I may not be the biggest superhero aficionado, but I do consider myself someone who is well-informed on graphic novels as a whole, and despite disliking superhero comic books immensely (a few are great, but most of them are just meandering and lack a lot of substance), one that I did adore was The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. It was a dark, meaningful tale of one of the greatest fictional villains of all time – and if there was a comic book that begged for an adaptation, it was The Killing Joke. It was beautifully drawn, with a powerful story and it showed a different side to familiar characters. I have been a fan of the graphic novel for a long time now. You can imagine my absolute horror to discover that the eventual film adaptation of it would be one of the worst films of the year.
What did we do to deserve this shoddy and misguided adaptation of one of the most iconic and important graphic novels of all time? Batman: The Killing Joke was supposed to be great – I think we all expected it to be great. The fact is, they took one of the most important comic books of all time and turned it into a messy, overwrought and unfortunately dismal waste of time. There isn’t anything that redeems this film (except for one thing, which I will get to a little bit later). With the release of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice earlier this year, I begged the question that it hit a new low for the iconic character and the comic book studio that created him – what none of us knew was that an even worse film would be coming out, one that would prove that 2016 is one of the very worst years for DC Comics. I actually cannot believe the new low that Batman: The Killing Joke has set for the character of Batman. If there was a single character that I’d expect to always be consistently great, it is The Joker. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out here, and these two films have dashed my hopes in Suicide Squad being great – and Jared Leto doesn’t strike me as someone who is going to do a very good job at playing The Joker. Could 2016 finally mean the end of the iconic status of The Joker? Combined with Batman: The Killing Joke, the recent storyline in the comic books and the fact that Leto might very well have gone a bit too far in Suicide Squad, I think we may be able to finally say farewell to the nuanced and fully-formed Joker we have come to know and love.
It has been a long time since I truly despised a film – most of the films I don’t like are normally because I find them mediocre. Batman: The Killing Joke is a film I outright hated. There are very few redeeming qualities to it, and even the few redeeming qualities are not enough to save it from being the dull and utterly pointless mess we were given. I am actually angry, because I would expect this level of mediocrity from amateurs, not from DC Comics, and certainly not from the same people that brought life to DC characters in much better films. I wouldn’t even expect this kind of film from someone who set out to make a deliberately terrible film. This just sinks to a new low – it may appear like I am overreacting, but this was an absolute disappointment, and when you have some truly brilliant source material, why would you want to ruin it like they did here? I cannot wrap my head around it, and I am honestly at a loss for words, because I certainly believe the graphic novel deserved a better adaptation, and fans should have been given the adaptation they wanted. It is often said that a book is always better than the movie it is adapted from – I am pretty sure the bar-code on the back of The Killing Joke is better than this movie.
Let us explore all the ways Batman: The Killing Joke failed dismally. First of all, it isn’t even completely about The Joker – it begins with Barbara Gordon/Batgirl telling her story – and it becomes a lame and toothless cliche of superhero storytelling. Barbara Gordon is a very good character, but in an attempt to make her a better character by developing her, they completely ruined her character, turning her into a depressed and needy character that needs to approval of someone she is deeply in love with to have any self-worth – I honestly thought the days of all female characters in a film being dependent and needy are way behind us, but unfortunately, Batman: The Killing Joke does a fantastic job of reverting us back to the days when women couldn’t be independent characters in superhero stories – and unraveled all the great work done to develop strong female characters. Marvel once again proves it superiority over DC on another front. This isn’t only a problem with Batman: The Killing Joke, it is also something clear in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, where all the female characters were treated as meaningless and objects – I have high hopes that Margot Robbie is going to do a great job in Suicide Squad. However, the Batgirl prologue to Batman: The Killing Joke is just all sorts of terrible, and the filmmakers are lucky I love The Joker, because that one very controversial scene in this film that everyone is talking about was nearly enough for me to be turned off from DC for the rest of my life. How they can go and ruin a character in such a way, only for the sake of controversy, actually angers me. It is really unfortunate.
Let us talk about the single redeeming quality of Batman: The Killing Joke – the voice-actors. The best way to convince people to see this mediocre film was clearly to cast the iconic voices in the lead roles. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are both probably the best people to have ever played Batman and The Joker respectively, and are responsible for the masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series. Unfortunately, I am not quite so sure they would really want their names associated with this film, considering that it ruins an iconic graphic novel. Their performances are as impressive as they have always been, but it isn’t enough to save this film. It is useless knowing CPR when you’re the one who is drowning. Conroy and Hamill deserved to be associated with a much better film, and considering that Hamill will probably never voice The Joker again, what a traumatic way to end the most brilliant portrayal of the character, with this mediocre mess.
Batman: The Killing Joke is misguided and ridiculously bad. There is hardly anything good to say about it, and I am upset that I wasted my time watching it. I wish I hadn’t – it is a tremendously bad film, and it is made even worse when you consider that it could have been done so much better. The animation style is far too childish for such a dark story, and the film as a whole is just utterly mediocre. I thought this was a really poor effort, and I cannot defend it. DC needs to get their act together, because they are not giving these iconic characters what they deserve. Batman: The Killing Joke is a film that should have been so much better, and the fact that it wasn’t even vaguely good is unfortunate.