Remember when you read Batman: The Killing Joke and the first third of it contained a completely unrelated Batgirl story and you thought what does this have to do with anything? No? That’s probably because it wasn’t there. But it is exactly what happens in Warner Bros Animation/DC’s adaptation of the classic graphic novel.
If you listen to the powers that be, they will tell you about how flushing out the Batgirl character adds to the story. But my guess is that when Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, et al stopped high fiving each other after finally getting the go ahead for their R-rated adaptation, they realised that the source material only gave them about 45 minutes of narrative. So Brian Azzarello was brought in to add the Batgirl prologue and adapt the rest of Alan Moore’s script.
And that Batgirl prologue is the biggest issue with this movie. I won’t get into the more controversial aspects of it as I keep this spoiler free. And I’ll leave it to much better critical writers to tell you if the addition of this Batgirl tale adds or hinders the overall construction of the main story itself.
The Batgirl story is fine in and of itself. But is so disconnected from the source material that it feels like you are watching two separate movies. In the original source material Barbara Gordon (not even Batgirl) has a powerful but brief appearance. And that remains the same when the movie switches gears, which makes it even more jarring
when you just watched a Batgirl “movie” for 28 minutes and then she shows up for maybe 2 minutes afterwards.
The two stories are so disconnected that I almost feel like recommending that if you want to watch a Killing Joke adaptation, you skip the first 28 minutes.
So with that out of the way, what about the adaptation of the source material itself? Well, it is very, very true to Moore’s story. So much so that having just reread the graphic novel last week I almost was a little bored since the story was so fresh in my mind. I knew every twist and turn that was going to happen. And while there are a few scenes (slightly) flushed out or tweaked, the rest almost uses the original as their storyboards.
We are a peculiar lot. If the adaptation was too different (like the tacked on Batgirl story) we are upset. But if it is completely true to the source material we are bored.
While it is essentially the same product as the source, I never found it quite reaches the heights that the original story did. Maybe it is because of the animation that while paying homage to artist Brian Bolland, is clearly not the same art as what appears in the book. Not that the animation is bad, it is quite good actually, but Bolland and Moore just have a synergy that is never captured here.
I’m curious what someone like Jenny thinks of it all, having never read the source material.
And while it is all the rage these days, why exactly was this rated R? There is no nudity (thanks to some almost Austin Powers type placement of objects at times). The violence is no different and probably tamer than you’ll see in other original DC movies. The foulest of words you will hear is the description of a female dog. That said, it is still very psychologically dark and if the rating keeps it away from the eyes of young kids, I’m fine with that.
The Batgirl section while adding nothing is still well done and watchable. The Killing Joke section is remarkably true to the source and features Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, so hard to complain there. Together though they make for a bit of a strange ride. I feel like I’ve been overly negative, but I will still give it an (albeit soft) 8 out of 10 Alan Moore is going to hate it anyways.