My Rating: ★★★☆☆
Before I start the review of The Killing Joke, there are a few things you need to know about me. I grew up loving the Batman: Animated Series. If you ask me who my favourite Joker is, I would reply Mark Hamill. As I have mentioned before Batgirl and Robin are my ultimate OTP.
Along with Star Wars, Batman was one of my first fandom. The first graphic novel I ever read was Knightfall. When I began reading collecting comics a friend recommended The Killing Joke. To this day it has remained one of favourite books.
As you can imagine I was over the moon when they announced they were turning the story into an animated movie. I had always thought The Killing Joke (and Long Halloween), would make an amazing movie. To me the book read like a movie. My excitement for this movie was heighten when I heard the original Batman: Animated Series team would be working on this film.
The Killing Joke is infamous for two reasons it is seen as the origin story for The Joker and it is the story line that shows when Barbara Gordon was paralysed. Whether the story line part of the Batman canon varies. Pre-Flashpoint tales like No Mans Land or Hush feature Oracle (Barbara Gordon’s new alter ego), where the Batgirl of Burnside story line ignore The Killing Joke.
As you may know The Killing Joke is a short graphic novel, to counteract making a short film. They created an original story line explaining Barbara Gordon’s last days as Batgirl and why she retired her cape and cowl. As a result, almost turns into two mini movies or episodes of the TV show.
The “Batgirl” story line is just awful! Batgirl is regularly dis-empowered and shown as a sexual object. She shown as being desperate for Batman’s approval and affection. The movie begins with Batgirl explaining how she is Batman’s sidekick, there is no mention of the rest of the Bat-family. (I’m assuming this is post-Jason Todd and Dick Grayson is in Bludhaven).
This Batgirl is objectified by the bad guy, Paris Franz. He calls her hot and his special girl. A red-head prostitute explains how Franz made her wear a black cowl during sex. Later Franz manipulates Batgirl into doing his bidding just by flirting with her. Another bad guy proclaims “it must be her time of the month” after she beats him up.
Her relationship with Batman is even worse. He disapproves of her and she desperately tries to please him. When they finally do have a conversation and physical altercation it ends with Batgirl stripping off and kissing Batman.
When Batgirl isn’t shown as a sex toy of the criminals and vigilantes of Gotham she is portrayed as a love sick puppy librarian. There are several scenes where Barbara is chatting to her gay work colleague about her messed up relationship with he yoga teacher (aka Batman). This gay best friend character is based on every gay stereotype that exists.
There were a few good scenes in this part of the story. Batgirl’s fight scene whilst trying to escape from the apartment, and a glimpse of her detective skills as she hacked into the police camera to track down Franz. But for the main part it is just shows Batgirl as a weak, submissive woman.
As for the second half to the story, the one that does not include Batgirl, this does not disappoint. The pages of Alan Moore’s novel appeared on the screen, his words are transformed into the dialogue of the movie. Bruce Timm recreated many of the iconic images of Brian Bolland artwork perfectly onto the screen. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprise their roles as The Joker and Batman wonderfully.
As in the graphic novel the rape of Barbara Gordon is implied at and not seen. Jim Gordon’s torture and systematic humiliation are sinister but not terrifying. The story line is still extremely disturbing, it is definitely not safe for children.
Whilst watching this film, I kept asking myself “is this why I haven’t had a Batgirl movie?” I know producers know how to make movies with decent female characters. I have even seen female comic book characters portrayed well onscreen like Black Widow or Hope Pym. The Jessica Jones TV programme also showed a female lead comic book adaption can work. So why was this so bad.