Film Review: Batman: The Killing Joke

by Lachlan Anderson

Rated MA15+. Starring Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong. Directed by Sam Liu & Bruce Timm.

Since first appearing on screen in 1943, legendary comic character Batman has appeared in dozens of films, TV shows and video games. We’ve seen him in black and white serials, goofy ‘60s TV shows, dark TV cartoons and a variety of films that most recently have the hero portrayed as a broken and flawed hero. Though, Bruce Wayne has never been as dark as in Batman: The Killing Joke.

The Killing Joke is an animated film based on the one-off graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore. Batman struggles to stop the Joker from carrying out his most evil plan yet which involves driving police commissioner Gordon insane.  As The Joker pushes Batman to his limits, the Caped Crusader must contend with the idea that he may have to kill his nemesis and thus break his one rule. The film features Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, both reprising their roles from Batman: The Animated Series.

First thing, this is definitely not for kids. It’s a pretty true comic adaption so the filmmakers don’t hold back when it comes to violence, language and sexual references. Given the nature of Batman, and The Joker, this seems an appropriate choice though one that not all viewers will appreciate. Conroy and Hamill do an excellent job stepping back into the voice roles that have made them fan favourites for decades. This time they really get to take it up a notch and go deeper with Batman’s internal struggles and Joker’s insanity respectively. Joker’s back-story is also explored with satisfying depth and calls into question the notions of fate.

If you are not a big fan of comics though, The Killing Joke may be a disappointing watch. The first act of the story is largely unconnected, only serving as a short analysis of the relationship between Batman and Batgirl/Barbara Gordon. Things kick up once the Joker joins the story but then it’s soon over.

The Joker’s backstory and resulting madness bring up the ideas about the insanity of our world. He muses that the universe is essentially a cruel place, and that he had “a bad day”. He challenges Batman that the world is not worth saving, a bad joke. Batman, who has also suffered his own bad day in the past, is constantly on the brink of believing this himself but remains on the side of hope.

Everyday we can hear about another murder, assault or disaster and it can feel like the world is as random as the Joker claims it to be. Were it not for the biblical narrative we would have little evidence to suggest otherwise. The reality is that our world is indeed a broken place, due to our sin. There is hope though. It may be hard to fathom but God doesn’t allow things to happen for no reason and His plans cannot be frustrated. Those plans involve Jesus who has already done the hard work in setting our world right for when he returns. That’s more than enough to reason to stay the course and “play it by the book” like Batman, rather than falling victim to the world like The Joker.

The Verdict: An enjoyable comic adaption for fans of the book, and one that does justice to the darker subject material inherent in Batman’s stories. A brilliant voice cast bring the characters to life. However it’s not much of a movie experience, rather best enjoyed at home once released on DVD. 3/5

Batman: The Killing Joke releases in Australian cinemas for one day only – Sunday, July 24th. It will release on home media shortly after.

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