Laughter is the Best Medicine

Was the Killing Joke That Bad?

Hello, I’m the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it, so you don’t have to. A while ago I did an editorial about the death of the Joker, in which I referenced the comic book classic, The Killing Joke. This, not surprisingly, got people talking about 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 led to his return, it looked like the comic, it had an R-rating, all the pieces seemed to fit into place. But then following a disastrous preview, people suddenly turned. A scene of Batman and Batgirl doing each other started circulating, reviews were turning out very rotten, and what was originally the most anticipated animated DC release ever became the most dreaded. Thus, when it was released, almost inevitably, people hated it. What happened? Who thought these were good choices? Where’s the cinematic portrayal of the timeless classic we all know and love? 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 everybody says it is? Now some of you might be wondering, how the hell can I even ask that? Well, let me start off by saying, like many of you, I hated the first third. A pointless story involving Batgirl was thrown in that literally didn’t connect to any of the rest of The Killing Joke, outside of the fact that Batman and Batgirl were in it. And I mean, “in it.” The reasoning for this was, not only did the film need to be longer for a theatrical release – adapting the original comic would probably run about 46 minutes – but Batgirl in the Killing Joke comic gained controversy from leaning too much on the “Woman in the Fridge” trope, where a female character is killed or maimed just as a plot device. I guess it was done a lot at the time but, I don’t know, I think a lot of comic book characters would be grateful to have that treatment nowadays. Hell, even a few Robins I bet wish for that outcome. I can see where people are coming from, though, and the idea of giving Batgirl more to do didn’t seem like a bad one. Especially seeing how she did little in the original and making her role bigger would make her fall all the more tragic. Ironically, though, in trying to make her stronger, they actually made her weaker. By bat-bonking in what many consider an uncle-niece relationship, obsessing over said bonk by talking to her gay best friend – yeah, we’re doing that thing – and, like I mentioned, having no connection to The Killing Joke whatsoever. Even the dialogue seems jarringly different when the word-for-word text begins in the Killing Joke portion. Just compare them. Batman: I need to know that I’ve made a genuine attempt to talk things over, to try and avert the inevitable. Batgirl: It was just sex, for God’s sake! It doesn’t have to mean anything! It’s not like we have to care! I don’t care! The Joker: Somewhere dark and cold, filled with the damp, ambiguous shapes of things you’d rather forget. Paris Franz: Must be that time of the month. Batman: I don’t know what it was that bent your life out of shape, but maybe, I’ve been there too. Reese: And they say the gay scene is complicated. What? Two different people wrote these parts?
They blend so seamlessly together! To its credit, the first third is animated well, paced well, and acted well, but for many people there was no overcoming this distracting mess that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth through the rest of the actual Killing Joke portion. That’s a shame because when it actually gets to the Killing Joke part, it isn’t that bad. It’s actually incredibly faithful. It’s crazy how much they tried to get down the exact look and feel of the comic. It’s about as close an adaptation you can get to a panel by panel interpretation. In an online world that hates variations from the original source material, The Killing Joke, when it gets started, actually strays very little. Like the first third, the acting, animation, and pacing all seem on track. Except this time, it actually has good writing to back it up. It’s incredible to hear Mark Hamill do his Joker voice to this unbelievable dialogue. It’s so cool to see Kevin Conroy’s Batman talk about what could be the beginning of the end. I can’t help but wonder, if the first third of this movie never happened, would it have gotten all the hate that it got? After all, people still like Return the Jedi despite the Ewoks and a lot of repeats. People still went nuts for The Avengers despite the first third being pretty slow. And with Batgirl’s story having nothing to do with the Killing Joke portion, it’s really not that hard to block it from your mind. Again, even the dialogue shows there’s pretty much no connection in this world. I did an editorial about whether or not the ending can ruin an otherwise good film, and like many things it depends on the eye of the beholder. And for many people, the sins of the first third are so bad they can’t be removed from the final product; whenever they think of the animated Killing Joke they’ll always connect this first part. But let’s just try it. Let’s pretend the first third of this movie never happened, and The Killing Joke started when The Killing Joke starts and it’s only 45 minutes. How would it rate? Would it be seen as the masterpiece we were all hoping it to be? Well, if we want to be honest, there would still be a few problems. Ironically, its biggest strength, portraying the comic line by line, is also kind of its biggest weakness. Everything from the angles to the dialogue seem copied from the original perfectly, but there is one problem with that sentence: the word “copied.” 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 designs. At least with something like Sin City, which was also faithful almost panel to panel, they had a third dimension, which meant 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. But because both of these are drawn, and, to be fair, isn’t a ton of movement because they want 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 blanks about what kind of movement is taking place. It’s similar to how your mind fills in what a character looks like in a book just through the descriptions. In the 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 of the motion. 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 really 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 and not in a still image. And funny enough, if the same amount of attention went in to 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 reveal of the Joker. There’s other missing details too that would have helped make this more of a spectacle. Joker sees an image of a 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 can maybe show the picture transforming into his wife, or maybe the picture even comes to life starting the flashback, blending realities for him. The Joker says he remembers his past differently every time, almost like it’s multiple choice, so why not have him hold his drink up and through the reflection we see his old self at a bar talking to the gangsters? That wasn’t in the comic, but it would have helped give the film more of its own identity rather than just using the comic as storyboards. It’s kind of like when Mel Brooks did the Broadway version of The Producers and the Broadway version of Young Frankenstein. The Producers was based on the original story, but there were a lot of changes to it, making it enough of its own thing. 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’s already based on something else, is very important. There are one or two differences, though. 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, especially, again, in giving the film a little bit more of a unique energy. But it seems a little toned down. If the Joker is going to do a song and dance number, it’s going to be an amazing song a dance number. Joker: The Musical. Think about that. It would be mind-blowingly insane. But this is just him and his carnies walking back and forth and not much else. Again, if more time went into developing this instead of developing: And they say the gay scene is complicated. What? that.
This could have really stood out. 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. With a comic you have to keep things short and tight because you only have so many pages you can print and so many word bubbles you can fill. And truth be told, Killing Joke was probably pushing both of those already. But in a film that’s already short on time, fill it up. Maybe Batgirl could have been helping Batman find the Joker before she gets shot. Maybe the Joker could return to his empty home after he’s transformed. Maybe he can tear it apart or set it on fire or laugh. I don’t know. Maybe everybody could visually take in what’s being lost as opposed to just talking about it. Even the final scene, which people in the comic are still up in the air about whether or not Batman is placing his hands on the Joker’s chest laughing or strangling him to death. Granted, it’d be very tough to keep that open to interpretation in a movie, but it could be done. Have the Joker’s laughs spring louder when Batman puts his arms on him, and have the Joker sway back and forth in emotion where it can either be him laughing or being strangled. It’s tricky, but it could work. So much of this could have been downright brilliant. But for all the talk of me saying how much better it could be, 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 Killing Joke actually starts. It just sucked at it. However, when The Killing Joke started it did everything in its power to give us The Killing Joke. This both worked 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 new elements. Like I said, audiences can get very fickle when anything is changed from the original source material, and while the critiques I gave earlier definitely bother me, can we really be that angry at The Killing Joke for giving us The Killing Joke? It’s like if before Harry Potter there was a prologue on Ron Weasley’s backstory that was written horribly. And that would be weird and suck but Harry Potter fans would still get an obsessively faithful version of Harry Potter. Would that prologue be enough to throw the whole thing off or would they still be satisfied? Personally, I think when The Killing Joke part starts, it’s okay. It definitely raises the question of what adaptation 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 extra prologue attached. I know a lot of hard work goes into making any of these movies, and even though the mistakes of the prologue are pretty painful, it doesn’t necessarily mean it should erase what many would consider on its own an adequate representation. Amazing? No, but not awful either. Had the prologue not been there the reaction most likely would have ranged from good to okay, and not gotten nearly the backlash that it got. But many can’t separate the prologue, and I guess that’s kind of understandable too. 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 possibly may want to think about one more time. I’m the Nostalgia Critic.
I remember it so you don’t have to. [“The Review Must Go On”] [Channel Awesome outro]

