Hello, my friends. I may be somewhat loony, but I keep my sanity in check. Welcome back to another entry of the review series known as…
Throughout this series, PG-13 has been the main rating for each one of these films. There have been a few exceptions though, like “All-Star Superman” which was rated PG. This time around, we’ve reached the other exception. By that, I’m talking about the first R-Rated entry. As such, we’ve come across another iconic story involving everyone’s favorite Dark Knight. I’m talking about the tale known as…
Based on the 1988 graphic novel originally written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland, this was a film that was five years in the making. Mark Hamill stated in a 2011 San Diego Comic-Con interview that he was willing to reprise his iconic role for an adaptation. After expressing interest in the project in 2013, Bruce Timm stated at the “Justice League: Gods & Monsters” panel at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con that the adaptation’s development was announced. After making its premiere on July 22, 2016 at San Diego Comic-Con, it made its way to movie theaters through Fathom Events on July 25 as part of a two-night event, ultimately making $4.3 million during its brief run. Eventually, it was released through Digital Download on July 26 and on DVD & Blu-Ray on August 2. Penned by Brian Azzarello and directed by Sam Liu, how does this film translation hold up? Let’s dig in and find out.
We open in Gotham City as Barbara Gordon a.k.a. Batgirl (voiced by Tara Strong, reprising her role from “The New Batman Adventures”) narrates of a time “before the horror began”. After gliding and leaping across the rooftops, she grapples over to a water tower where she oversees Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy, reprising his role from “Bruce Timm’s DC Animated Universe”) meeting up with her father, Commissioner James Gordon (voiced by Ray Wise) and his partner Det. Harvey Bullock (voiced by Robin Atkin Downes). Barbara explains in her narration that she was partnered up with the Dark Knight for three years at this point. From there, the scene ends with Batman contacting her via cowl radio about a robbery in progress.
From there, the thieves manage to use their big rig to swat away at the two police cars that were in pursuit. Afterwards, the Batmobile starts catching up while Batgirl drops down onto the main vehicle. From there, she uses a explosive batarang to blow open the doors. The thugs try to shoot at the Batmobile to no avail while Batman fires a grappling hook into the trailer. He then yanks out what was originally stolen: an armored car.
As such, the lead thug named Parry Francesco a.k.a. Paris Franz (voiced by Maury Sterling) gives the go-ahead to disconnect the trailer. As it starts coming off, Batgirl manages to jump onto the big rig just as it makes a turn. She ultimately ends up hanging off the side and ends up seeing the leader himself. After making a kissing gesture, he kicks her off as he and his partner-in-crime end up escaping.
Shortly afterwards, Batgirl makes it back to the trailer and discovers one thug that didn’t escape. He draws his gun in defense, but Batman brings the stand-off to an end by slamming him with the side of the Batmobile. After Batgirl informs him that his boss got away, the Caped Crusader picks up the lone goon and asks for some “alone time”.
The next night, Paris goes to see his uncle, crime boss Carlos Francesco (voiced by John DiMaggio). Due to the extensive news coverage, he found out about his nephew’s failed heist, which also cost him a few of his men and $100,000 in stolen money. Carlos tells Paris to ultimately pay him back in full or else.
We then cut to the next day at the Gotham Library where Barbara is hard at work with her job. Her gay co-worker Reese (voiced by J.P. Karliak) wonders why she’s having trouble looking for a date, but Barbara admits that she “sort of, kind of” already has one. She then shows Reese the security camera system that her father (alongside the police department) had been installing throughout Gotham. Thanks to her involvement, she’s able to access the system from her work computer. Just then, she notices a familiar face on one of the cameras.
A short time later, Paris and his goons break into a former bank. Franz explains that the building belongs to his uncle and that they’re actually going to rob him, since Paris can see the aging crime boss nearing the end of his rope. Suddenly, they’re confronted by Batgirl who uses a clever distraction in order to easily knock out the goons.
From there, she proceeds to fight Paris. While making constantly creepy remarks about his love for her, Franz manages to subdue Batgirl in a half-nelson lock before spraying her in the face with a chemical compound (most likely chloroform). She starts feeling drowsy but manages to escape from Paris’ grasp with a knee to the stomach. With only seconds to spare before the chemical spray sends her off to sleep, Batgirl manages to get inside the safe and lock herself in. From there, Paris and his right-hand man Lonny make their escape with Uncle Carlos’ money.
