Movie Review : Batman - The Killing Joke (2016)
The Joker is one of my favorite comic book characters. Everybody loves him, but I probably love him more than you do. His existence proves a point I've been trying to make forever: it's scarier when you don't know. Batman's primary antagonist has many origins stories, but no one's really sure where he's from. That uncertainty makes your wheels spin and come up with stories way more terrifying that the truth. Would the mystique of The Joker, which transcended its medium a while ago, survive an actual origin story? I've watched the film adaptation of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and put this assumption to the test.
So, The Killing Joke is oddly split in two parts, like writer Brian Azzarello and director Sam Liu joined two comic books that weren't previously related. The Joker is completely absent from the first half, which sets up Batman and Batgirl after a sexy psychopath named Paris Franz. In the second half, The Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum in order to prove a point to Batman: he kidnaps commissioner Gordon and attempts to give him the worst day of his life, so that he turns criminally insane just like him. Because The Joker hasn't always been The Joker. He was just an unsuccessful guy who suffered one terrible fucking day.
This adaptation was highly criticized for its treatment of its lone female character Batgirl and... it's understandable, really. Not only her prologue was unnecessary (or unnecessarily long), but it climaxes in Barbara Gordon and Batman having awkward sex on a rooftop. It was unnecessary because it does lead to anything and Barbara's only part in the actual Killing Joke storyline is... well, getting shot and raped by The Joker. In that order. I know, it's pretty creepy. Writer Brian Azzarello stated that it was meant to be intentionally controversial, but it comes off as a douchy and tone deaf attempt to one up freakin' Alan Moore. Props to him for being ambitious, but it's thoroughly unsuccessful here.
The Killing Joke is structurally clunky and quite sexist *, but the source material was interesting enough to keep my interest. It doesn't really compromise The Joker's mystique because he's the narrator of his own origin story, so he could be lying his ass off an we wouldn't know. Alan Moore shrewdly understood that. By exposing The Joker's backstory, Moore sets him up as a mirror image of Batman. As someone who had a violent and permanent reaction to past trauma. It implies that Batman's violent brand of vigilantism created him and that they justify each other's existence. And that awesomely echoes Heath Ledger's Joker immortal monologue in The Dark Knight.
I liked The Killing Joke. At least, the part where The Joker is involved. He's not portrayed as just a mischievous bandit like in other adaptations. He is appropriately creepy and dangerous. While Alan Moore's comic book is universally accepted as the real origin story by most, I like to believe it's part of The Joker's lore. It's just one of many possibilities. Should you watch it? Probably not. Alan Moore's comic book will probably offer you more bang for your buck without the aggravation of going through a clunky and self-indulgent prologue. If you like The Joker as much as I do, you can get the good part of it and save yourself the band (and Joker-less) part, by reading Moore's book instead **.
* I try to keep sexual politics out of my analysis as much as I can and focus on the source material, but The Killing Joke was asking for it.
** I highly suggest the video my friends at Wisecrack made on The Joker, if you have 15 minutes to spare.