100 thoughts on “Was the Killing Joke That Bad?

  1. So, what does everyone think about The Killing Joke? Good? Bad? Ok?

    Also, check out our store to grab some of our DVDs/signed autographed prints –

  2. Your discussion about the slight motion style animation is exactly my thought on South Park, Archer, Bob, any of those. The non-animation detracts from the final product.
    killing Joke was pretry good i thought, it seemed like when they did the Killing Joke at the end it felt like a fitting to the end of the two charactors.

  3. The best part was actually when the joker had Gordon throw the book at Batman. Mostly because the joker was 100% right. He exposed Gordon’s hypocrisy of dedicating his life to fighting crime when he is working with a criminal vigilante like Batman.

  4. Actually, the song was in the killing Joke, but because it was a comic, all we got were just the lyrics with no sense of melody and a few still images of the Joker dancing. They actually had to write a whole song sequence with the exact lyrics from the comic, which Hamill himself sung!

  5. Audiences getting angry over a prologue about Ron Weasley before the first Harry Potter movie would be the same as the Killing Joke because Harry Potter is based on a novel in a line up of seven that takes as long it wants that a film can only take a hour and a half to adapt while a prolongue wouldn't matter because it has nothing to do with it. This would be the same because the Killing Joke is 45 minute read of a comic book that adding a bad prologue would be enough to make people angry because it fills in the theatrical running time. So you're comparison doesn't work

  6. I understand the need for the first third, but they could've done something better than sexual tension between Batman and Batgirl. Also, I don't like how they made every Killing Joke scene basically pannel for pannel accurate. It was basically like the book being read to me with animations.