Later, the police have arrived on the scene while Batgirl looks on from the rooftops as Batman shows up and gives her some coffee. He explains to her that she was only knocked out for a few minutes and that he arrived shortly after the goons escaped. From there, Batman proceeds to inform her about whom she fought. It turns out that Paris is a narcissist and a sociopath. Worried for her safety, he tells her to never go near Franz again unless he’s with her.
The next day at the library, Barbara tells Reese about her “boyfriend”. Replacing Batman with a “Yoga Instructor”, she describes him as demanding, yet is willing to stick with him because she “likes the yoga”. When Reese suggests that she switches classes, Barbara tells him that there’s no other “classes” available and that she’s not going to let “him” call the shots based on “emotions”.
Meanwhile at the docks, Paris and his men are on his boat. Continuing in his attempt to wrestle power away from his uncle, he tells Lonny that he hacked into Carlos’ numerous offshore accounts and now has access over them. Just then, he gets a call on his cell phone. One of his goons discovers that his uncle himself is calling, but it turns out that he found out about their recent escapade as the lowlife ends up with bullet in his brain.
Just then, Paris and Lonny find themselves fleeing from heavy gunfire as a group of masked thugs shoot away at the ship. Despite being seemingly pinned, Franz tells his right-hand man that they have a way to escape.
As the thugs storm the ship, one of them heads down below. However, he discovers a surprise that was waiting for them: a powerful explosive. With no time to retreat, the bomb’s timer strikes and blows up the ship, killing most of the goons in the process. The lone thug speeds off in his boat, unaware that Paris and Lonny escaped into the water.
That night, Paris sends a video message to Batgirl. In it, he tells her to head towards the place “where we met”, since he has a gift for her. Batman sees this act as being objectifying towards Batgirl and kicks her off the case for her own protection. With the warehouse being looked over by Commissioner Gordon and his men, he takes off to join them despite Batgirl’s disputes.
Refusing to sit out from the opportunity to catch Paris, she hops onto her Bat-Cycle in a mad dash after Batman. As they make their way past a semi-truck, she stops her pursuit and realizes that it isn’t the warehouse that Franz wants her to go to.
We then cut to the impound yard where we discover what her revelation was: the semi-truck that Paris used during the armored car heist was the actual first-encounter between him and Batgirl. She looks inside the vehicle and discovers a digital device wrapped in a bow. Upon activation, it opens up a video call where Paris tells her about the “real gift” being in a different location.
Later, Batgirl arrives at a building that Franz “doesn’t own yet”. After sneaking in, she’s led towards a office before being told to look around. Within the litter, Batgirl notices something oozing out from under a door. Upon opening it, she shockingly finds out what her “gift” was: Carlos Francesco’s mutilated body stuffed into a closet. Batgirl scolds him for killing the city’s biggest crime boss, while Paris counters by saying that his uncle became outdated and that he’s going to run Gotham’s crime with “brains and nerve and tech”.
Just then, Batgirl hears Carlos’ men right outside. Fortunately, she’s able to hide before they break down the door. From there, she manages to subdue them and a few other goons as she attempts to make her escape. Batgirl tries to use the elevator, but it’s unable to answer in time as more of Franceso’s men arrive to shoot at her. She manages to take cover behind a chair, but finds herself pinned from the enemy gunfire.
Fortunately, the elevator opens to give her some much-needed help. Batman arrives and proceeds to beat up Francesco’s men as Batgirl emerges from her hiding spot, only to be greeted by the Dark Knight’s signature glare.
Afterwards on a rooftop, Batman heavily scolds Batgirl for having Paris easily get his way with her. Despite her claiming that she was still trying to ultimately capture Franz, he doesn’t believe it. He then warns her that she hasn’t taken her superhero gig seriously enough, since she hasn’t been “taken to the edge of the abyss”, an emotional state where all sense of hope and care is no more. Afterwards, Batman bans her from continuing with the case. As he tries to leave, Batgirl’s frustration starts to take its toll as she scolds the Caped Crusader for “getting protective & sitting in judgment”. After also stating that he was the reason for her getting involved in crime-fighting in the first place, Batgirl tries to actually punch him. Fortunately, Batman manages to defend himself.
With the frustration within their partnership having reached its fever pitch, Batgirl proceeds to lash out against her mentor while Batman attempts to dodge and deflect the blows. Ultimately, Barbara manages to subdue Bruce with a complex leg-lock that lets her fling him onto the ground.
