Was the Killing Joke That Bad?
May 23, 2017
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. A while ago, I did an editorial on the death of the Joker, in which I reference the comic book classic...
(Cut to a poster for said comic book classic...)
NC (vo): ..."The Killing Joke". This, not surprisingly, got people talking about...
(Cut to footage of the cartoon version of the story)
NC (vo): ...the animated adaptation released on DVD and even on the big screen for one night. There was a lot of hype around this. People have wanted to see this for years; Mark Hamill said he wouldn't play the Joker again unless it was in The Killing Joke, which naturally lead to his return; it looked like the comic; it had an R rating; all the pieces seemed to fit into place.
(Cut to a shot of the io9 website, featuring an article about how bad The Killing Joke is)
NC (vo): But then, following a disastrous preview, people suddenly turned.
(A clip of Batman and Batgirl making out with each other, with Batgirl undressing herself)
NC (vo): A scene of Batman and Batgirl doing each other started circulating...
(Cut to a shot of the Rotten Tomatoes site, where it is shown that only 47% of people liked it)
NC (vo): ...reviews were turning out very rotten...
(More footage is shown)
NC (vo): ...and what was originally the most anticipated animated DC release ever became the most dreaded.
NC: Thus, when it was inevitably released, people hated it.
NC (vo): What happened!? Who thought these were good choices!? Where's the cinematic portrayal of the classic we all know and love?
NC: While I too was pretty surprised at how BAD some of the choices were, as the smoke clears, I do have to ask: Is it as bad as everyone says it is?
NC (vo): Now, some of you might be wondering "how the hell can you even ask that?" Well, let me start off by saying that, like many of you, I hated the first third. A pointless story about Batgirl was thrown in that literally didn't connect to the rest of the Killing Joke, except the fact that Batman and Batgirl were in it, and I mean in it. The reasoning for this was that not only did the film have to be longer for a theatrical release, adapting the original comic would probably run about forty-six minutes, but Batgirl in the Killing Joke comic, gained controversy for leaning too much on the "women in the fridge" trope, where a female character is killed or maimed just as a plot device.
NC: I guess that was done a lot at the time, but... I don't know, I think a lot of (Shows Bruce kneels over Thomas and Martha Wayne's bodies, Uncle Ben dying from the Sami Rami Spider-Man film, and Matt Murdock holding his dead father on a comic book cover), comic book characters would be grateful to have that treatment nowadays. Hell, even a few Robins wished for that outcome. I can see where they are coming from though, and the idea of giving Batgirl more to do didn't seem like a bad idea, especially since she did little in the original, and making her role bigger would make her feel all the more tragic.
NC: Ironically, though, in trying to make her stronger, they actually made her weaker.
NC (vo): By bat-bonking at what others consider an uncle-niece relationship, obsessing over said bonk with her gay best friend, yeah, we're doing that thing, and, like I mentioned, having no connection to The Killing Joke whatsoever.
NC (vo): If you read the comic, there's almost no point in seeing The Killing Joke. It adds very little in terms of a new layout or design. (shows comparisons between the Sin City graphic novel and the Sin City film) At least, with something like Sin City, which was also a fateful panel to panel, they had a third dimension. Which meant that some things had to be different no matter what, and we could see the live action interpretation, which seems to create a different realm of reality. (shows comparisons between The Killing Joke comic and The Killing Joke film) But, because both of these are drawn, and, to be fair, isn't a ton of movement because they wanted to replicate the original panels, there seems to be a touch less life in the animated movie than in the comic, strangely enough. Because comics are still pictures, you fill in the blank about what type of movement is taking place. It's similar to how your mind fills in what a character like looks like in a book, just through the descriptions. (shows the iconic image of the Joker going insane) In a comic, this image leaps off the page because it's indicating the movement through the insanity of the lettering, the layout of the pose, and the crispness of the still image. Your imagination fills in the rest. (shows the animated version of that same panel) In the movie, it's taken a little too literally. So, rather than seeing an incredible moment leap off the screen, we're seeing an image from a comic book moved around a little bit. It looks just like it, but nothing much is being added to it. The amount of detail you can do in a still image, but not in animation should have been reversed with the amount of detail you can do in animation, but not in a still image. And, funny enough, if the same amount of attention went into applying the movement of the first third into the story of The Killing Joke, this could have been amazing! Imagine, the movement of the truck scene, done with this (shows the image of Joker going insane) reveal of the Joker.
NC: There's other missing details too that would have helped make this more of a spectacle.
NC (vo): Joker sees the image of the fat lady at a carnival, and thinks back to his pregnant wife. In the comic, it just cuts to a flashback, but in a movie, you could maybe show the picture transform into his wife, or maybe the picture even comes to life, strarting the flashback, blending realities with it. The Joker says he remembers his past differently each time, like it's multiple choice, so why not have him hold his drink up, and through the reflection, we see his old self at the bar talking to the gansgsters. That wasn't in the comic, but it would have helped give the film more of it's own identity, rather than just using the comic as storyboards.
