Monday, July 25, 2016

Rant Review: Batman- The Killing Joke animated movie

Virtually everyone has been clamoring for an animated adaptation of the classic Alan Moore/Brian Bolland tale Batman: The Killing Joke for years now, ideally with the iconic voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker. At long last, it has come to pass. The Killing Joke has been well-acquainted with controversy since its publication due to its content, and Bruce Timm, Brian Azzarello, Sam Liu & company have not shied away from it here. Indeed, the prologue they've added to the story includes a scene that doubles down on the controversy; more on that in the spoiler section later in this review. (Don't worry if you're avoiding spoilers, you'll have plenty of warning.) All of this results in DC's first animated movie to be stamped with an R rating.

Brushing all the controversy aside and judging the movie on its own merits, I enjoyed it quite a bit. The art style used differs from the source story, as Bolland's exquisitely detailed art is obviously too complex and labor-intensive to realistically be used in an animated film, but there are little details here and there that are evocative of his work. Despite its different look, the movie's visuals have the same sort of feel. The animation is often not as smooth as one would hope, however. This is an issue common among the newer DC animated movies, but one can't help being disappointed to see it here. Surely such a hotly anticipated project, a surefire hit, warranted a budget increase to deliver higher quality animation than we normally see with these releases? Alas, it is what it is, and while the animation is not as good as hoped, it still is far from bad, and it gets the job done.

Kevin Conroy simply IS Batman at this point, and it's always wonderful to have him back in the role. Even mediocre efforts such as Public Enemies are buoyed by his presence, so having him work with such well-written material is a pure pleasure. Tara Strong is quite good as Batgirl, as usual, having similarly made that role her own over the years. Veteran actor Ray Wise is a disappointment as Commisioner Gordon, however. His flat delivery of most of his lines mars the few key scenes Gordon has, and one of the story's most powerful moments is deflated due to the lackluster performance. Wise is a good actor, so this could simply be due to miscasting.

Mark Hamill has long been celebrated for his various performances as the Joker, and rightly so. His incredible performance in last year's Arkham Knight video game was his magnum opus, and while I can't say his performance in The Killing Joke surpasses that, it is definitely on the same level. His performance of the "Go Loony" song alone is worth the price of admission. Honestly, that is one of the most surreal parts of the original story, and everyone has been wondering how they would pull it off. While Hamill  croons it out beautifully, everyone involved deserves much appreciation for putting that scene together.

Now we're about to dive into the story, and this will involve some spoilers. Highlight the following paragraphs with your mouse to read, or skip down below if you'd rather avoid spoilers.

The prologue focuses on Batgirl and her working relationship with Batman. It's clear that she has some romantic feelings toward Bruce, and this culminates with the two having sex on a rooftop one night while working a case. The entire internet has exploded since this was made known, and I myself was a bit apprehensive about it. While there is a precedent in the animated Batman projects for a Bruce/Babs relationship-- see Mystery of the Batwoman-- it's never felt right. Putting the age difference aside, since it's honestly not as large a gap as many people seem to believe, Bruce is a mentor to Barbara. This position of authority he has over her lends a rather skeevy air to the whole idea of them pursuing any kind of romantic relationship. Not to mention that he's also her father's BFF, adding another layer of weirdness to the whole thing. However, as always, I resolved to wait and actually watch the movie before passing judgment on it. I'm happy to be able to say that the entire thing is handled well in the movie. Both characters immediately recognize it as a mistake, and it even leads to a scene where Bruce apologizes and behaves like an actual human for a damn minute. Barbara decides that she really doesn't need this whole thing in her life anymore, and decides to move on, returning her gear to Batman, and retiring as Batgirl. 

There's also an epilogue that shows Barbara back at home, and makes it very clear that she has begun her career as Oracle. This lends an air of hope to the movie, particularly to comic readers with some familiarity with the character. It's a nice coda that brings the story back to focusing on her, and helps a bit to mitigate her use as little more than a prop during the main story of TKJ. 

As for the main part of the story, it's exactly as readers remember, with a bit of additional dialogue and action here and there to flesh things out a bit.There are moments that are absolutely chilling, with many of the graphic novel's scenes beautifully realized. The minimal use of music is eerily effective for the most part, and the whole production is lifted by the (mostly) amazing performances. It's actually been quite a while since I've really enjoyed any of the DC animated movies-- right offhand, I think The Flashpoint Paradox was the last one-- but The Killing Joke is a return to the quality we used to get from these projects. It's one of the best animated movies carrying the DC logo, and I highly recommend watching it.

As a little aside, I can't help hoping that the movie is such a success that they'll see fit to release an alternate version with the coloring done in the style of the original version of the graphic novel, as demonstrated here. I like the realistic tones of the recolored version, which the movie emulates, but the surreal, garish colors of the original version have a macabre appeal of their own.

No comments:

Post a Comment