The 1988 graphic novel “The Killing Joke” has been heralded as one of the very best Batman stories ever told. I tend agree with that. Writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland’s award-winning work shook the Batman universe to its core and the ripple effect is still being felt.
With such widely held appreciation and popularity, I’m surprised it took until 2016 to get an animated adaptation. It is material that seems ripe for the Warner Brothers Animation treatment especially in light of the popularity of “Batman: The Animated Series” and its feature film one-shots. Then again an argument could be made that it would have been best left alone.
Veteran Batman writer Brian Azzarello handles the screenplay duties and the results are bizarrely uneven. This is namely due to a jarringly out of tune prologue that is completely new to the “Killing Joke” story. In it Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (voiced by Tara Strong) becomes the object of a young mobster’s affections. As the thug draws Barbara deeper into his obsession, Batman (Kevin Conroy – the quintessential voice of Batman) grows concerned and demands she backs off.
It seems the entire point of the prologue is to develop the relationship between Barbara and Batman. But there is an added twist that is completely out of left field. It weirdly sexualizes the Barbara Gordon character in a way that feels terribly unnecessary. Even worse it doesn’t connect well with the rest of the movie which turns out to be a pretty faithful representation of the graphic novel. This relationship Azzarello concocts between the two is essentially rendered mute and ineffective.
Once it gets away from its puzzling prologue the movie hits its stride. The Joker (Mark Hamill) finally appears providing a much needed jolt of energy. As expected the animation is spot-on and the voice acting, particularly from “Animated Series” veterans Conroy and Hamill, is one of biggest highlights. Fans of both the novel and “Batman: The Animated Series” will certainly appreciate what the movie eventually becomes. But getting to that point makes for a puzzling ride.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS