Sunday, August 14, 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke

I know, I am as shocked as you at the timeliness of today’s entry being only a couple weeks after the release of the direct-to-video DC animated movie, Batman: The Killing Joke (trailer). Both DC and Marvel have been releasing straight-to-video animated films aimed at older audiences, and while Marvel usually has stellar buzz for their theatrical releases and DC gets more of a mixed critical reception for their theatrical efforts, the opposite is true for their animated home video releases.

I read the graphic novel version of 1988’s The Killing Joke earlier this year and absolutely loved its dark and twisted Batman/Joker clash for the ages, and was delighted to learn about it getting announced for the DC animated treatment a short time later. Expectations were so high for the film that DC brought in the most fan requested voice actors from the acclaimed 90s animated series and award winning Arkham games with Kevin Conroy returning to voice Batman and Mark Hamill back to voice the Joker. To top it off, The Killing Joke had a special one night theatrical engagement for superfans who wanted to see it in theaters a couple weeks before it hit video, and I almost did myself, but wanted to avoid the premium ticket price they were asking and thought it made sense to hold out for the video.

For those unfamiliar with this critically acclaimed book, Batman (Kevin Conroy) wants to sit down and have one last heart-to-heart talk with The Joker (Mark Hamill), only to find out he has escaped Gotham and kidnapped Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise). This leads us to Batman and Gordon both having to overcome a host of obstacles the Joker has in their way. Interspersed throughout this tale we get to discover the Joker’s origin story through a set of flashbacks. The Killing Joke finishes off with an unorthodox ending that goes against the norm of what I grew up with on an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, and I instantly became a fan of how it caught me off guard and loved how it played out.

I was curious to see how this got adapted into the home video format because The Killing Joke is not all that long of a graphic novel compared to most and can easily be finished in one sitting. Sure enough, the producers decided to pad out the length of this feature by adding in a bonus story arc featuring Batgirl (Tara Strong) and Batman tracking down an on-the-rise gangster by the name of Paris Franz (Maury Sterling). This is an entertaining side story with Batgirl and Batman and it plays out separately on its own before getting to the source material, but the whole time as it rolled along I kept thinking, “when are we going to get to The Killing Joke part?” Finally, 28 minutes into the feature the Batman/Batgirl/Paris story arc wraps and then it cold cuts right into The Killing Joke. There is not really any kind of a sensible transition into The Killing Joke arc, but the first half hour can easily stand on its own. I understand why DC did it this way, or else we would have only had a 40-45 minute long feature that would have felt too short.

Once we cut to the source material of The Killing Joke, it plays out nearly panel-for-panel verbatim from the graphic novel. I would not have wanted it any other way and loved how it stayed on point with how it originally played out in 1988. As I mentioned in the intro, this graphic novel is one of the darker and grittier takes on The Dark Knight, and it is worth mentioning that this is the first DC animated film to get an R rating. Do not take it to heart too much though, because it is more of a soft R due to the animated nature. There are several expletives throughout the feature, and a few suggestive photos and couple intense moments brought on by the Joker, but it never felt too overkill. That said, I would not let a child watch this, but if they are just entering their high school years, I would say this would not be pushing the envelope that hard.

There is a hearty amount of extras on the disc, nearly an hour and a half of extra content. If you are not that familiar with the DC animated movies, there are trailers to the last few installments and a sneak peek at the next upcoming feature. There are two behind-the-scenes features. Madness Set to Music is 12 minute piece that interviews the composers on scoring a few vital scenes in the film and getting thoughts from the two main voice actors, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. Origins of Joker is an 18 minute extra that discusses the graphic novel’s take on Joker’s origin and other anecdotes from the book and how it got adapted into the feature. Both features I would recommend giving a watch to get a lot more out of how this film came to be. Finally, you heard me rave here before about the 90s Batman cartoons I grew up with and now you can get a chance to witness it yourself if you have not already. There are two episodes from the vault included as bonus materials (they are only in their native standard definition however) featuring a Christmas themed episode with Joker crashing the fun and another episode featuring the origin of Nightwing.

If you have not read The Killing Joke before, than this is a faithful translation of it. Just be forewarned there is an enjoyable side story arc with Batgirl and Batman preceding it for the first 28 minutes that may throw you for a loop like it did for me. I have seen several DC animated features, and this is easily one of the stronger installments. Having a couple of the classic cartoons tacked on as a bonus is also quite nice. If you are unfamiliar with the DC animated universe, this is a good place to start!

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Dirty Work
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Days of Future Past

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