Friday, August 5, 2016

The Killing Joke: Comic vs. Film

* spoilers *

The Killing Joke comic book is a streamlined, disturbing story about the relationship between Batman and the Joker. Batman realizes that it can only end in one of their deaths and wants to make amends, but the Joker is already off trying to hurt him in more and more extreme ways. A criticism of the comic is that the Joker's violent attack on Barbara Gordon resulting in her paralysis was used to hurt Batman without any thought to the victim. This is completely true, but I don't find it misogynistic in itself because it was planned through the eyes of the Joker, a villain. He literally objectifies her and refers to her as an undesirable book with a broken spine and a torn jacket. His view of Barbara Gordon is not the view of the writers or of Batman, as seen in the hospital scene. I don't find the comic as amazing as others do, but it's a good, very dark Batman story.

The filmmakers claimed to try to empower Barbara and give her a bigger part in the story in the film version of The Killing Joke. While the thought is a nice one, the execution is simply awful. The first half hour of the film is dedicated to her while she goes to school during the day and fights crime under Batman's tutelage. He is horribly controlling and refuses to hear any other perspectives. I enjoyed Batgirl's journey as she navigates a dicey situation by herself while challenging Batman's authority and makes some mistakes. I rooted for her to stand up to him, but I was disappointed to see the culmination of that scene led to her sleeping with him. Before that scene, she is enamored by him, but it could have easily been dismissed as a crush. He refuses to communicate with her afterwards. Later, she pathetically begs him to continue as before and then quits being Batgirl altogether, which I thought was completely moronic.

I'm not sure if the filmmakers thought defining her by her relationship with Batman was "empowering," but the result is even worse than The Killing Joke on its own. This new story only made the Joker's attack on Barbara more devastating to Batman as it added more drama and emotion. Batman was so flat in the first half hour that he was practically a caricature of himself. It's fine in The Killing Joke comic, but felt out of place and weird compared to Barbara's nuanced characterization. The tone of the added story also didn't match the rest of the film. It is also woefully out of place in almost every way.  A scene was also added at the end of the film to show her wonderful life post-paralysis and her start as Oracle. This was probably the most empowering thing they made about her to show that her life didn't end with this violence.

The rest of the film is a faithful adaptation of the comic book with small changes here and there. The plot of the Joker's revenge has his origin story mixed in which illuminates why he truly hates Batman so much. His plan is so incredibly cruel and disturbing. The end in comparison isn't the big explosive fight that was expected, but it was a perfect, slightly awkward scene. The animation throughout is disappointing. The backgrounds tend to be beautiful, but everything in the foreground is flat and not very detailed. The art from the Batman Animated Series is better than this film. The performances are amazing, particularly Mark Hammill as the Joker. He captures just the right amount of madness and sinister glee. Tara Strong does a great job of infusing emotion into her performance as Barbara, but the material she worked with was lacking. Overall, the parts from the source material are well done (except the animation) and everything else could have been completely removed.

My rating for the film: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

My rating for the comic: 4/5 fishmuffins

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