Batman tries to get up, but Batgirl quickly manages to pin him down. Shortly afterwards, her rage starts to fade away as they look into each others eyes. From there, she proceeds to kiss him as the Caped Crusader wraps his arms around Batgirl, culminating the scene by…
…doing a certain deed which I’ll talk about when we ultimately reach my character analysis.
The next day begins with a quick scene of Barbara in her bathroom starting to feel some regret from her actions…
…which continued into her library conversation with Reese a few days later. She says that she and her “yoga instructor” haven’t talked to each other since doing the dirty deed. Reese then tells her to go talk to him in order to ease the situation out.
Later at a cafe, Barbara is getting ready to leave when she hears a news broadcast informing her about an impending gang war due to Carlos Francesco’s death. Also, Paris has been the target of a manhunt, but has yet to be found. As she leaves, she comedically tosses a guy from his girlfriend just because they’re going through a similar situation that she just went through.
That night, Batgirl is on a water tower with her communicator as he decides whether or not to finally talk to Batman. She ultimately picks to go through with it as she makes the call. Inside his Batmobile, the Dark Knight gets the call as Barbara asks him how the search for Paris Franz is going. He tells her of an informative tip suggesting that he’s hiding somewhere within the docks. Batman is currently there to investigate as he continues to stand by his rule of not letting Batgirl anywhere near this case. She then tries to ask him what’ll happen between them once this investigation is concluded, but he only responses with “We’ll talk later”. Barbara then asks for the both of them to pretend that them having sex never happened and they can just move on together as a crime-fighting duo, but Batman ends the call by simply saying, “Later”.
Suddenly, the Batmobile gets blasted with a powerful shot as the vehicle ends up damaged and on its side. It turns out that Paris Franz was patiently waiting as he came prepared with a rocket launcher. From there, Lonny gives him another fully-loaded rocket launcher to immediately finish the job.
Fortunately, Batman manages to eject in time before Paris’ shot completely decimates the Batmobile. However, the Dark Knight finds himself hunted down as Franz and his men manage to ultimately pin him behind a pile of boxes with their gunfire.
Fortunately, Batgirl saw the initial explosion from the water tower and managed to arrive at the docks in time on her Bat-Cycle. From there, she grabs a nearby hook-and-rope and uses it to take care of Lonny (since Batman already took out the other goons with well-placed Batarangs). She then goes after Paris where she places the hook onto his neck and drags him for a short while before flinging him into a pile of boxes.
From there, Batgirl confronts him and easily smacks him around during another tussle. Blaming him for her recent woes, she proceeds to repeatedly punch him in the face. After a short while, she manages to restrain herself as Batman looks over to what she’s done: She nearly lost control over herself as Paris lies battered, bruised and within an inch of his life.
Following a quick scene where Barbara oversees a newscast covering Paris’ arrest (where he still proclaims his love to Batgirl)…
…we then cut to a nighttime rooftop meeting where she meets up with Batman as herself. She places a dufflebag in front of him containing her costume & weapons as her intent to step down from the title. She explains that it’s enough of a challenge to protect Gotham as a masked crime-fighter, but it’s even more tricky when your feelings for someone interferes with the job. She also says that she saw the “abyss” during her massive beatdown on Franz. She managed to avoid the malevolent temptation (and even praises Batman for staying away from that path), but she doesn’t think that she could stay away if she kept up her masked persona. After telling Batman to “be careful”, she takes her leave. The scene ends with her narration stating that she would see him again, but not as Batgirl.
One week later, a rainstorm hangs over the city as Batman joins a police investigation at Gotham Storage. It turns out that one of the units has been turned into a make-shift comedy club, but with dead corpses tied to their chairs and all of them with demented smiles on their faces. Batman and Bullock believe that these were actually the citizens who attended a dentists’ convention and disappeared three years prior, with their bank accounts purged of their money. The scene ends with the Dark Knight telling Harvey that he would like to meet with Commissioner Gordon.
Later, Barbara returns to her apartment following an evening jog and gets a call from her father. She’s informed that he won’t be able to attend their father-daughter night, since some police business just came up. He also tells her that he’s taking care of a favor for “a friend”.
