I was warned by Ryan, the night shift manager of Century Regency and part-time cashier at Blue Moon Comics, about Batman: The Killing Joke a mere minute before the movie started.
“It’s 90 minutes of my life I’m never getting back,” he lamented while I was in the popcorn line.
When the movie got out just a little before nine, I felt the same way.
The Killing Joke animated feature film is about as bad as you’ve heard. Of the handful of DC Universe Animated Original Movies that I’ve seen, this one is easily the worst. In addition to retaining all of the problems many people have with its source material (the 1988 graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland) – which it exacerbates tenfold with a ludicrously awful scene in its dragging first act – it is also the most boring Batman movie I’ve ever seen.
By now, you’ve probably heard of the controversial addition to the film: the rooftop sex scene between Batman and Batgirl. Writer Brian Azzarello and executive producer Bruce Timm somehow thought this was a good idea. I watched the YouTube clip (embedded above) of this scene before I saw TKJ and it doesn’t improve within the context of the film. This by itself is enough to mar the movie; Batman hooking up with any of his sidekicks or protégés is going to come across as borderline incest. There’s a reason why Batman’s team of Robins, Batgirls, Spoiler, Nightwing, etc. is referred to as the “Batman Family.” They’re the family Bruce Wayne never got to have. Hell, he even adopted at least two of the Robins, which would legally make him their father as well as figuratively. It’s so damned wrong that it will make you long for that other cringe-inducing rooftop sex scene in the Dark Knight’s history.
Other than that, the first act is utterly unremarkable. It’s dull as hell, features a disposable villain who isn’t the least bit interesting yet he gets tons of screen time and it has absolutely nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. The idea behind it was to give more agency to Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, all of which gets completely undermined by the Bat Hookup. Her subsequent crippling and implied sexual assault at the hands of the Joker – troubling enough in the original story – now just feels even more like a fridging than it already was.
Whatever the hell Timm and Azrello where trying to accomplish by adding a Batman-Batgirl romance angle into this story, it fails miserably. It doesn’t cause Batman to act any differently toward the Joker after he assaults her and if you were a half hour late and walked into this after the first act, you wouldn’t have the slightest inkling that Batman cares about Barbara in a romantic sense. And given the extreme victimization Babs endures in the story just for the sake of motivating Batman and upping the stakes of his conflict with Joker, the romance angle is just…yikes.
By the time the actual Killing Joke segment of The Killing Joke started, I was already feeling weary. The prospect of seeing the graphic novel’s iconic panels recreated shot-for-shot on screen was undermined by the stiff animation. Batman in particular looks like he’s made of cardboard in most of his scenes. Kevin Conroy (reprising his role from the acclaimed animated series, along with Mark Hamill as the Joker and Tara Strong as Batgirl) sounds frankly bored for the whole damn movie. This perfectly channeled my feelings about The Killing Joke but didn’t make for a compelling performance.
The first and second acts meander through the motions, checking off all of the stuff you’d expect to see in a Killing Joke movie: Barbara Gordon getting shot (which of course happens in slow motion), the flashbacks to the Joker’s past (the only decent scenes; Hamill is really good here) and Commissioner Gordon getting stripped naked and dragged around Joker’s carnival lair by his circus freak henchmen (which, like everything else in this mess, goes on for way too long). It’s almost a relief when the infamous ending, in which Batman may or may not have killed his arch nemesis, finally arrives.
This version of The Killing Joke is a dumpster fire and a waste of time. If you’re one of those people who thought the “MERTHA!” scene in Batman v Superman was the greatest thing ever, you’ll probably love this movie. Otherwise, skip it. Batman: The Killing Joke will be out on Blu-ray and DVD on Aug 2. I suggest you buy literally anything else instead.