by Jai Hutchison
Director: Sam Liu
Graphic Novel: Alan Moore
Illustrator Graphic Novel: Brian Bolland
Screenplay: Brian Azzarello
Characters (Bruce Wayne/Batman, Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth, Commissioner James 'Jim' Worthington Gordon & The Joker): Bob Kane
Characters (Bruce Wayne/Batman, Alfred Pennyworth, Commissioner James Gordon & The Joker): Bill Finger
Characters (Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth & The Joker): Jerry Robbinson
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s ‘Batman: ‘The Killing Joke’ is one of my absolute favourite Batman comics. Originally published in 1988, ‘The Killing Joke’ has won many awards including multiple “Best Graphic Album” and “ Best Artist” awards, “Best Single Issue” award and a CBG Fan Award for Favourite Original Graphic Novel or Album. To sum up, it's an awesome graphic novel and if you haven't read it, go get it, go get it NOW! No matter what you thought of the movie, you can either let this be your do over, or you can fall deeper in love with this sadistic masterpiece.
Many of us have waited a long time for this graphic novel to be brought to life. Five years ago Mark Hamill Tweeted his excitement to again voice the Joker if ‘The Killing Joke’ animation was in fact created, and it's been a year since Bruce Timm confirmed that the project was in fact happening with a release date set for 2016, and I personally have been buzzing to see it. I spent the weekend prior to the screening trying to avoid any comments or feedback from the San Diego Comic-Con, where they had just held the world premiere; unfortunately though, I’m a sucker for Twitter. However, in spite of some unenthusiastic reviews, off I went down to Leicester Square on Monday night ecstatic and with an open mind... Well, I was trying with the open mind thing, I was excited yes, but mainly my mind was on edge and full of questions: Will The Joker be as sadistic on screen as he appears to me in the comic? How much extra material will they add in? Because I’m sure they will add in some bits here and there, you know, for time? Will it be essential to the plot? Oh god will they ruin the plot? Surely they will just expand on the great storyline that is already there? How quickly my thoughts changed when the movie began…
In the first 5 minutes, I find myself wondering if they are showing the wrong Batman animation. Or maybe it's like a pre movie thing? Like when Disney show those animated shorts before the main movie? Hmm… No something isn't right here. I definitely didn't come to see the new adventures of Batman & Batgirl? Right? Then I recall that Brian Azzarello, who wrote the screenplay, has added a new prologue. A proposed“...15-minute prologue that helps set up the story, giving even longtime fans of the story something new to look forward to.” Sigh...The prologue however, runs on for just over 30 minutes and I for one could not wait for it to be over with so that the actual movie, the one that I wanted to see, could finally begin.
“I realise this is probably not how you thought the story would start…”
No shit! See, even Miss Gordon knew that this is not what we wanted. The last thing I expected to see in the opening credits was Batgirl swinging around Gotham City. For me anyway, The Killing Joke is a Joker story first and a Batman story second with Batgirl being a supporting character. Don't get me wrong, yes a momentous event occurs in Batgirl’s life within this story, it's a defining moment in her character’s journey and it should be acknowledged; acknowledged, not become a major plot line. The Killing Joke is dark and twisted. It is supposed to be dark and twisted, excluding perhaps those slightly less darker moments when it delves into The Joker’s past. It is not a modern romcom where I want to see Batman making out on rooftops! I also do not want to watch as the lead female sulks to the gay best friends and has a dilemma over whether or not she should call the guy, or not call the guy because it’s awkward now after the really hot sex the other night.
I kept trying to work out how this was going to feed into ‘The Killing Joke’ storyline and I just couldn’t see it. Aside from Batman and Batgirl’s awkward one night stand, there was a crime based plot involving slightly unhinged character Paris Franz, who developed a detrimental attitude towards Batgirl, and I thought Ah Ha! This is it! This guy is your model inmate at Arkham. Surely when they take Paris Franz to Arkham Asylum that will be the cross over. Right? Wrong. The prologue is a separate entity, actually very much like those animated shorts that Disney do.
Finally, a scene I recognise. Batman calls for Commissioner Gordon to meet him up at Arkham Asylum and the overall tone of the movie shifts to strange and sinister, I’m elated. I felt like I was watching the right movie, that the Joker was on his way to my screen and the movie had finally begun. It was literally the pages from my book coming alive on screen, it was faultless. My mood instantly changed, and the prior 30 minutes were forgotten, thankfully. The only downside unfortunately to seeing this part of the ‘The Killing Joke’ on the ‘big screen’ was that I didn’t. The Vue in Leicester Square has the most disappointingly minuscule screens. Something to bare in mind if you ever decide to go. Don’t!