NC: It's kind of like when Mel Brooks did the Broadway version of The Producers and the Broadway version of Young Frankenstein".
NC (vo): (shows an image of the Producers film) The Producers was based on the original story, but there were enough changes made to it, making it enough of its own thing. (shows a picture from the Young Frankenstein Broadway play) Young Frankenstein was all the same, just with songs put in, thus it didn't do as well. Being your own interpretation, even if it is based on something else, is very important.
NC: But, there are one or two more differences though.
NC (vo): Like, there's a song sequence when the Joker is torturing Commissioner Gordon. Now, that's not in the original, but, let's be honest: If the Joker could put one in, he would. It's really not a bad idea in giving the film a little bit more of a unique energy.
NC: But, it seems a little toned down.
NC (vo): If the Joker's going to do a song and dance number, it's going to be an amazing song and dance number! Joker the Musical, think about that! It would be mind blowingly insane! But, this is just him and his carny's walking back and forth, and not much else.
NC: Again, if more time went into that, instead of....
Reese: And, they say the gay scene is complicated (scoffs) whaaat.
NC:....that! This could have really stood out!
NC (vo): In fact, the pacing could have been amazing too. Even though it's totally decent and passable, imagine if even more time was given to the Joker realizing his family was gone. Imagine if, instead of a few seconds, a few minutes were dedicated to him going nuts, and realizing what he's become. If several minutes were added to each scene, either in dialogue or visual storytelling, this could have been phenomenal!
NC (vo): With a comic, you had to keep things short and tight because there are only so many pages you can print, only so many word bubbles you can fill. And, truth be told, Killing Joke was probably pushing both of those already.
NC: But, in a film that's already short on time, fill it up!
NC (vo): Maybe Batgirl could have been helping Batman find the Joker before she gets shot. Maybe have the Joker return to his empty home after he's transformed. Maybe have him tear it apart, or set it on fire, or laugh, I don't know.
NC: Maybe everyone could visually take in what was lost as opposed to just talking about it.
NC (vo): (shows the final panel of the comic) Even the final scene. which people and the comic are still up in the air about whether Batman is placing his hands on the Joker's chest laughing, or strangling him to death.
NC: Granted, if would be very tricky to keep that open to interpretation in the movie, but it could be done.
NC (vo): (shows the film version of the last scene) Have the Joker's laugh spring louder when Batman puts his arms on him, and have the Joker sway (transitions to the comic panel) back and forth in a way that makes it look like he could be laughing or being strangled. It's tricky, but it could work! So much of this could have been downright brilliant!
NC: But, for all the talk of me saying how much better it could have been, here's the thing: The Killing Joke did technically give us exactly what it promised. It gave us The Killing Joke. Even the first third is described as a prologue. A separate story to get you ready for when the The Killing Joke actually starts.
NC: It just sucked at it.
NC (vo): However, when The Killing Joke started, it did everything in its power to give us The Killing Joke. This worked both for and against it. It does look like the comic, it does follow it as closely as possible, and it does try to add one or two more elements. Like I said earlier, audiences can get very fickle when anything is changed from the original source material.
NC: And, while the critiques I gave earlier are what really bother me, can we really be that angry at The Killing Joke for giving us The Killing Joke?
(Shows a picture of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley) It's like if before Harry Potter, there was a prologue on Ron Weasley's backstory that was written horribly. Yeah, that would be weird and suck, but (shows a poster of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) Harry Potter fans would still get an obsessively fateful version of Harry Potter". Would the prologue be enough to throw the whole thing off or would they still be satisfied?
NC: Personally, I think when the Killing Joke part starts, it's okay.
NC (vo): It definitely raises the question of what adaptations should leave in, take out, or add. But, you can't argue that the film isn't giving exactly what it advertised: The Killing Joke" with an added prologue. I know a lot of work goes into making these movies, and even though the mistakes of the prologue are pretty painful, it shouldn't erase what many would consider, on its own, an adequate representation.
NC: Amazing....no, but not awful either.
NC (vo): Had the prologue not been there, it most likely would have ranged from good to....okay, and not gotten most of the backlash that it got. But, many can't separate the prologue, and I guess that's kind of understandable: It is part of The Killing Joke. They could have cut it out, but they left it in. You can't help what you like or dislike, it just leaves whatever impression it leaves on you. But, for fans that wanted to see The Killing Joke on the big screen, maybe, like the comic, it's an interpretation you may want to think about one one more time.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it, so you don't have to.
(Gets up and leaves as the credits roll)