Darke Reviews | Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

When it comes to comic canon and graphic novels there are a handful of seminal works, especially in the past 30 years. If you ask most fans, you will hear the following titles (not in order of importance)

  • Dark Knight Returns
  • Watchmen
  • V for Vendetta
  • Sandman (Preludes and Nocturnes/Season of Mists)
  • The Killing Joke

Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller are the men behind those titles. There are other titles that are up there as well, such as Powers, Preacher, Road to Perdition, Superman Red Son, All Star Superman, etc. The ones in the list though, they almost always make everyone’s lists. So when I heard that they were making The Killing Joke into a movie in the DC Animated Universe I was ecstatic. The DCAU has never failed to disappoint me and my regular readers have seen me reference them in multiple other reviews as the writing, animation, and just overall quality of work is impeccable.

So how did they do for this fan girl?

They are adapting the story from the Alan Moore Killing Joke, which pretty much changed the DC comic universe forever. Now, there are challenges here in this review as not everyone read the comic and I don’t want to spoil anything. Which is a challenge for me in this review as much as it was for Brian Azzarello who adapted the source material to screenplay. Azzarello last touched the animated scene with Batman: Gotham Knight (Working through Pain sequence), and beyond that has worked on DC Vertigo comics (same ones who gave us Sandman) and wrote some of the Wonder Woman New 52 run (which as I understand is praised).  You see, up to this point the DCAU hasn’t introduced Barbara Gordon or Batgirl, so in order for this story to work they have to create a first act which focuses on her decisions, challenges, and the life she is living.  This is a requirement as there is a population that has never really met her as they are only aware of what we have in the DCAU.

Do I agree with every decision they made? No. One of them was …ill conceived at best. Do I understand what they were trying to do with that decision? Yes. Overall, I think the first act is solid and if instead of the first act you consider it a ..prologue you will be fine. I understand a lot of reviewers have issues with it, and let’s be fair, I can equally see where they come from. I just disagree with them more than I disagree with Azzarello’s decisions on the screenplay.

Act II and III are the original material from the comic and are pretty much shot for shot and line for line. Director and Art Department Lead/Storyboard Artist Sam Liu made some wise choices in that aspect. You can absolutely tell how meticulously planned this was. Liu is no stranger to the DCAU, with several of the Batman films under his belt, including one of my favorites Assault on Arkham (it’s Suicide Squad just two years ago). You might be mistaken in thinking an animation directors job is easy. Consider that they, like their live action counterparts have to consider blocking, camera angles, how a shot moves. In fact, they have it both easier and harder. Easier in that they are not restricted by what visual effects can do or little things like physics; conversely they have to consider how the background painting, foreground, *and* characters move as they can all move independently of each other to give more motion to the narrative. I think this is one of the reasons the animated verse is so strong as they can tell a story that feels more epic and have to use every single tool at their disposal to the maximum effect, even little things like a squinted eye, a slouch, or putting your hands on another’s shoulders.

Voice acting. I will say this once. There is one Batman. His name is Kevin Conroy. You may think otherwise, but it’s ok to be wrong. You can grow from it. Mark Hamill is also the definitive voice of the Joker. Sure the live performances of Ledger, Nicholson, and Romero are legendary in their own rights, but Hamill just does it. There’s something alien about what his voice does and it lets you know you are in danger when you hear it. Troy Baker and John DiMaggio put their spin on it and do hold their own, but damnit Hamill *is* the Joker. Both he and Conroy have more screen time as their characters than anyone else in history, and likely will be reigning champions for time to come. Both also came out of retirement for the characters just to do *this* picture. That tells you how much it means to them as actors and how much they and the DCAU crew understand what it means to have them. We thank Andrea Romano and her rolodex of voice talent every time one of these comes out and this is no exception. These guys are absolutely on point here and get to share the dialogue and even a laugh that they never really did on Batman the Animated series, or the equally amazing Mask of the Phantasm. The other actors Tara Strong (normally Harley, this time Barbara) is as solid as ever, Ray Wise, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Nolan North, and others are fan favorites even in bit parts here and do what they need to; but once you are through Act I, …it’s Hamill and Conroy and nothing else matters.

TL:DR?

Batman: The Killing Joke is amazing. It is everything I wanted it to be. It does have some flaws in the new material. It also should come with a trigger warning. This absolutely earned it’s R rating and it’s not for actual violence on camera – they’ve done worse. It’s what’s implied. What they don’t show mixed with what they hint at. Much like the original work, this is not for the faint of heart or those who are uncomfortable with certain topics. The movie makes you think, they bring up topics that you should think about when you consider The Batman, The Joker, and Jim Gordon. The utter insanity in the Joker is in full swing and I really question people who idolize him. He is chaos and evil personified.

This is absolutely *not* for children. Do not let a child watch this unless you are willing or want to have that conversation. Just be aware.

I am putting a spoiler section below, as I want to discuss one of the more controversial elements in the new material.

So should I watch it?

Whew…read above. This earned it’s R rating and is not ‘fun’ or ‘light’. I would watch this again and again, but I will need to be in the right mood for it. Like when I am wanting to write something really disturbing.

Will you buy it?

Technically for this one I had to, but I have no regrets not only buying the BluRay but the BluRay special edition.

 

What’s this spoiler?

spoilers

 

Spoiler-Warning

 

Rollover to read….

Alright. So the first act focuses on Bab’s. It has to. Not everyone knows that Babs is Batgirl, or how she became Oracle. Or they only know in passing. The DCAU has barely dealt with her since the Batman Animated series. They have to tell this story to build up an emotional impact when she gets shot. 