As I thought he would, The Joker stole the show. Yes ok he's the bad guy blah blah blah.. Moore portrayed a side of The Joker that many could associate with. He was just a man in love and desperate to provide for his loved ones, and then he lost everything that mattered to him, can't we all relate to that on some level? Can’t we all share in the one bad day theory? Seeing The Joker as his former self in animation was completely different to the comic and dare I say it, The Joker tugged on my heart strings a little. Mark Hamill felt exactly right not only as The Joker, but as The Joker in ‘The Killing Joke’. It often happens that I don’t agree with the casting for a movie for a character from a comic or a book because my imagination has already established how they will sound, look, act, or the strength of certain personality traits, but Hamill was just excellent, every bit the sadistic madman I’d hoped for, equally he portrayed his past self without fault.
Conroy as Batman, was Conroy as Batman. He has been our animated Dark Knight for just shy of 25 years now, and he knows his way around a Bat-suit. Just like the movie, in the second part Batman too shifted in a superior form that I could appreciate and enjoy. He left his one night stand’s and romance predicaments on dodgy rooftops and stepped up to save the day. When our clown prince of crime moved in to execute his plan; terrorise the Gordons by shooting and consequently paralysing Barbara, abduct the Commissioner and by doing so leave our Dark Knight on edge by Barbara’s hospital bedside, without a clue to her father’s whereabouts, or The Joker’s plan.
Despite Batman’s story line stepping up to the plate in the second part of ‘The Killing Joke’, and Mark Hamill as The Joker in my eyes being simply faultless, there has been some debate and upset about this feature mainly around the intent of The Joker’s actions towards Barbara Gordon. From the graphic novel I had wondered if Moore had implied that The Joker had sexually assaulted Barbara Gordon prior to photographing her, or if he had viscously undressed her and then taken pictures of her. However the movie adaptation threw a few more hints indicating this. Last month Vulture, part of New York magazine, interviewed Bruce Timm, and he briefly discussed his thoughts on this controversial topic, and answered the question “The prostitutes say he didn’t come by after this most recent breakout, and theorize that “maybe he found himself another girl.” That seems to more or less imply that he raped Barbara, no?”
“I don't think that, actually. I did not think of it as supporting that. If I had, I probably would have changed the line. I never, ever thought that he actually raped her. Even in my first read of the comic, I never thought that. It just seemed like he shot her and then took her clothes off and took pictures of her to freak out her dad. I never thought that it was anything more than that.
Here's the thing: Whether he [raped her] or not, it's still sexual violence. It's still a horrible thing. So in my own head, I was already self-censoring the moment. Maybe just to make it a little more easier to get through. But it’s still a very horrible, horrible thing.”
The second part of the movie flowed smoothly just like I was reading the book panel by panel. It was done so perfectly that towards the end it actually began to annoy me a little bit. I cannot understand why a prologue was so essential. I understand that extra material was required for the movie to be of a decent length, however I so wish that Azzarello had just stayed within Moore’s original storyline; it didn't win all those awards for nothing! The two storylines just do not connect, removing any sense of flow from the movie that the comic has. During his interview with Vulture, Timm even states that they are two completely different stories that do not relate:
“We deliberately tried to not really link the opening to the Killing Joke part explicitly. There was some discussion about that: Should we try to fold it into the Killing Joke part of the story more? Should we hint at the Joker in the first part? It’s kind of an odd structure for a movie. It isn’t one long complete story. It really is two different stories with a break in the middle. We just decided that would be the best way to go with it. I honestly don’t even think of them as being one story. As weird as that may be. We just didn’t go down that route. Here's the thing: The entire movie is a very odd movie. One of the other things that I always had concerns about in terms of adapting this story for a movie was that it doesn’t hit the traditional movie structure. There's not a grand, big, explosive finale at the end, and it ends on a really weird, ambiguous note. Batman never triumphs throughout the entire story. So if it's got this weird, strange structure where the first half doesn’t even barely relate to the second half, it’s like, Whatever — we’ll just do it.”
To be honest I would of happily paid £15 for a short but excellent movie. As it was, I was left just really hung up on the prologue, and the prologue left me wanting to demand a refund of my money and time. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, American Film Institute, and British Film Institute, a feature film runs for 40 minutes or longer. Enough Said! Think about that next time Azzarello.