Saturday, July 25, 2020

Stubs - Batman: The Killing Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) Voices by Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise Directed by Sam Liu. Screenplay by    Brian Azzarello. Based on Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, Brian Bolland. Produced by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Sam Register Run Time: 77 minutes US Color Animated, Superhero

Alan Moore, as a writer of comic books, is unparalleled. He has created some of the truly great and groundbreaking series, including Watchmen, which he co-created with Dave Gibbons in 1986, V For Vendetta, which he created with David Lloyd and Tony Weare in 1982, and Batman: The Killing Joke with Brian Bolland in 1988.

Batman: The Killing Joke Written by Alan Moore, the artwork is by Brian Bolland.

He is not, however, a fan of the adaptations of his work, having removed his name from productions of Watchmen (2011) and the animated version of Batman: The Killing Joke. I’m sure that while he doesn’t like the adaptations, he doesn’t mind the money that no doubt comes from the productions.

Batman: The Killing Joke was a one-shot graphic novel that provides an origin story for the supervillain the Joker, loosely adapted from the 1951 story arc "The Man Behind the Red Hood!", which provided the earliest origin story for Batman’s arch-nemesis. Bolland took inspiration for the look of Joker from the depiction of Conrad Veidt’s character Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs (1928).

Bolland took inspiration for Joker from  Conrad Veidt’s
character Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs (1928).

Development began on the film adaptation in 2009, but was stalled when the film version of Watchmen underperformed. Meanwhile, Mark Hamill, who had voiced the Joker since Batman: The Animated Series (1992), was growing tired of voicing the villain. However, he did indicate that he would be willing to voice the character in an adaptation of The Killing Joke, which helped to get the project back on-line with fan support for the idea.

Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) as Batgirl. She operates in Batman's shadow.

The film is not a strict adaptation of the comic book and begins with Batgirl (Tara Strong) working with Batman (Kevin Conroy) on a case. An armored car has been stolen and the two heroes work together to track down the culprits. While they manage to recover the stolen truck, several members of the gang manage to escape, including the ring leader, Paris Franz (Maury Sterling), who happens to be the nephew of crime boss Carlos Francesco (John DiMaggio), who expects Paris to repay him for the lost loot.

At work, Barbara confides in co-worker Reese (JP Karliak).

Paris, meanwhile, has developed an obsession with Batgirl, whom he thinks is hot.
Batgirl aka Barbara Gordon works days at a library where she confesses to a co-worker, Reese (JP Karliak), about her obsession with Batman, but refers to him as her yoga instructor.

Paris Franz (Maury Sterling) manipulates Batgirl through a series of texts.

Even though Batman tells her to stop investigating the Paris Franz case, she can’t help herself and lets Franz, through text messages, manipulate her. He sends her on a scavenger hunt that leads her to find Carlos Francesco’s dead body. Franz has taken over his Uncle’s territory.

Batman (Kevin Conroy) is not happy with Batgirl, who is tired of being bossed around.

Batman is not happy that Batgirl disobeyed him and takes her off the case, warning her that she will eventually be tempted to kill the criminals she pursues. Outraged, Batgirl attacks Batman physically and verbally. When she manages to pin him, the attraction they feel for each other takes over and the two have spontaneous sex on a roof.

Barbara can't hide her sexual desire for Batman.

A couple of days go by and Batgirl hasn’t heard from Batman. She manages to get him on the phone while he’s en route to the docks, where he’s heard Franz is hiding out. She tries to apologize but he puts her off telling her they’ll talk later.

When Batman arrives at the dock, he is ambushed and the Batmobile is hit by a bazooka, which knocks the car over. From her perch in the city, Batgirl can see the resulting explosion and rushes to help.

Batgirl almost beats Paris Franz to death.

Meanwhile, Batman must fight off Franz’s men and even though he’s injured, Batman manages to put everyone out of commission except Franz himself. Franz has the advantage on Batman, but Batgirl arrives in time to save him. She and Franz get into hand to hand combat, and when she has him down, she takes out her frustrations out on him and nearly kills him. Realizing that Batman was right, Batgirl retires from crime-fighting.

Batman with Detective Harvey Bullock (Robin Atkin Downes) investigates a cold murder scene.

Later, Batman is called in to investigate a murder scene with Detective Harvey Bullock (Robin Atkin Downes). The victims, which have been dead for several years, turn out to be wealthy convention-goers who had disappeared. They all look like the Joker.

Batman has a heartfelt talk with Joker at Arkham Asylum.

Figuring that Joker is involved, Batman goes to see him at Arkham Asylum. While he is having a heartfelt talk with his nemesis, he discovers that the man in the cell is not the Joker, but someone only pretending to be.

But he quickly discovers that the Joker has escaped and someone is pretending to be him.

Meanwhile, Joker is being shown a deserted Amusement Park, which he will use as his base of operations.

Later, Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) is visiting Barbara, who is about to leave. There is a knock on the door and, thinking it is her friend, she answers it. But it is not her friend, but Joker, who shoots her in the stomach. Commissioner Gordon is then hauled away by the Joker’s men while he stays behind. We see that he unbuttons Barbara’s blouse. We will learn later that he took nude photos of her.

Barbara is shot and wounded when she answers the door.

At the amusement park, surrounded by sideshow freaks, Commissioner Gordon is stripped naked and forced to endure torture, including showing him photos he took of Barbara, naked and in pain.

Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) is tortured and shown images of his
 wounded and naked daughter in an attempt to drive him insane.

The story is intercut with flashbacks of Joker's origin. An out of work stand-up comedian, his wife is pregnant with his child. Desperate to change his lot in life, he lets himself be talked into taking part in the break-in of a chemical plant where he once worked by Mitch (Nolan North) and Murray (Andrew Kishino). They tell him that he’ll be wearing The Red Hood’s mask, which will hide his identity. Thinking the one night's work will set him up, he reluctantly agrees.

On the morning of the break-in, Joker learns that his wife has been killed in an accident. He wants to withdraw from the plans, but Mitch and Murray refuse to let him and force him to still take part.

The break-in goes badly as security guards try to stop them. In the gunfight, Mitch and Murray are both killed. When Batman arrives on the scene, Joker is knocked into the chemical plant's waste pond and is swept through a pipe leading to the outside. As he removes his mask, he sees the chemicals have permanently disfigured his face, giving him a clown-like appearance. His disfigurement, combined with the loss of his family, drives him insane and transforms him into the Joker.

Batman visits Barbara Gordon in the hospital.

Back in the present, after visiting Barbara in the hospital, Batman is called to police headquarters, where they give him an invitation to the amusement park from Joker.

Batman tracks Joker down at the amusement park.

Arriving at the amusement park, Batman manages to fight off the sideshow freaks and free Gordon. Despite Joker’s intentions to drive Gordon mad, Batman finds him still quite sane and is ordered to arrest Joker, but by the book.

Batman subdues the Joker after a fierce fight.

Batman follows the Joker as the latter tries to persuade him that the world is just one big joke and that "one bad day" is enough to drive an ordinary man insane. Batman subdues Joker, tells him that Gordon has remained sane, and tells Joker that he is alone in his madness.

Batman and Joker share a laugh at the end of the film.

Batman then attempts to reach out to Joker, offering rehabilitation. Joker apologetically declines, saying it is too late for him. He then says that the situation reminds him of a joke about two patients in an insane asylum who try to escape by leaping over to the adjoining building. The first patient makes it across, but the second patient is too afraid. The first patient says, "Hey, I got this flashlight with me. I'll shine it across the gap between the buildings and you can walk across the beam and join me." But the second patient says, "What do you think I am, crazy? You'll just turn it off when I'm halfway across!" Batman and Joker then have a good laugh at the joke as the police arrive. The Joker's laugh trails off while Batman continues to laugh, leaving the ending somewhat ambiguous.
Batgirl is not completely forgotten.

Barbara Gordon seems content in her new role as Oracle.

In a mid-credits scene, Barbara is shown in her wheelchair entering a secret room in her apartment. She says "back to work" as she turns on her computers and takes on her new role within the Batman universe, Oracle.

This version is not a strict adaptation of the comic book. The whole first part of this film seems to be an awkward add-on, as it has nothing to do with Joker, but instead seems to be an attempt to show the relationship between Batman and Batgirl and to make it seem not so bad that she can no longer fight crime when she’s crippled by Joker, since she had already given up that part of her life. Nothing really more comes out of the Paris Franz storyline.

The film’s story doesn’t converge with the book’s until Batman goes to visit Joker in the asylum, which is where the book starts. After that, it does seem to follow the graphic novel fairly closely but not exactly, which is pretty true of any adaptation. It should be noted that despite the animated feature receiving an R rating, it does tone down one of the more disturbing images in the book. The photos Joker takes of an incapacitated Barbara Gordon are not as explicit in the film as they are in the book.

The animation is also very good, though it is more in line with the animated series than the imagery of the graphic novel. However, it is proof positive that the Batman IP seems to do better in animation than it does as a live-action film. If you’re like me, you’ve seen the constant reboots of the origin story with the story needle never moving too much past that before it is reset again. And if anything, that pace seems to be accelerating. Like Superman, Batman’s story seem to work best when told in shorter snippets than a series of full-length films.

Mark Hamill has made a second career out of voicing Joker in various animated projects.

The acting is pretty solid, with both main voice actors returning to familiar material. As noted above, Mark Hamill had voiced many versions of Joker over the years. Like Hamill, Kevin Conroy had been voicing the caped crusader since Batman: The Animated Series and went on to voice the character for multiple films under the DC Universe Animated Original Movies banner and the critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham video games. He, in fact, continues to voice the character.

Tara Strong is one of those voice actors that has been in almost too many projects to mention. Her work includes series like Rugrats, The Powerpuff Girls, The Fairly OddParents, Teen Titans, Xiaolin Showdown, Ben 10, Chowder, Wow Wow Wubbzy!, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Unikitty!, and DC Super Hero Girls and video games such as Mortal Kombat X, Jak and Daxter, Final Fantasy X and X-2, Lollipop Chainsaw, and Batman: Arkham. There is very little that she can’t do and Barbara Gordon is well within her range.

If you’re a fan of Batman, then you should like this film. I don’t know if there was enough story in the source material to make a full-length film out of it, but the first part of the movie doesn’t seem to fit with that part taken from the book. I think it would have been better if there had been more of an effort to have the new material blend in with the story in the book, rather than have it feel like a stand-alone story attached to it for length. That may be the difference between liking this film and loving it. Otherwise, there is so much to like about the film.

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