, ruined it. I beg to differ. It wouldn’t matter had the rest of the film been really good. We could have forgiven that part easily and taken it as mere character development but the second and third acts of the movie really don’t add anything to an already sinking ship.
I remember, I went ga-ga about the animation quality of each of the previous Batman animated films (The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, Under The Red Hood and even the animated series). However, the animation here is not all that great. It looks very cardboard-ish in a lot of sequences. Particularly in the ones to start with. But the quality visibly improves towards the end but still in no way reaches the standards and finesse of the films I have mentioned before. Even the sound design fails to deliver the kind of gusto to the action sequences that we were served in previous films. Batman is voiced by Kevin Conroy who could just be the definitive voice for the man but here he has little to make an impact with. Mark Hamill is huge right now, thanks to the Star Wars films and he doesn’t disappoint as the voice of the Joker. It’s just that the character has lesser punch than what was felt off in the comics.
Overall, The Killing Joke is a huge disappointment for me. I was expecting so much from this film and it failed to deliver in each and every one of those spheres. Even though the film picked up exact panels from the comics with the dialogs and feel replicated flawlessly, the surge and power of Alan Moore’s work is lost somewhere in the translation. I really can’t put my fingers on what they could have done better. It seems as though some comics should never be made into films.
Rating : 2.5/5 (2.5 out of 5 Stars)