Well, here’s a mixed bag. The Killing Joke is a powerful but slim volume that could never be feature-length without expanding the narrative, so expand it they did. And maybe it should have remained a slim 45 minutes now that I’ve seen just what they’ve done with it.
In the original text, Batgirl’s role is merely that of a broken female body that functions as the inciting incident for Batman and Gordon to take down the Joker. The prologue makes vague hand gestures towards giving her more agency, but she’s clearly still a novice pupil to Batman’s hardened veteran. Even worse is how they sexualized the character. It’s as if the creators wouldn’t buy the fact that Batman can care about Barbara Gordon as an actual human without turning first forcing her into his creepy hookup.
But wait! The prologue just keeps getting worse the longer it goes on. Eventually this chunk of the story just ends, and all of the threads and characters that we have spent the past thirty minutes investing in are immediately jettisoned off into the ether. There’s no smooth transition between this unnecessary stuff and the actual adaptation of The Killing Joke, unless Barbara Gordon as sacrificial lamb qualifies as such.
However, once The Killing Joke just adapts the text as is the film perks right on up. Brian Bolland’s art style doesn’t entirely mesh well easily with DC’s in-house animation style, but there are a few moments of noir-ish and cracked beauty. At times, scenes with the Joker look like motion comics, and I mean that as a compliment. The artwork isn’t always consistent though, with Barbara’s mouth frequently looking like a trout or going strangely off model.
It’s in these later scenes that everything is cooking. Not only do we get Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in top form, but Ray Wise makes for a nice Gordon. If any of these three performances would have faltered, then the film would not have worked at all. Tara Strong’s Batgirl is a nice lived-in performance, but it’s just a shame some of the scenes they’re forcing her to play.
Then there’s just how freaking creepy the whole carnival business is once you see it played out in action and not just on the page. I’m dying for a movie to adapt the image of Joker sitting atop a throne of baby doll parts. These are the strongest and best moments of the film. The Killing Joke has never been a story about Batgirl, it has always been a story about the Joker. Drop the awkward prologue and fast-forward to the straight adaptation for a chilling time.