Reviewer: Zep the Bear
Batman: The Killing Joke
There has been an abundance of discussion about the portrayal of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon since Batman: The Killing Joke premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con last week.
The first 30-minutes essentially focus on Batgirl. After she and Batman partially foil a robbery, Paris Franz,the leader of the thwarted villains, becomes obsessed with her. She soon begins to receive creepy messages from Franz. Batgirl thinks that she can use this fascination to capture him. Feeling that she is a bit out of her depth, Batman takes her off the case, causing tension between the two. She confronts Bats about being pulled, which leads to an unexpected/uncomfortable love scene.
I was fine with the plot up to that point. That scene is the beginning of things feeling icky. There was a father-daughter vibe between the two early in the picture. That in itself makes the rendezvous concerning. But then after the liaison, Batman stopped talking to her. Gordon became hurt, confused, and a bit obsessed. (Honestly, he was rather coarse when he banished her from the case, but it was understood that he doesn’t have the greatest interpersonal skills and he was attempting to protect her.)
Factor in her fate later in the story, and Batgirl/Barbara Gordon comes off feeling, at best, secondary. She is paralyzed by a vengeful Joker. It is also implied that he may have raped her as well. The overall treatment of the character in the film is cheap and shabby. It’s a shame, too, because, for the preponderance of the opening act, the character was rendered as spunky, motivated, and irresistibly charming.
The Man Behind The Joker
However, all is not lost as Mark Hamill turns in a tour-de-force performance as the Joker. True it’s a character that he has voiced on and off for the better part of 20 years, but he has such a thorough grasp of who and what the character is that he breathes a life into the Clown Prince of Crime that few, if any, would be able to rival.
Hamill accesses a playful anguish that has come to a define the premiere supervillain for the last two decades.
Astutely, director Sam Liu once again paired the actor with long-time co-star Kevin Conroy, who, himself, has come to be the definitive voice of the Dark Knight. As iconic as Conroy’s portrayal is, it will never shine as brightly as Hamill’s if for no other reason than the stoic nature of the personality he plays.
Though no longer a thing, Hamill and Conroy remind me of great dramatic radio actors of the past who’s performances came to be the standard for their particular characters. Basil Rathbone as “Sherlock Holmes” and Orson Welles as “The Shadow” come to mind.
After the screening of the film, I found myself thinking about Hamill’s career. He easily could have called it a day after the original Star Wars trilogy. After all, he was Luke, bloody, Skywalker. However, he continued to work and be creative. In the mid-90s he assumed the role of the Joker. In many ways, I feel that Joker—rather than Skywalker— is the true defining role of his career.
Mano a Mano
Like all superhero stories, Batman: The Killing Joke concludes with a showdown between hero and villain.
But the ending…the ending is what sets The Killing Joke apart.
After a physical showdown, Joker pulls a pistol on Bats. He squeezes the trigger only to discover it is a toy gun. A little flag that says “bang” pops out of the barrel of the gun.
He submits to Batman, essentially saying, “do what you will.” But instead of taking revenge on his nemesis, Batman offers to help Joker. Rehabilitate him. Turn him around.
Joker pauses before sadly saying that it is too late for that.
Joker then does what Joker will always do. He tells a joke. It is a silly joke with a corny punchline. Joker laughs.
Pause a beat.
Then the unexpected.
The laughter continued as the film cuts to credits.
It is a haunting, poignant laugh that lingers on for just a moment too long. It’s a laugh with a glossy veneer on the outside, but a pitch black center.
Batman and Joker are two different sides of the same coin. Both were born from tragedy. That tragedy produced a hero and a villain.
Or is it the other way around?