Batman arrives at Arkham Asylum where he and Commissioner Gordon proceed to head towards the Joker’s cell. James informs the Caped Crusader that the Clown Prince of Crime has been imprisoned for the past two years, but Batman’s sure that he’ll confess to the storage room corpses. However, that’s not entirely why he’s shown up. After saying that he needs to be here, Batman heads into the cell and sits down with his longtime enemy. He says that he’s thinking about their long feud with each other and feels that it’ll ultimately end with one of them killing the other. Despite him wanting to know that he’s tried to help out in avoiding said fate, the Joker doesn’t say anything and continues to play with his cards. Irritated, Batman grabs the fiend’s hand and tells him to take this matter seriously. After his enemy manages to pull his hand back, Batman notices his glove now has some white residue on it. With a horrid realization, he grabs the suspect and wipes some more make-up off his face, having discovered that the actual Joker escaped. After Batman viciously demands to know what his longtime enemy is up to, Gordon comes in to break the commotion up and also discovers what the Dark Knight just found out.
We then cut to an abandoned amusement park where a Carnival Owner (voiced by the animated Hulk himself, Fred Tatasciore) has met up with someone who’s interested in buying the place from him. It turns out that the interested buyer is actually the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill, also reprising his role from “Bruce Timm’s DC Animated Universe”). Despite the foul stench, the dilapidated rides and the high cost to buy it in the first place, he tells the owner he’s interested since the price tag’s “not a problem”.
From there, we enter our first flashback that delves into the Joker’s origin. He was once a struggling comedian who lived with his pregnant wife named Jeannie (voiced by Anna Vocino) in a run-down one-room apartment building. With her undying support fueling him, he swears that he’ll get her & their eventual child out of their dingy residence, if he could just acquire enough money to afford a home within a safer neighborhood.
Back in the present, the Joker tells the carnival owner that’s he completely sold on acquiring the amusement park as they proceed to shake hands. Just then however, the Clown Prince of Crime reveals that he’s actually not going to pay for the park since he had some assistance in getting a signed deed to the place prior to the meet. It also turns out that he had a deadly pin strapped to his palm. The scene ends with the Joker heading out to set his plan in motion, leaving the newly-deceased guy to forever rot away with a smile on his face.
Meanwhile in the Bat Cave, Batman is trying to figure out the Joker’s upcoming plan. He tells his faithful family butler Alfred Pennyworth (voiced by Babu Bhatt himself, Brian George) that he has tangled with his arch-nemesis for several years, but feels like he doesn’t even “know who he is”. After being told not to underestimate the Joker, Alfred tells him that he “can’t save everyone” before taking his leave. From there, the scene ends with Bruce wondering how it’s possible for two people to despise one another “without knowing each other”.
Meanwhile, James Gordon has finally visited his daughter at her apartment. As he talks about the Joker, he continues to work on a scrapbook containing Batman’s various ventures. Just then, they hear a knock at the door.
Thinking that it’s her workout buddy Colleen, she opens her door and gets the shock of her life: It’s the Joker who’s shown up at her home. Before she can react, he fires a single gunshot at her. She gets hit in the stomach as the force of the blast sends her smashing through her glass table in utter pain.
As James rushes to his daughter’s side, Joker and his men make their way into the apartment. Enraged, Gordon tries to attack the psychotic clown. However, he’s easily overpowered by the two goons as they beat him up to the point where he ends up unconscious. From there, the Joker tells his men to take him back to his hideout. Afterwards, Barbara wearily asks why he’s doing all of this. As he creepily starts to unbutton her shirt, the scene ends with the Joker saying that it’s to “prove a point”.
We then flashback to the next piece of the Joker’s origin. The younger comedian meets up with two tough guys named Mitch and Murray (voiced by Nolan North and Andrew Kishino, respectively). During the conversation, we learn that he used to work at a chemical plant as a lab assistant before he quit that job in order to become a comedian. Either way, he’s going to lead the two gangsters through his old compound in order to reach a nearby playing card company. To ensure that he won’t be connected to the crime, Mitch shows him his disguise: the Red Hood. The comedian is also informed that the mask has two-way mirrors for him to see where he’s going. As such, he ultimately agrees to help them with their job in order to get his family financially secured.
After cutting back to the present, we have a quick scene where the Joker puts the final touch on his newly-acquired amusement park by turning on the bright lights, setting the stage for his villainous plan.
From there, we cut to the hospital as Barbara lies unconscious. With Batman and Det. Harvey Bullock watching over, a doctor proceeds to poke at the soles of her feet to see if see reacts to it. Unfortunately, there’s no response as he proclaims that she’ll never be able to walk again. After Bullock explains that Babs was discovered ” in a state of undress” by her workout partner Colleen Miles, Batman asks to be alone for one moment.
After the Caped Crusader approaches her side, Barbara starts to regain consciousness. In a terrified state, she says that her father was kidnapped by the Joker and that he’s going to “prove a point”.
