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There are good Batman stories, there are great Batman stories, and then there's Alan Moore's 1988 classic, The Killing Joke. A gritty, visceral tale of personal tragedy and loss, Warner Bros. had a major hurdle to vault in adapting the iconic story to the silver screen. How can one even hope to touch something that has had such a lasting impact on the Caped Crusader? Last night Cinema Blend had the opportunity to check out the world premiere of Bruce Timm and Sam Liu's The Killing Joke. Without exaggeration, it rivals any live-action film as the definitive silver screen Batman story.
By now The Killing Joke has become a story that absolutely needs no introduction, but there are a few changes here, and Batgirl's opening narration tells you that right up front. The film keeps The Joker at an arm's distance for the entire first act, opting to flesh out Batman and Batgirl's relationship as they hunt for a different psychopath who has taken a shine to her, adding a layer of palpable tension to his impending escape and arrival. This prologue not only provides some stellar action sequences, but it also expands Gotham City in a way that the graphic novel never did, making the whole affair feel just a little bit bigger.
Then it truly begins. The portions of The Killing Joke specifically adapted from Alan Moore's source material could not feel truer to the beloved graphic novel. Bruce Timm and Sam Liu completely capture the gritty, grounded, noir feel of the tale, but Timm's own style of filmmaking -- coupled with the numerous returning cast members -- adds a thin but noticeable layer of Batman: The Animated Series to the affair.
This blend of faithful adaptation with the spirit of the animated series works perfectly in the film's favor. Timm's gentle touch uses the R-rating to its advantage while never going overboard. Violence, sexual content, and the all-around disturbing imagery all feel earned. Upon a first viewing, it's immediately clear that they really did need to wait until they could get the R-rating to make this story a reality. Nothing is watered down, and I promise that your kids WILL get nightmares if you let them watch this thinking it's a simple cartoon.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to any of you that the voice cast for The Killing Joke brings their A game across the board. Tara Strong's Batgirl elevates the character far beyond her victim status in the graphic novel and even plants the seeds for Oracle's arrival, while Ray Wise makes Commissioner Gordon's anguish come to life as Joker tries to break his mind. Then there's Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, who both turn in career defining performances as The Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. These legends dig deep and show the vulnerability that drives these characters; Hamill's in particular has a moment towards the end that almost makes you think Joker is about to apologize for everything he's done.
Of course, there are plenty of people who will take issue with the additional content added to The Killing Joke's story. Purists never like to see the panels of a legendary story like this altered in any significant fashion. I initially felt that way about the changes, but the addition of a Batgirl story really makes you feel the impact of what happens to her later on in the story. Some members of the Comic-Con audience also took issue with her striking up a relationship with Batman throughout the course of their evenings together, but as a die-hard fan of Batman: The Animated Series, that romance rang incredibly true to me.
If you consider yourself a Batman fan in any capacity, make sure you see The Killing Joke immediately. It's not just a good Batman movie; it might actually be the best Batman movie to date. The film will experience a limited release in theaters this coming Monday and Tuesday, it will become available on Digital HD on Tuesday, and the Blu-Ray will hit shelves on August 2.