HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Batman: The Killing Joke
HTS Overall Score:77
It’s not an exaggeration to say that “Batman: The Killing Joke” is one of the most anticipated animated films of the entire Batman lineup (maybe even more so than “The Dark Knight Returns”, which is one of the most highly respected iterations of Bats in recent history). Coming from the 1988 one off comic, “The Killing Joke” delves into the psyche of the Joker (played by Mark Hamill once again) and what made him the villain he is today. The subject matter of “one bad day” that made the Joker snap has been done time and time again in the Batman universe (even being redone in the season finale of the animated TV show “The Batman”), but it also explores the sort of symbiotic, parasitic relationship that exists between the caped crusader and the most looney of all his villains.
When “Batman: The Killing Joke” was released a few weeks back in a limited theatrical run it was met with mixed results. The original story really only takes up about 45 minutes, but the movie itself is padded by including a 31 minute Barbara Gordon story that is meant to humanize the girl who is about to be victimized in the R-rated animated film. Fans lashed out over the prologue, claiming it superfluous and rather sexist, and sadly they aren’t completely wrong. I didn’t’ think that the prologue was that bad overall, as it made a satisfactory diversion before the main act, but I can see the point of view with people claiming sexism. This portion of the story makes it seem like Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Tara Strong) is a bit of a ditz, being emotionally manipulated by a young gangster who brings her to the abyss. That and it portrays Batgirl as the typical girl who is only donning the mantle so she can get close to her school girl crush (Batman), even though that type of pairing doesn’t happen in the movie. Not to mention it makes inevitable retaliation against the Joker a little less impactful as it seems like Batman is more influenced by his romantic attachments to Barbara instead of being completely overcome with anger and hate due to his friend being tortured and abused by the Joker and Barbara being crippled and violated. At the same time the story itself isn’t that bad if taken out of context from “The Killing Joke” portion of the movie. It’s a decent level Batman story and had its enjoyable moments. Just sadly not in conjunction with the final 45 minutes.
Now, on to the good stuff. Fast forward a bit after Barbara gives up the Batgirl costume, and she has made a life for herself. However, that normal life is coming to an end as the Joker (Mark Hamill) is back out on the street again. Before Batman can reacquire his most terrifying villain, the Joker is able to kidnap Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) and put a bullet in Barbara’s spine (and it is intimated heavily by the comics and the film that he does a little bit more to her to make a point). Bats is now faced with one of the toughest decisions of his life. The Joker has gone just a bit too far this time and the caped crusader is now officially resigned himself to the fact that ONE of the two men is going to die in this confrontation.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=76433[/img]The actual “The Killing Joke” portion of the movie is nearly flawless, despite some awkward page to screen adaptations that don’t work as well in video as they do in panels (think the song and dance number as well as a few of the Joker’s flashbacks to his previous life). However, it retains much of the incredible storytelling as penned by Alan Moore back in 1988. The juxtaposition between Joker and Batman is never clearer, and the ending sequence is probably one of the darkest and most disturbing in Batman history (if you look really close, and listen well. Some people still don’t know what happens in those final moments, but I personally think it’s very clear). Some viewers may not feel that the story told is up to the wonderful narration from the comic book, and that is certainly up to the person, but I still felt that it did a fabulous job (despite the weird inclusion of the 31 minute Barbara/Batgirl story at the beginning). Certain elements translated quite well, and others not so well, but overall it was an admirable adaptation of the material.
The fabulously ambiguous ending is left intact, and while that may be seen as either a negative or a positive by some, I have to admit that it is no easy task to do in today’s world where everything needs to be over explained. It was one of the toughest and most hotly debated endings in all of comic book history and remains so till today. While I loved that bit of the story, I was most excited to see Hamill and Conroy back in the saddle as their iconic roles. Hamill is simply magical as the Joker and once again reminds us WHY he is regarded as the single best Joker voice to date, although his flashback sequences feel a bit lackluster for some reason. Conroy is just as good, bringing the Batman to life in a way that made teenage me giggle for joy (I grew up watching “Batman: The Animated Series” every day as a teenager).
Rated R for some bloody images and disturbing content
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=76441[/img]“Batman: The Killing Joke” comes to Blu-ray with a very standard looking 1.78:1 AVC encode (if you’ve been watching the DC animated films from WB). Long story short, it looks quite pleasing, with solid animation (albeit a bit clunkily drawn, although that is no fault of the transfer) and impressive colors. The reds of Barbara’s hair, or her shirt, or the pasty white of Joker’s face shows up with impressive saturation. The film is, as always for a Batman film, bathed in darkness and black levels are very important here. There seems to be very minimal crush and shadow detail is apparent at all times. The only problem that is rather annoying is the DC animated film curse. That is, there is some excessive banding that shows up throughout the movie. I’ve said this before, but I’ll reiterate. I think that it is something that is baked into the animated master as I’ve seen other animated films from WB (think the LEGO DC animated films) and the banding is nowhere to be seen, so I’m suspicious that it’s inherent to the source animation for some reason. Overall, a very nice looking transfer for fans of the DC animated lineup.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=76449[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is also quite nice, although not AS bombastic as some of the previous Batman offerings. The dialog is strong and clean, with Conroy’s deep voice coming through loud and clear with no problems to my ears. Surrounds get an ample workout with the explosions and bullets whizzing overhead and the more intimate moments of the film are replicated with pinpoint accuracy. Listen to the raindrops falling when Batman pulls Commissioner Gordon out of cage. I honestly thought it was raining outside as the drops sound ridiculously accurate and soft in the mix. LFE is tight and explosive, but not as thunderous as I was expecting. The weight and power behind the bat mobile explosion rocks the listener in their seats, and the fisticuffs carry a surprising amount of power to them.
• An exclusive sneak peek at the next DC Universe Original Movie
• Featurette – “Many Shades of Joker: The Tale of The Killing Joke”
• Featurette – “Batman: The Killing Joke – Madness Set To Music”
• From the DC Comics Vault – Two 22-minute episodes:
- 1. The New Batman Adventures - “Old Wounds”
- 2. Batman: The Animated Series - “Christmas with The Joker”
The opening 31 minutes of the movie seem to be the most controversial, and for good reason. The padded filler feels a bit like the studio heads wanted to bring more focus on Barbara and her victimization (and subsequent turning into Oracle later on), as well as trying to pad the movie out to make sure it got over the hour mark and could be shown theatrically. It’s frustrating, but luckily not a deal breaker in my personal opinion. The movie can actually be watched in two parts, or if you’re a purist, you can literally start the movie 31 minutes in and get only “The Killing Joke” portion and not feel like you’ve been left out in the cold. Audio and video are on par with most DC animated films in the Warner Brothers lineup, and the extras are pretty solid. Definitely worth a watch if you’re a Batman fan, especially if you’ve been looking forward to the first R-rated Batman film in history.
Starring: Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, German, Spanish DD 5.1, Spanish DD 2.0
Runtime: 77 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 2nd 2016
Buy Batman: The Killing Joke On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Recommended for a Watch
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