Recently Warner Brothers Animation and more specifically Bruce Timm and Brian Azzarello took on the huge task of adapting Batman: The Killing Joke to an animated feature. Overall I really liked the film (you can read my review here) but I thought it failed in certain areas. Originally I was going to do a spoiler review but as most people reading this probably know the story anyway, I thought I’d do something different and give my in depth thoughts on what I didn’t like about the film and how it could have been much better.
This film is painfully split in half. The prologue and then The Killing Joke. Once the film got to The Killing Joke I had no issues with how they told that story, the problems came with the drawn out prologue. I understand why they felt the need to have a prologue because the original graphic novel written by Alan Moore, is only 48 pages long and you could read it in 20 minutes. To turn that into an 80 minute film, you would have to add more to the source material.
So being well aware that I was going to see new ideas and plot lines, I was really nervous going into this film. The graphic novel is a perfect little Batman story but because of it’s size, there’s a lot of room to expand. Choosing to develop the Batgirl character was actually a genius idea. She was used as nothing other than a plot device in the comic and having a stronger emotional connection to the character, would have made the attack from The Joker even more powerful. In theory this was a great idea but they failed in pretty much every way. They opened the film with a 30 minute backstory to a character whose seen again once when the real film actually starts? You could have set this up in 10 minutes, got on with The Killing Joke and everything would have been way more cohesive. So if we cut off about 15 to 20 minutes, that leaves us with a better paced 1 hour film.
The Killing Joke story took about 50 minutes to tell, so we’re now left with 10 minutes to setup the backstory of Batgirl and Batman. No one likes Batgirl and Batman having a romantic relationship! They’ve tried it before, it failed then and it failed now. They should have just played this like she was another Robin. Not actually be Robin but rather just have Batgirl be like a daughter/protégé to Batman. Everyone knows the relationship between Batman and Robin (no not that one) so if Batman’s connection with Batgirl was similar, the audience could instantly understand that connection through years of Batman and Robin stories. You could show that in a 5 minute action scene of them fighting a gang or a villain from the rogues gallery and then a 5 minute scene of them going back and forth with banter in the Batcave. Instead of the disconnected Batman we got in this film, who seemed to not even like Batgirl.
Now that we have a strong FRIENDSHIP between Batman and Batgirl, the brutal attack from The Joker would have been way more impactful. When it happens in the film we got, Batman doesn’t seem to react any differently than he would if it was anyone else. I never once thought he was deeply angry with The Joker for what he had done. Most people believe that at the end of the graphic novel Batman kills The Joker, the film also made it pretty clear he did actually kill him too. So setting up a bond between Batgirl and Batman would have made it way more believably that he would kill his arch-nemesis. When he went to find The Joker, it should have been presented in a way that showed he was really pissed and was fighting on emotions more than brains. Batman’s motives to kill The Joker in the comic and in the film, make sense but could have been heightened with a more personal prologue, rather than the plodding, boring one we got.
What did you think about Batman: The Killing Joke and do you think a prologue could have worked or was it always going to bring down the film?