Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke Review

Full disclosure, i ain't never read the Killing Joke and i don't plan to but if i did i know for sure I'd enjoy it more than this adaptation. To call this movie disappointing would be a big understatement. It's not even that its that bad but there are choices made here that hurt the movie greatly and coupled with the animation issues we have a lot to discuss here, let's get into it.

Not being familiar with the source material beforehand, my experience ended up being quite interesting. With the Joker story told here being the basis for a lot of origins I've seen in later works, it wasn't really told as well here as it has been in later interpretations. For me it ended up being just a case of it being improved the more was added to it as here it's quite minimal. I enjoyed Mark Hamill's performance pre-transformation as he walked a fine line of sounding like The Joker while not exactly being that same performance as he was a different person then. The weird thing about this movie though is that the entire purpose of the story seems to have been flipped. From what I've heard this isn't supposed to be a Barbara Gordon story. It's a Batman and Joker story. In an effort to undo some of Alan Moore's mistakes with the original story and not make Barbara a prop, they ended up making it even more frustrating.

I'm a big fan of Batgirl and have been since i saw her in The Batman as a kid (and later when i finally saw Batman The Animated Series). She means a lot to me and a lot of other people so seeing how she was treated in this was a tad distressing. The first 25 minutes or so of this Adaptation of The Killing Joke is a prologue that serves as a way to develop Barbara before the events that unfold in The Killing Joke proper and being written by Brian Azzarello i was expecting something more sophisticated. It really boils down to Batgirl being Batman's groupie and even features a sex scene between the 2. Now, i know a lot of people (me included) were aghast at the very notion of the two hooking up, it's not entirely new to animated interpretations of the character however since Bruce Timm has hinted at this sorta thing before even without any kind of precedent in the comics and no one besides it seems him even liking the pairing. It was about the time that the sex scene occurred that i knew i wouldn't like this. That single moment muddies up any kind of themes that they try to convey when they finally start adapting The Killing Joke half an hour in. Batman's motivations switch from being sad that a friend was harmed to being sad his on-off again lover was crippled. Instead of adding to the story that people liked it kind of ends up confusing the message. The one interesting thing about this Batgirl prologue however is the new villain they introduced, Paris Franz. What would have made more sense if they wanted to mitigate the ire of people like me about what happens to Barbara would have been for her to fight and defeat this guy without Batman's help as she actually can fight crime on her own if you can believe it or not. The way it plays out however, she is shown to be nowhere near Batman's level and constantly needing his help. If they wanted to add some Batgirl material why do something that undermines the character and makes her more into a groupie than a hero? 

When we finally get into The Killing Joke proper, the style of storytelling shifts dramatically, focusing more so on mood and character interaction that fighting. Whats very interesting about the shift is that you can immediately tell the difference between something made for the page and something made for animation as the shift is that drastic. The specific shots that mimic Brian Bolland's art look way different to the character models designed by Jon Suzuki for this movie. It's not a bad thing however but it does highlight another flaw with the movie. I have less of a problem with this half but there's specific things that still draw my ire. Firstly, it's explained that most times after The Joker escapes Arkham, even before he's been on the news, he's had sex with a few prostitutes but this time he hasn't and that he may have found himself another girl!? Why we needed insight into The Jokers sex life i don't know but it does imply something that i wish it didn't. When the fateful time comes that The Joker shoots Barbara and kidnaps Jim Gordan, we linger on a shot of him undressing her before we cut away on a shot of his face saying he's doing this to "prove a point". What the previous scene with the prostitutes implies more so than was probably already in the source material is that The Joker rapes Barbara. I don't know if that scene was in the original book but in the context of this movie it's heavily implied and i hated that. The scene in which we see the photo's of Barbara naked and bleeding i had trouble watching. All this just to prove a point. The Joker's a monster. You could easily have gotten that across a lot of other ways, why Barbara had to suffer through this is beyond me but i imagine that's the reaction they were looking for. Though the story wasn't supposed to be canon, making it so really did hurt Barbara as a character. They could have picked and chose what to make canon but its a tad too late for me to be complaining since it's been a very long time since that happened and at this point Barbara can walk again. I didn't really know if I'd like this story beyond the Joker origin but i think it's just not my cup of tea.