We then cut to James Gordon who has his clothes forcibly removed from him by three diminutive beings. After a dog collar and leash is placed on him, he’s taken to the Joker. From there, the Clown Prince of Crime goes on a monologue on how remembering the past can be “treacherous”.
While the Joker continues with his anti-memories speech, the three hell-children drag Gordon onto a fun house cart. From there, they hold him down as the ride begins its descent towards utter madness.
We then head into our third flashback where the young comedian continues to get the main details of the upcoming heist, mainly the required outfit of a suit and bow tie. Shortly afterwards, two police officials enter the bar and tell the comedian that they wish to speak with him for one moment. They head outside as Mitch and Murray look on with suspicion. After a short while, the comedian comes back inside to deliver the bad news. It turns out that his wife died from a random household accident involving a baby bottle heater getting struck by an electrical short. With nothing left to fight for, he tries to pull out of the upcoming mission. Despite them feeling sorry for what happened to Jeannie, Mitch and Murray tell him that they’re not going to let him bow out now. As such, the flashback ends with the comedian being left alone to grieve before tonight’s gig.
Cutting back to the present, we find Batman on a vicious manhunt as he tries to find out what the Joker’s up to. After beating up numerous thugs, all he learns is that he normally recruits his goon squad the moment he breaks out but hasn’t done so for this situation. Even crime boss Sal Maroni (voiced by Rick D. Wasserman) doesn’t know what the Joker has been up to ever since his escape. He doesn’t even know where the infamous clown is hiding out.
Back at the fun house, James arrives at a makeshift courtroom. With several sideshow attractions sitting in as the audience, Gordon has a judge’s wig placed on him by a hell-child. The Joker then asks him what he would do to someone who “has no regard for the law”, “treats people like meat”, commits harm in order to “get his way”, “breaks the law” and disregards everything it stands for. When James answers by saying that he’d “throw the book at him”, the carny folk demand for him to do just that. With even the Joker egging him on, Gordon proceeds to grab a nearby book with the words “The Law” scribbled on its cover and heaves it right towards him. Just then, a wooden figure pops up and gets hit by the book. That figure turns out to be Batman as the Joker exclaims that it’s also the same person that they had on trial.
We then cut to an area under a bridge where Batman’s clown hunt has him asking a group of prostitutes. He learns that just like the goon recruitment, he usually sees them for some ‘whoopie cushion’ shortly after breaking out but isn’t doing so this time. Just then, the scene ends with the Gotham Police lighting up the Bat-Signal to get in contact with him.
Back at the fun house, James is still trapped on the ride as the Joker proceeds to torment him with something different: an actual song-and-dance. He proceeds to sing a song called “Looney” while dancing alongside the sideshow attractions.
Sadly, the song ends on a dour note for James as he sees that the Joker had stripped his newly-crippled daughter naked and took several pictures of her. With this horrid surprise, James cries out in utter heartbreak and torment.
Meanwhile, Batman arrives at police headquarters where Bullock gives him an envelope containing the vital piece of information that the Caped Crusader needed: the Joker’s location.
Back at the amusement park, James emerges from the fun house in utter shock and horror. As such, the Joker orders for his carney cohorts to place their prisoner in a cage and prepare for Batman’s arrival.
We then move into our final flashback where the comedian meets up with the two thugs on the night of the big heist. While Murray snips at the fence in order to create an entryway, Mitch gives their cohort his cape and the Red Hood mask. With the comedian being able to see just enough, the three of them head inside in order to reach their main destination: Monarch Playing Cards.
Just as they’re about to reach the other side of the plant, a security guards spots them. Mitch and Murray open fire at him as the remaining nightwatchmen join in on the shoot-out.
With the mask partially obscuring his sight, the comedian is unable to help Mitch and Murray find a way out. Just then, Mitch gets killed by a security guard. Murray ultimately ends up the same way, but not before he tells the guards that his leader is the Red Hood. With both of his accomplices newly-deceased, the comedian manages to escape towards the upper walkways. Shortly afterwards, Batman arrives and tells the guards that he’ll take care of things from here.
Shortly afterwards, the Dark Knight confronts whom he thinks is the Red Hood. As the comedian nervously backs up, he then trips on his own cape and falls off the walkway into the toxic chemical.
After ultimately getting pumped towards the outside world, the comedian crawls onto the shore. Feeling like his head is itching and burning, he removes the Red Hood mask and soon sees his reflection from a puddle. From there, he ends up cackling a demonic laugh that he would end up using throughout the rest of his life and brings the flashbacks to an end.
