Batman The Killing Joke explores the relationship between Batman and the Joker utilising the inevitable end the two can see in front of them to drive each of them to a point or in this case a moment where they have the power to change that end. Throughout the film you come to understand how each of the two central characters were bent into the people they are now and how in Batman’s case, the reason for why he wants to ‘help’ the Joker.
Within the story of Batman and the Joker, we have Batgirl who found herself caught up in the world Batman lives in. The first half of the film focuses on Batgirl and her reasons for following Batman and continuing to fight crime. At the same time as highlighting Batgirl and laying the foundation for a future role Barbara Gordon will play in the universe, her development and struggles also serve to highlight the weight Batman feels as he takes in a another side kick. Given what happened to Jason Todd, it is understandable why Batman concerns himself so much with the ‘Abyss’ he himself has sunk into.
There are a lot of elements to love about The Killing Joke, for me there are five in particular for why I loved this film:
Since Batgirl was hinted at in an earlier animated film, I have been looking forward to the coverage she would get and how the writers would portray her. Focusing on the emotional, physical and psychological aspects of Barbara we come to understand her attraction to Batman, the confusion she ultimately goes through in trying to do the right thing and why beyond her relationship with Batman she fights crime – it gives her a thrill and temporal feeling of ecstasy.
The writers were not afraid to develop Barbara in mature manner and utilize elements of the darkness in Gotham to expose the fractures within Barbara’s understanding of what being the shadow of justice in Gotham means. Barbara’s reactions and mistakes were only natural when she sunk into the ‘Abyss’ Batman warned her of earlier. Yet it was because of that very human reaction that Batman was afraid of what Barbara may end up turning into. We learn from Barbara just how closed off and controlled Bruce has to make himself when embracing the role of Gotham’s Dark Knight.
The narration by Barbara in the first half of the film was also well done. It serves to set the tone for what is about to happen and draws the viewer into Barbara’s character compelling us to invest our interest and emotion into the proceeding events. Ultimately, I was not disappointed with the focus Barbara had received and how the writers introduced a future role for Barbara Gordon aka. Oracle.
Of course Batman was a highlight of this film but not just because he is badass and knows how to lay a smack down real hurtful on those looking to thwart their twisted schemes onto innocent lives, but because we get see more of Batman as a mentor and a human. Batman may be seemingly emotionless and rigid as a mentor, but his actions do speak louder than his words, especially in how he tries to protect his students from the darkness he himself struggles to suppress. Batman may be a vigilante and work outside the law, but he understands there is a line that should not be crossed no matter how badly the criminal he is after deserves it. A different brand of justice but justice nonetheless.
He is crazy, but behind the madness we have a man, a man bent by the tragedies of life and the cruelty of circumstance. Struggling and desperate the Joker gets himself into a shady deal looking to score a big payday to help fund the future he envisions for his family and believes they deserve. Understandably hesitant and morally conflicted, the Joker conveys a real sense of human confusion in determining what the ‘right’ course of action in the moment is. Eventually, the ‘whim’ of reality forced the decision for the Joker.
Thanks to the flashbacks given to the Joker, we get to see and understand a different side to the Joker, one where he was both elevated and entrapped by his emotions. The portrayal of the Joker’s cracking psyche helps our perceptions of the Joker evolve from what we already know about him, from a man consumed by madness to one who snaps and consequently questions human nature through the twistedness of his actions and the resulting reactions of his victims. The expanding image of the Joker helps build a more defined character in the eyes and minds of the viewer. And because of that, this version of the Joker has succeeded in getting me to love the Joker’s character even more.
The Joker singing
As ridiculous as that sounds, his song was actually quite entertaining and surprisingly relevant in revealing the mindset of the Joker and his intentions. It didn’t hurt that the Joker breaking out into song and dance in such a tense moment added to the unnervingly dangerous psyche of the Joker. While in a state of confusion, you are equally in awe at the Joker and his madness.
Batman laughing at the Joker’s joke
Yes, I am not joking….Batman was seriously laughing and it was awesome. For a man so emotionally restraint and physically controlled, we hardly see Batman overcome by anything other than his decisions and caught up in the moment, yet that one moment with the Joker opened a window towards a mellower side of Bruce. The joke that consequently drew laughter from Batman was ambiguously relevant and in a weird sense piercingly deep. From my understanding and interpretation, it characterised Batman and the Joker as the two escapees from the Asylum facing the sight of freedom before them. Both driven by separate fears, both insane in their own way and both sharing a unique relationship.
Within that moment a genuine sense of understanding is conveyed. The prospect that Batman is the same level of crazy as the Joker but a different brand was and is a fascinating prospect. The joke the Joker closed the film with is a compelling summary of the relationship the Batman and the Joker share and symbolic in a vague manner of what Batman was proposing to the Joker.
Overall, Batman The Killing Joke is a fantastic film that any comic book/Batman/Joker fan should watch. It makes a fan question why we aren’t seeing live action DCEU films of such calibre on the big screen. Hopefully, the day will come.
Enjoyment level: 8/10