In a world of ever-increasing superhero movies, there are times where the film will not jive 100% with the source material, especially with live action adaptations. As great as our film-making technology has gotten, this is still the world of the fantastical. At times, the films are slated to be more in “the real world” or at least toned down a little. Sometimes the story-line doesn’t mesh 100% completely with what was within the comic. Take, for example, Captain America: Civil War, due to corporate reasons and film rights issues, not every character could be in the film adaptation of that comic book crossover event. However, the film adaptation uses the “less is more” approach and made one hell of a film that ended up, arguably, better than the source material. Batman v Superman also took liberties with the story-lines it borrowed from to try and make a complete film. That’s just how it goes with adapting and transferring a story from one medium to another.
In animation, there are even more liberties that can be taken in regards to adapting a comic book. For one, the animation visually looks similar to the comic book, as even casual fans find it easier. Instead of comics that are read from page to page, they are viewed in animation form and it’s easier on the eyes. Also with animation, the studios have been doing it for a longer time and thus have more experience in this form of storytelling. We’ve only had “really good” superhero films for the better part of the last decade, while we’ve had really good animation for much longer. Simply put, the studios are better at doing it in animation form. No one has had more practice (and success) than the DC Universe Animated Original Movies. They simply know their source material and have done a stellar job in their direct-to-video films surrounding DC Comics properties. With more than 28 films under their belt, they have gotten very good at what they do.
Which is why their latest adaptation, Batman: The Killing Joke is such a letdown.
This is an adaptation of famed writer Alan Moore’s famed one-shot graphic novel surrounding The Joker that was critically acclaimed across the board. The original graphic novel was a game changer for The Joker as it gave us a sympathetic origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime as he is revealed to be someone who simply just had a “very bad day” that pushed him past the brink of sanity to become the crazy monster we know and love today. The graphic novel has won many awards and was even a New York Times Bestseller at a time when that was impossible for comic books. The depiction of The Joker went on to influence other depictions of the character throughout comics, film, and video games. He had just the right amount of crazy that made it awesome. However, transferring the story-line from one medium to another is always tricky and even DC Animated can drop the ball every now and then. Poor Alan Moore, it seems that none of his adaptations will ever be done right. He’s disavowed almost every adaptation of his works including: From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, and of course Watchmen. It looks like he’ll probably want to add The Killing Joke to the list.
Now this is by no means a bad film, just some of the story elements weren’t done correctly. To start off, the original story was not large enough for a feature film adaptation. The original focused on The Joker as he tries to systematically torture Commissioner Gordon by first shooting and paralyzing his daughter Barbara Gordon and then breaking him down by showing him terrible images of his daughter. Batman must try to find and rescue him as well as bring The Joker in “by the book.” The problem is that could be relatively told quickly and probably within a one-hour animated special, and that’s even stretching it. As a result, they stretch the film by adding an additional half-hour focusing on Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, giving her some things to do.
The producers tried to flush out Barbara Gordon because she originally was more of a plot device than an actual living and breathing character. In the original, she’s simply shot, paralyzed, and then appears as naked photos the Joker uses to torture her father. This somewhat backfires because she ends up becoming even weaker in the film than she was in the comic. In the film, she’s already Batgirl and is operating in a role similar to Robin as Batman’s sidekick. Like Robin, she was youthful and inexperienced. However, they couldn’t help sexualizing her. First, they had Batgirl become somewhat infatuated with a local criminal who was equally obsessed with her. Instead of ignoring him, she considered it “flattering,” which is just a tab bit on the sexist side. They also made a blasphemous change to the Batman canon as well. Turns out she is really infatuated with Batman and this mentor/mentee relationship is more of a youthful girl who is smitten with her older teacher. Because the film goes for an R-Rating, we are also treated to a rooftop sex scene between Batman and Batgirl that had the audience either laughing or groaning as it happened.
Keep in mind, this is supposed to be a story about The Joker, who we really do not see for at least a half-hour in his own film. When he arrives, it pretty much cancels out the Batgirl story-line so we can focus on him and his backstory. The backstory is pretty much the same as it is in the comic, so there’s nothing upsetting there. Mark Hamill is exceptional as always in the role that he has pretty much owned since he started way back when. Say what you want about Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and (probably) Jared Leto for how good they are as The Joker, they don’t hold a candle compared to Mark Hamill. Even when he does The Joker in the flashback scenes, he changes his voice to be less confident and not to psycho. The only disheartening thing is that it is strongly implied that in this iteration The Joker rapes Barbara Gordon while she is in his custody, something that did not happen in the original graphic novel.
Like in the comic, the film ends very abruptly. Those who know how the comic ends will enjoy it for the homage to the classic. However many in theaters will walk out saying “That’s It?” There needed to be a definitive resolution to the story. One again, just because something worked in one medium doesn’t mean that it works in another. It was good for Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to once again work together. It’s always good to hear them, it’s almost like the band getting back together for yet another concert. It’s just, this time, the concert was a bunch of new covers of their greatest hits and not their greatest hits.