Back in the present, Batman finally arrives at the amusement park. Shortly afterwards, the Joker sends out his sideshow crew. Unfortunately for them, Batman easily manages to subdue every last one of them.
Afterwards, he makes his way towards the makeshift throne and approaches the Joker. However, he discovers that it’s not the Clown Prince of Crime, but the dog-man dressed in Joker clothes as it tackles and pins down the Dark Knight. Fortunately, Batman manages to punch his way out of the scuffle in order to continue the hunt.
Just then, the Joker appears in front of him and shows off the naked-and-caged Jim Gordon as “the average man”. Enraged, Batman proceeds to tackle his arch-nemesis to the ground. However, the Joker escapes by squirting some acid from his cane and runs into the funhouse.
Batman manages to release James from his cage, places a sheet for him to cover up and says that Barbara is still alive. With the police on their way, the Caped Crusader is willing to stay with him until their arrival. However, James tells him to go get the Joker and bring him in “by the book” in order to prove that their methods still works. As such, Batman heads into the funhouse for one final showdown.
As the Dark Knight searches his way through the place, the Joker comes on the PA System with a monologue on how it takes “One Bad Day” for a sane person to be driven over the edge. While that’s going on, Batman ends up trapped in a room full of mirrors. Shortly afterwards, a trap door opens underneath him. Fortunately, he manages to prevent himself from falling towards a spike-filled death. Afterwards, he’s able to fight off and defeat the hell-children before working his way through the building.
Batman then reaches an upside-down room, which was made to look like the Joker’s past apartment home. Just then, the Clown Prince of Crime slams the Caped Crusader over the head with a pot full of lobsters. As he continues to smack the Dark Knight with various objects, he states that life is “all a joke” and grows frustrated that his foe doesn’t see it from his point-of-view. As such, he whips out his deadly hand buzzer and prepares to finish his foe off.
Fortunately, Batman recovers in time as he disables the hand buzzer and proceeds to beat up the psychotic clown. He then says that despite the attempt to make Commissioner Gordon snap, the fact that he wanted the Clown Prince of Crime taken in “by the book” meant that he’s still sane and that the joke is actually on the Joker.
However, the killer clown isn’t willing to go down yet as he yanks on Batman’s cowl to get free and readies his gun for a killshot. Fortunately, Batman manages to tackle his foe through a window as they plummet to the ground.
Upon hitting the dirt, the Joker sees his gun within his grasp as manages to fend off Batman in order to reclaim his weapon and fire. However, he finds out that he’s out of bullets as the prop gun flag comes out in its place.
With the Joker’s plans completely foiled, he awaits his final beating. However, Batman tells him that he’s not going to do so tonight. He also exclaims that their feud continues to grow more lethal and will ultimately see one of them killing the other. As such, Batman offers to help rehabilitate his foe. As the rain starts to fall, the Joker gets up and declines the offer since he’s “far too late for that”. Just then, the Clown Prince of Crime realizes that their situation reminds him of a joke involving two asylum prisoners trying to escape. When he reaches the punchline, he starts to laugh. Just then, even Batman is laughing from the joke. As the two of them share a good laugh, Batman places his hands on the Joker as we pan down towards the raining puddle and fade to black until we only hear Batman laughing.
And so, the film ends on a mid-credits scene as a wheelchair-bound Barbara arrives back at her apartment. After telling her father via a phone call that she’s going to be busy tonight, she opens a secret area revealing a room full of computers and hardware. It turns out that she’s still going to fight crime, though on a digital front, as Oracle.
Now, we’ve reached my character analysis. Because of the controversy surrounding this film, I’m going to shake things up a bit. First, we’ll dissect the Joker. Though this famous villain has had numerous versions of his origin (with his first name being revealed as “Jack”), as the majority of them came around after this tale, Alan Moore’s iconic tale was by-far the most famous version. As far as the Joker’s philosophy of “One Bad Day” making the most sane of people become psychotic, I’ve always seen it as the final breaking point since it would have to take numerous amounts of unfortunate bad breaks in life before anyone would reach that particular point of no return. Because he doesn’t appear until about halfway through the film (when it finally reaches the story that we remember from the graphic novel), his characterization is pretty much the same from the source material. To him, life is one cruel prank and he’s willing to share that horrible message with anyone and everyone whom he sees fit. Seeing how he has gathered a whole group of sideshow attractions to work alongside him, maybe it symbolizes how this group as a whole got the short end of life’s straw in some form so they join the Joker’s plight in sharing their misery. As such, they hope to help him prove that anyone can be mentally broken. Being the villain that we expected to see, Mark Hamill turned in a nice performance. In the interviews, he stated that he would reprise this iconic role if Killing Joke was adapted and boy, was that effort ever showing. Despite the age in his voice, he brought his enthusiasm to a role that he owned during the 14-year run of Bruce Timm‘s DC Animated Universe. Plus, it was an unexpected treat to hear him do some singing. Following that scene along with just the graphic novel in hand, he belts out the exact same lines from the source material. That moment alone, despite the emotional ending that I felt for the Gordons, was the highlight of the film.
