I don’t think anyone will deny that this year’s Batman v Superman is an incredibly divisive film. Some people love it, some people hate it, and some people thought it was a mixed bag. I didn’t really care for it, so when I saw the trailer for a new animated Batman film, Batman: the Killing Joke, I was intrigued. Could this be the Batman movie that I personally want to see? I mean I am an animation addict after all and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of my top 50 favorite animated films.
Then, I heard that voice actors Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Tara Strong were returning I got more excited. The trailer looked cool and the fact that it got an R rating made me hopeful that some creative choices were going to be made. Unfortunately, after viewing the film, I find myself as disappointed as I was with Batman v Superman. Batman: the Killing Joke has positive moments but it is drowned in a soapy script with poorly written dialogue and characters.
I should say upfront that I have not read the graphic novel, but from what I’ve heard from friends the major aspects that made the novel special are relegated to side stories in the film. My understanding is the graphic novel is about Joker showing Batman how they aren’t that different, giving Batman the worst day ever. I can’t overstate how little time that story line is given. It’s a 75 minute movie and we don’t even meet Joker until the 37 minute mark. Batman and Joker are in the same scenes together for about 8 minutes. The Joker spends more time with Jim Gordon than Batman.
What this film should be called is Batgirl: the Melrose Years. The first 35 minutes are about Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. She even narrates this section. She is in love with Batman but he won’t give her the time of day. We see almost no Bruce Wayne so there is no sense of struggle with the Batman character. He’s just kind of a faceless masked man who grumbles a lot. There is no chemistry between him and Batgirl, and there are a couple of moments that seem kind of creepy given their age difference and his parental role over her (and not in a good creepy way).
I had big issues with the portrayal of Batgirl. I honestly thought we had moved on from these types of female characters. She is completely a victim to whatever the plot wants her to be. There are times when she is tough and then times when she is a child, times when she is smart and then times when she is stupid. She isn’t an autonomous character in the story with her own ideas and plans that she tries to put into action. She merely responds to the various male characters and is a victim to their ideas and whims. There is even a scene when a character says, “I bet it’s that time of the month again.” Really? That’s what we get in 2016 for our female superheroes? … Sigh. Come on, writers! You can do better!
The voice acting is great, as expected, but I was kind of disappointed in the animation. I realize these films have a small budget but a lot of it felt generic at best. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm uses shadows and lighting so well. It’s so key in adding tension.
In this film, they make everything dark but a dark color palate does not always denote a dark tone. You can have something in the bright sunlight that has an extremely dark tone because of what is happening to characters we care about. Here everything looked like something you could see on American Horror Story or the Batman: the Animated Series. In fact, it really felt like 2 episodes of the animated series crammed together with nothing particularly cinematic to set the animation apart.
Sure, it had R rated content but it didn’t do anything interesting with that content. I don’t want to give a spoiler but one particular moment could have been disturbing for Barbara Gordon but it wasn’t earned so it just left me cold. And most of the mature content didn’t involve Batman, who is supposed to be the moral center of the movie. We are supposed to be wondering when Batman is going to lose it but it just feels like scenes from a fun house without any moral heft to it. We get more time with Batgirl interacting with dopey crime lords and, like I said, Joker with Jim Gordon than Batman and Joker battling it out. Then, when Batman does make a choice, it feels completely false and forced.
If you haven’t figured it out, I did not care for this film. I think I might like it even less than Batman v Superman. It has nothing to do with darkness or the R rating. It has to do with the dialogue, characters, and script, all of which let me down. If it worked for you, that’s great. I have no problem with that. Personally, it now has me worried about the Wonder Woman movie. I sure hope they handle that female character better than Batgirl here. Please, DC!
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden