So I went to the theaters tonight to see The Killing Joke, the animated adaptation of the brilliant 80's graphic novel of the same name. While I was thoroughly entertained and did truly enjoy the movie, I felt that it was necessary to critique the film as well.
I would like to start off by making it very clear that if you are a fan of the Batman series, and especially if you have read and enjoyed The Killing Joke story as much as I, then you must see the movie version. It is a wonderfully done tale that manages to blend the detail and beauty of the novel with the obvious limitations of moving picture. It stays incredibly loyal to the source material (except for the 30 minute or so intro, more on that later), and is magnificently performed by the voice talent, most notably Mark Hamill as the Joker himself. While not his first attempt (he is considered by many the best animated Joker, and in my opinion gives the live action actors a run for their money as well), Hamill himself even admits that this is different than all of the other times he has portrayed the character and he knocks it out of the park.
All that said, there are definitely some flaws with the film.
To begin with, there is a 30 minute introduction story that focuses on the character of Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl. It was added to the movie in part to lengthen the run time (the producers have even admitted this), but its main goal was to create a powerful relationship between the characters of Batgirl and Batman. By itself, the story actually holds up rather well, minus a few goofy comments here or there. It does manage to give the Batgirl/Batman relationship a different element, and paired with the right novel it could have definitely created a much stronger emotional connection for the audience to embrace.
My problem with it is this: The Killing Joke has almost no emotional relationship between Batman and Batgirl. While it was an interesting idea in theory, by staying so loyal to the source material during the rest of the movie, you have created an emotional bond that is never really touched upon again. There were, admittedly, some cool philosophical elements brought in regarding "The Abyss", which ties in rather well with the theories that have surrounded the graphic novel regarding the true fate of its antagonist, but other than that there is no real progress created when paired with the rest of the narrative.
Had the introduction been more focused on establishing the love and closeness of Barbara and her father, Commissioner Gordon, then it would have been more positively received. This would have tied into the narrative of the story more, and also would have made the horrors of what happens later have more of an emotional impact. Imagine trying to watch Jim Gordon travel down the "Tunnel of Love" after establishing an even deeper emotional bond than simply having them be related. Done right, this would have been just as horrible and traumatizing for the audience as it was meant to be for the Commissioner.
Another big problem I have with the movie is the pacing. By saying so true to the source material, while adding the 30 minute intro, I feel that the overall pacing was thrown off. Admittedly this story already had some hurdles that would have to be ignored, since the ending is rather hollow and ambiguous (depending on how literal you read it), but some creative manipulation could have definitely helped the overall flow of the story. Simply put, there is a lot of build up for a rather small conclusion. Its difficult to suggest what to change, since the original story segment would have played rather smoothly on its own, but simple things like expanding fight scenes might have been all it needed to really capitalize on the suspense and build up that were there. Instead it felt rushed, almost as if there really was no challenge for Batman to overcome in order to reach the man he was after. He simply throws a punch or two here and finds the Joker. Again, it is tough to point of specifics, especially when the part of what makes it so enjoyable is the loyalty to the source.
But this is really the biggest problem of all, since the production practically shackled itself to the graphic novel. They made only the changes that were truly necessary to make, but otherwise left the source material intact as much as possible. Had they been more willing to play with it a bit, then the introduction could have been much more impactful on the overall emotional journey. The pacing would have been much more manageable, causing the finish not to seem so rushed and small. And even the true finally of the story, which even in the novel seemed rather soft and easy (more in a sec), could have been much more profound and engaging.
The problem with the finale is that there really isn't one, at least on paper. Both the novel and the film end the same way, and without reading into it, there is simply nothing there. Now, its a common theory, and very plausible one as well, that the Joker dies at the end of the story. The idea is that Batman kills him, just off page. And this fits perfectly with the more philosophical discussions that occur during the novel (and even the added intro for the film), but in the movie version, you don't have the time to really analyze and dissect a scene the way you can a panel in a book. Had the creative team added some more hints, or a phrase, then maybe they could have captured the same effect of the novel. Instead it just seems to end, with only the readers knowing what could possibly be happening.
Now I'm not saying they should have just flat out shown Batman kill the Joker, but one possibility would have been to simply change the Joker's laugh slightly. In the final film, he is laughing when Batman joins in. Eventually the Joker stops while Batman continues to laugh. This is fine, but had the Jokers laugh seemed almost painful or anguished, this would have created the effect that maybe Batman is physically hurting him without ever directly addressing the possibility. Something as simple as that would have changed the whole tone of those last precious moments on film, without ever having to directly answer that often theorized question of what happened at the end of the novel.
And that is the sort of thing that this movie needs. It simply needed some nudges in the right places in order to really capture the tone and feeling of the source material. A few more "creative decisions" that could have simply helped the story along without ever really changing anything. Again, I want to emphasize that I did truly enjoy the film, and it was an excellent adaptation of one of my all time favorite graphic novels, but there was nothing really there that made me want watch it again, or show it to someone over just handing them the book. There was nothing to draw in an audience that is new to the material, or really to keep an audience that has read the book.
To twist a line from another Batman movie, it is the adaptation that The Killing Joke needs, but not the one that it deserves.