Did she have sex with the Bat? Here. Yes. The comic? No. Hell no. She was with Dick Grayson. Do I agree with her and the Bat having sex in this movie? No, but they made it clear it was something she wanted and as an adult it was her agency and her choice. I don’t think the Bat would ever go for it with someone under his wing and I do believe this is a departure from his character. 

The painful and trigger warning part. Did the Joker sexually assault her? It’s up for debate in the comic and movie. It is *heavily* implied. Considering the earlier scenes are about her agency, and this is a violation of that of the worst kind. I know where I land on it. It is absolutely vile. It does remind you that the Joker is never a sympathetic villain, he is a monster of the worst kind. They do a good job in the movie of making the scene dark and yes disturbing without really having to show much of anything.

Is everything in the first act needed? Eh..no.
Is it the catastrophe I keep hearing about? Definitely not.

 

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Darke Reviews | Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Every now and again you find a movie that surprises you. One where the trailers failed to grab you, but some early word of mouth got your attention. You weren’t expecting much of it and still were not quite sure of the tone as the film house lights came down and the movie logos began to roll. Suffice to say this year has been a weak year for film thus far, which isn’t terribly surprising when you look at releases through March with the stock of films that are shelved for long periods or the studios have no real faith in. If a Cloverfield comes along and destroys the box office so be it, but more often than not you get an Avatar or Frozen running until something new edges them out like a Lego Movie or  Alice in Wonderland. Kingsman is in the litany of the delayed having originally been scheduled for an October 2014 release. Though the not yet reviewed Seventh Son has it beaten for shelf time by a full year.

Was the movie delayed for a good reason or did the studio make a mistake?

I can’t help but be reminded of another film of Samuel L Jackson’s from 2001 called Formula 51. It was not good, but I had the feeling this movie would remain the same in tone as Jackson was affecting an unusual lisp for…well reasons. It’s odd for me to start with the actors on a review, but Jackson is just so bloody odd in this and honestly a bit distracting from the rest of the film. There were times I wished to yell that he was the weakest link. I’d try to blame the director or the script, but nearly everyone else was spot on. Colin Firth as the elder tailor and mentor was rather engaging; which leaves me finding it funny he was in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. While I am not familiar with his body of work, having seeing only one of his 75 credits (Shakespeare in Love if you must know), I can see why people gave him accolades for The Kings Speech. The man has a natural subdued charisma that he makes look effortless. Through the film his character talks about being a gentleman and he truly seems to embody that. Michael Caine is serviceable in his role, and Mark Strong (also in T,T,S,S) is magnetic as usual happily taking a back seat to others in the film and letting his natural screen presence be overshadowed when appropriate. The only oddity with him is what sounds to me like a touch of a Scottish accent that isn’t quite natural for him.

The two worth mentioning as standouts are Taron Egerton, our protagonist. For a new comer he shows a certain consistency that many other first time actors lack as he makes his way through the film. Dashing Rogue or Charming Gentleman he is successful in both. For a first time actor to have as much attention on him as he does, he doesn’t break and makes almost every line work and every bit of appropriate emotion. Sofia Boutella also stands out as Samuel L Jackson’s characters partner. There’s an eager gleefulness to her as she works her way through people and the movie, that makes her engaging to watch through and through.

From a story perspective, it is straight from a comic book – literally. The comic written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons is familiar territory when you put names to works; such as Kick Ass and Wanted. The movie absolutely resonates with the irreverence of both the previous works. It functions both as an homage to the genre of the spy thriller and a near parody at the same time; just as Kick Ass does for the Superhero story. That is to say the movie is as witty as it is ridiculous, but too entertaining at the same time. The movie doesn’t try to be more than what it is and it actually knows it. Where some works try to be self referential and ironic in that they are doing that – they fail. This one does not as it keeps the tongue firmly planted in the cheek the entire time. I think the source material was good, but this tone I’ve been talking about comes from frequent writing partners Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman. The pair previously gave us Stardust, Kick Ass, and X-men First Class which all are very well done films that succeed on a lot of levels as does this one continuing a good trend.

This isn’t to say they are flawless, with Vaughn at the helm again. There’s just something he misses but I can’t quite put my finger on it. The pacing is off just enough and I can’t be certain but I think he uses a 4 act structure rather than 3 which sets the story and style off from the norm. There are some pacing issues that could have been avoided if there had been a touch more deftness at the helm. Some of the fights are a confused mess through sharp cuts and unusual camera positions. When you can tell what the fight is, you move from first person shooter to near comic book level action sequences to moderate success in the overall film. What does work with the technicals though is that the movie knows it is ridiculous and gives the audience something special for it.

TL;DR

Kingsman is a good movie. It is an acerbic tongue in cheek take on the spy movies without being an outright parody. It is a fun little actioner that has humor and a sense of the absurd that needs to be praised. It goes for over the top without reaching too far, putting it in the just right category. I can honestly say I want to see it again and hope to laugh just as hard. I want to see more films remember how to be fun but still tell a good story. I think we have had enough as a movie going audience of dour, dark, and broody. They have their place, but movies like Kingsman are looking good and leave you feeling good.

The movie is not for everyone as it hits a bit of the ultraviolence at times, so if you want bloodless action give it a pass. It’s not gory, just not bloodless either. Someone remembered what squibs are.

If you were the least bit curious about this movie, go see it. Nom your popcorn and drink your beverage and just enjoy the ride. I know I did.