Next up, we’ve reached Batman. In the first half, he has Batgirl under his wing as a crime-fighting partner. Because of Paris Franz’ dangerous obsession, he believes that keeping Barbara away from the investigation will help in bringing the scumbag down. However, since he has no experience in being a father (remember that the original source material was released 18 years before he ultimately found out about Damian), Barbara became resistant and had her judgment clouded because of the encounters. When Batgirl lashes out against and pins him down for the “dirty deed”, it seems out-of-character for Batman since he’s not someone who lets himself get involved in anything related to romantic relationships. Sure, the infamous act was probably him letting Barbara take her frustrations out on him (via sex? huh?), but I felt like he would have made more of an attempt to resist it. If they would have just kissed, then I don’t think it would have been as notorious as it has become. In the second half, he’s mainly on the hunt for the Joker and ultimately saves James Gordon before tussling with the Clown Prince of Crime. This part is somewhat book-ended by Batman wanting a peaceful resolution to their endless conflict. Understandable in trying to avoid a self-destructive end, even though (like in the source material) he’s denied the opportunity to carry out the act. As for the ambiguous ending that was brought over from the graphic novel, I think that it can be looked at in a number of ways. If this was a Dark Knight who still kept his values and code, then he did ultimately bring him back to Arkham since Gordon wanted it done “by the book” and he just kept laughing at the Joker’s joke. However, if this was a Batman that was near the end of his rope and finding out what cruel acts the Gordons were put through, then it’s possible that he silently did something to the Joker during his laughter since it’s not clear. However, that couldn’t be possible since only a more weary and tired-out Batman would be more tempted towards said act. Either way, it all comes down to how the reader/viewer interprets it. Kevin Conroy had another great outing with his iconic role, as he brought the presence, delivery and command to a character that he helped make important on the turn of the 20th Century. My favorite moment from him is when he’s on his vicious manhunt for the Joker and he ultimately visit’s Sal Maroni’s underground casino. What he tells the guard watching the door was priceless as Conroy says with utter confidence: “Step away from the door.”. That was a sign of being completely confident with your character.
Very quickly, let’s move on to James Gordon. He’s mainly prominent in the second half, since he’s kidnapped into taking part in Joker’s experiment where any sane person can be broken. Despite the traumatic experience of seeing what the psychotic clown do to his daughter, he had enough resolve to gather his composure and keep his sanity in check. I believe that he represents how anyone can stay away from madness if they have enough of a moral upbringing to keep them from the mental edge. Ray Wise is decent enough in the role, since some of his line delivery seems a bit off. Other than that, he fills in the role to a suitable level.
Now we’ve reached Batgirl. Hoo boy, did the attempted addition to her character cause some stirs among the populace. In the original source material, Barbara Gordon had just retired from her crime-fighting persona as Batgirl and ended up getting paralyzed from the waist down by the Joker’s fateful gunshot. Because this created some criticisms in the original material (along with the fact that the graphic novel was a fairly quick read and would have been somewhat short of feature-length), 30 minutes were added to the beginning so that she would have gotten more to do, especially as her superheroic alter-ego. However, the plotting for that part didn’t really add to the familiar story other than “Here’s how Barbara retired from her Batgirl persona”. In her expanded role, she works to take down a thug who aspires to become a 21st-Century crime boss but also has a dangerous obsession towards her. During this, Batman keeps her away from the case for her own protection. Let us not forget that during the three-year partnership, Barbara has grown somewhat fond of Batman. After a pair of superheroic outings nearly go horribly wrong (with the latter seeing her having to be saved by Batman), Batgirl culminates her frustrations with him by an act that I’ll talk about in the next section. Eventually, the shoe is on the other foot as Barbara saves Batman from Paris’ men and even takes the main man down, but not before nearly losing control of herself. In the end, that is what ends up making her give up the mantle. This progress would have been somewhat fine, if not for the fact that Paris’ scheme doesn’t mesh one iota with Joker’s plan. A better strategy would have been if Batman & Batgirl were going after the Joker on a seemingly different scheme that somehow indirectly led towards the Clown Prince of Crime’s eventual plan. During this caper, it causes a different kind of stain on Batman & Batgirl’s partnership that has her in over her head and she contemplates giving up the superheroic life, but not before she and her father ultimately best the Joker. That way, the progression is better handled and our true villain has even more incentive to go after the Gordons. Either way, it’s not a bad idea at all to have Barbara Gordon as Batgirl in an expanded adaptation of “The Killing Joke”. It just that the direction that was ultimately taken made her feel somewhat shallow and needy. Tara Strong does do her best job with this role, even if some of her dialogue had to be delivered as a bit jealous and whiny.
