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Movie Review: #BatmanTheKillingJoke

Batman: The Killing Joke wastes a golden opportunity to return WB to animation greatness.
WARNING: This review contains major spoilers.

Review by Matt Cummings

As an avid collector of the DC Animated Universe, I've been a little miffed at the many recent changes behind the scenes. With Producer Bruce Timm hitting a homerun with both Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League, his removal in recent years (replacing him with James Tucker) has since left the animated side of DC feeling entirely empty. Replacing familiar voices for (frankly) cheaper ones, the films have suffered as well. So when it was announced that Batman: The Killing Joke would see Timm, Mark Hamill, and Kevin Conroy return, I was excited to see the animated version of The Blues Brothers making a triumphant return. But that's not the case.

Fighting crime in Gotham has let Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (voiced by Tara Carter) a bit flustered. Her boss Bruce Wayne/Batman (Conroy) is demanding and overly protective, refusing to accept her as anything but a hired gun. Soon, their personalities begin to conflict, leading Batgirl to quit. But Batman's greatest enemy The Joker (Hamill) has escaped, and soon Barbara and her father Commissioner Gordon (Ray Rise) are on the receiving end of The Joker's diabolical plans. Realizing that he can no longer simply capture his opponent - for fear of his escape once more - Batman must decide if can cross the line, especially when tragic news of The Joker's exploits hits too close to home.

Simply put, Batman: The Killing Joke is a disappointment. Dominated by poorly-drawn flashbacks of The Joker's origins and a current story with a huge and unnecessary reveal, it was clear that our Fathom Events audience of hardcore Bat fans was more than little stunned. The movie is based on the Alan Moore/Brian Bollard graphic novel, which took the 'relationship' of these two iconic characters to new levels of dark and set the tone for a deeper expansion of the DC universe. But the script by Brian Azzarello makes two critical mistakes: he minimizes The Joker learning about his wife's death and adds a controversial sex scene between the Bats. Yes, a much younger woman has sex with the much older/mentor Batman. There's no reason for it to exist, especially when it does nothing to elevate the story or create any further tension.

Release of this information was highly controversial at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, and with good reason. At least Conroy and Hamill were immediately welcomed back by fans who rightly believe WB should never have severed ties with them. The two are perhaps the most recognized voice actors in the business, and in Joke they once again deliver impressive results. Carter is very good as Batgirl, but Wise isn't as the Commissioner, even though a change was necessary with the death of original voice Bob Hastings. His performance simply sits there, even though he's an amazing live-action actor. It's a shame these elements didn't work, but it does show how important a role that a good script plays in the success of a movie.

In order to extend the story out, we also get a 20-minute 'prologue' of Batgirl being pursued by a pining criminal that's also not connected to any part of the original Joke. It's not really well-executed, more so because of what it turns Barbara into. Here, she's a sexual icon to be worshiped, while she and Batman never have a moment to work out their differences. They never explain why their relationship would turn sexual, or how it would impact Barbara later becoming Oracle. No one really moves outside of their comfort zone, which I guess is good for the core story but not for the prologue.

It's likely that fans are not going to forgive WB Animation for some of the unsettling Batman: The Killing Joke. Hampered by animation that doesn't transfer well to the big screen, as well as shoddy script decisions that adds an unnecessary sexual element, it's a wasted opportunity to bring back the creative core that established DCAU's footprint way back in 1992. Moreover, it makes me worry that the recent voice casting and creative mistakes by the studio are part of a much larger problem. When even your classic A-Team can't make a good movie, it's time to Grapple Gun the hell out.

Batman: The Killing Joke is rated R for some bloody images and disturbing content and has a runtime of 76 minutes. This will not receiving an extended theatrical but will be available on Blu-ray beginning August 2nd.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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