My last complaint however is the last scene, when watching the movie the scene isn't presented with any kind of significance and just feels like a throwaway moment but then the movie cuts to an end. I was a tad confused, perhaps it was the framing of it but i doubt it was supposed to feel that way and after all that happened and how disgruntled i was, i was just glad it was over to be honest. Overall it's a very flawed adaptation. The added material feel very disconnected from the actual Killing Joke material and even distracts from the themes that material was trying to present so instead of adding anything in the end the adaptation is made weaker. The biggest thing i was disappointment in though we'll talk about in the next section, onto the Animation Analysis ...

It really is a shame how this turned out. It's hard to even call this a movie because the quality of animation is very below average. Before watching the movie i was a tad concerned by the footage in the trailers but when i bought this and checked the credits to see the staff, only the name Seigo Kitazawa (an experienced Animation Director) was consistent with previous efforts by The Answer Studio from the current run of DC Animated Movies. The problem here might stem from the fact that The Answer Studio had to work on 2 animated movies for WB Animation this year. Previously they've only done 1 a year and as expected they were able to do good work since all their staff was on board. Here however, the biggest absence felt was Kenichi Tsuchiya. He's definitely the best animator they have and without him even for a couple of scenes, everything was so stiff. It's really disappointing. Earlier this year we got The Answer Studio's best effort thus far animation-wise (Batman: Bad Blood) and the movie that probably should have gotten more love than any other ended up looking the worst. It's was probably a scheduling issue more than anything as i'm certain we'll see Kenichi Tsuchiya back for the next animated Batman movie as for the moment The Answer studio is working on all the animated Batman movies and MOI Animation will be handling the Justice League entries. A similar situation occurred when Telecom had to work on Justice League: Doom and Superman VS The Elite at the same time so since that was a scheduling issue i'm sure that was the case here. Since we only have one confirmed Batman animated movie for next year (Batman and Harley Quinn) i think we'll be OK.

The character designs here were very much going back to a similar aesthetic to the DCAU. They were simpler than recent DC Movies but they weren't a far cry. I liked them for the most part but Joker only ever looked great to me when he wasn't smiling. Something about the facial structure didn't look quite right to me. I also wasn't a fan of the characters hairstyle but didn't really hate it either. He was the only character i had any issues with in terms of design but it wasn't as bad as i feared from initial trailers. Overall i liked them especially Batgirl and Batman's designs. Jon Suzuki will remain my favourite character designer at WB Animation and this hasn't changed my mind.

Now, looking at how the movie was story-boarded, i can't say i have any problems at all actually, the framing of many shots was impeccable and at points quite ambitious. One of my favourite shots was this one early on in the movie ...

Looking at the credited story-boarders this isn't much of a surprise at all. Jay Oliva has never disappointed me and I've come to enjoy the work of boarders I've only come to know recently such as Chris Copeland. WB Animated has a lot of talented people working for them nowadays. I just wish the animation (and the script in this case too) serviced their work better. The CGI here has to be some of the best I've seen in a DC Animated movie but this being The Answer Studio, that's to be expected. They do CG a lot better than MOI Animation does in their DC Movies. MOI just happen to always be consistent so that even if they don't have their best staff, at least the animation will be on model. The movie flowed very nicely in the 2 halves though the 2 halves didn't flow into each other very well. I like seeing such a consistent flow to presentation though since it never felt like any one voice was distracting from the story even though certain section felt very much like Jay Oliva fight scenes haha. I didn't really feel Sam Liu's presence here though. This wasn't even close to his effort on Gods and Monsters last year which very much felt like his direction on Bruce Timm's story. I do hope however that Sam is directing next years Teen Titan's movie as i really enjoyed his take on the Titans on this years Justice League VS Teen Titans.

Overall the movie gets a 2/5 from me. I wasn't much if a fan of the Prologue or The Killing Joke proper but there were scenes i really liked here and there such as the Joker flashbacks. This is a very flawed adaptation of source material i don't think I'd even like since even though it'd probably be presented better i still don't like the story much. It has been such a long time since my last post but i promise the next one won't take this long haha. See y'all here again soon. 

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