Now, we’ve reached the most controversial part of the whole film: Batgirl having sex with Batman. To be honest, when I first heard about this following its premiere at San Diego Comic-Con (lest I knew about the semi-debacle that surrounded its showing and post-film Q&A): I didn’t know what to expect (since I didn’t read the articles and wanted to be genially surprised). When I saw the film in theaters and it pans away just as Barbara is about to commit the act, I thought it was just implied. When it came out on DVD & Blu-Ray, I had no idea that I didn’t hear from her aftermath conversation with Batman that they did indeed have sex. This wasn’t the first time that a Batman/Batgirl relationship was explored, since the idea was hinted at for several years in various media prior to this film’s release (something that a certain NerdSync video helped me realize). After all, their exact ages are kept ambiguous enough so that they have at least a 10-year age gap between them. I think the reason why THIS particular moment has brought so much rage and hatred from the comic community is that it felt badly-executed and we weren’t interested in seeing it for a Killing Joke adaptation. There are some hints in Barbara’s conversation with Reese leading up to it, but Batman clearly was more focused in stopping Paris Franz. Either way, this subject was going to be a huge risk and it just didn’t turn out as Timm and company hoped that it would.
While we’re still on the subject of Barbara Gordon and how her superheroics came to an end, “Batgirl Special #1” came out right before the original graphic novel and gave a better send-off for her original tenure as Batgirl. In this particular tale, she’s out to stop a criminal named “Cormorant”, a man who nearly killed Batgirl during a hostage situation four years prior and has since evaded her. Another problem arises when a lethal female vigilante named “Slash” appears and starts killing any man who has a history of abusing women & managed to elude the law prior. Also, a friend of Barbara’s named Marcy already knows that she’s Batgirl and helps her out with this final case. During this venture (appropriately titled “The Last Batgirl Story”), both Cormorant and Slash each had a moment where they caught her off her guard at a crucial point and it stirs Barbara psychologically where she doubts herself as a superhero. Something like this could have been used in the film and it would have been far more understandable as to why Barbara felt the need to retire from her Batgirl persona. A little bit of complexity shown here would have gone a long way towards her character. Instead, the pursuit for Paris Franz and then nearly beating him to death is what ultimately caused her to step down from the superheroics. In the end, Batgirl’s character arc had some potential here, but the ball ended up being dropped.
The animation is very suitable for this story. In “A Sneak Peak At Batman: The Killing Joke”, Bruce Timm and company talked about it being challenging to try and make Brian Bolland’s somewhat-realistic art style work in animation. To get around this hurdle, they went with the similar art style of Kevin Nowlan. That decision mainly pays off since the characters are fluid for the most part, the dialogue mostly syncs up with the lip movement and the color palette never gets too grim just because the film is R-Rated. The actions scenes range from decent to engaging. They managed to keep my attention and they also fulfill themselves fairly well.
Overall, this film is OK though somewhat disappointing. Joker’s presence, his origin and his surprising song-and-dance number is an absolute joy to behold. Meanwhile, Batman has his good moments and it mainly strong here. However, Batgirl and the first half were the biggest missed opportunity here, due to the mishandling of her extended role and having nothing else to help expand on the original story. That being said, it’s solid when the actual story is being adapted and the emotions still ring true during the second half. Still, I mainly enjoyed my viewing experience and it’s still worth a watch.
Next Time: It’s back to the Animated New 52 Universe for us. However, there’s a situation that the World’s Greatest Heroes cannot handle. It’s going to take a couple of occult and supernatural-specialized individuals to take care of this otherworldly threat. A magical kind of team will be forged as we dig into “Justice League Dark”.
Batman (created by by Bob Kane and Bill Finger) is owned by DC Comics.