  7. Sees title What?! The Killing Joke was awesome! "The first third of the movie…" Oh… right… the first third…

  8. Honestly, if be perfectly happy if they made a live action version of Killing Joke. Not Snyder, not Burton, DEFINITELY not Schumacher. Someone else who has the same love for the comic that would also pan it out better as a film.

    Hell, Phoenix looks like he's gonna kill it as Joker. Maybe pin him to the script?

  9. They need to release it without the first third. The first third needs to be removed and locked away forever.

  10. In my opinion,the ending of the book was better BECAUSE it was a book,you didn't know of Batman was laughing or choking the joker…noww..well

  11. Joker's song sequence was ABSOLUTELY in the original. It was staged a little differently in the movie, and we saw it more from other points of view, but it was there.

  12. 5:06 callbacks:

    Laughing gas victims from The Dark Knight Returns Part 2,
    Joker's Smylex commercial in the Tim Burton Batman movie,
    Joker in his first appearance clown costume in the Adam West Batman show,
    Joker in the holding cell in The Dark Knight,
    Robin's body from A Death In The Family
    Joker and Harley, presumably from The Animated Series/The New Adventures of Batman and Robin,
    The Laughing Fish from The Animated Series,

    I'm stuck on the other three.

  13. The problem is that the animation looks too clean and 'straight to dvd'. Reading the comic is the better option.

  14. What annoys me is that Batman and Batgirl are a thing occasionally a thing in the comics and yet nobody freaks out about that so that REALLY annoys me so I don't really have a problem with the Batman and Batgirl thing because again it happens occasionally in the comics so yeah

  15. It's hard to rate the movie because the first half of the movie doesn't even feel connected to the second half. The first half is like bad fanfic but the second half is good

  16. If only the animator took their chance to stretch out their imagination and go crazy with it then this movie might turn insanely amazing…

  17. Did they copy the first thirty minutes of that batman beyond comic where batman got batgirl pregnant? Sure looks like it. Could have something that connect to the killing joke I mean it’s batgirl and it should be connected not some orihinal bs than do killing joke. That’s a mess

  18. One small nitpick: the Joker song actually was in the Killing Joke comic. Alan Moore was in a band and a songwriter as well and would occasionally use music in ironic ways in his books – such as the first sex scene in Watchmen which didn’t make it into the film. Other than that, you hit it right on the head. The Batgirl stuff doesn’t help the actual story, and if anything, it makes Batman’s motivation different as now she’s more than an old friend to him. And if you simply ignore that, it is just too close to the comic with animation that feels like superhero cartoons from ‘60s to ‘80s, where it was cheap and they tried to make it look as much like the comic as possible, but sacrificed actual animation to do so – making it more of a motion comic than an adaptation. The best way to watch this movie is to not watch it. Skip Batgirl section, pull out The Killing Joke (comic), and look at the sweet Bolland art while Conroy and Hamill deliver the iconic lines for you. It doesn’t particularly help the Killing Joke experience any, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the appeal to this cartoon was anything more than seeing the BTAS cast return to deliver some of the best Batman/Joker lines from the darkest Batman/Joker story

  19. Panel by panel adaptation? Sure, minus the color and the thought behind it, minus the props and visual metaphors that added to the theme about corruption, and minus the strenght behind all the facial expressions, layout and compositions (and no, its not a matter of detail, but actually capturing the base of images). Like the Ghost in the Shell, it is an adaptation that doesn't seem to get the original, and the first third is only the part where it is more aparent, but far from the only one.

  20. I haven’t seen the movie yet, can you tell me what time to start at too test the theory. Idk about the first part.

  21. When they finally did the Killing Joke part… it really was the Killing Joke. But they put stuff in they really shouldn’t.

  22. God I love the Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson joker easter egg on the 2nd and 4th image at 5:06. What a nice touch.

  23. The first part could've worked better with Harley (or a proto-Harley) as a foil to Barbra. Like, get (proto) Harley killed, have Barbra react to it and see why Joker AND Batman are bad influences. Then at the hospital scene, have Barbra comfort Batman by telling him that he is better than the Joker.

    While I'm at it…
    * Have Jim say "Hi" to Dent as they're walking past his cell.
    * Have the "WHY AREN"T YOU LAUGHING?" line like in the book to show some sympathy to the ol' clown prince of crime.
    * Make the Looney song gradually trippy looking.

  24. I watched killing joke and I liked prologue. I'm not into comics AT ALL and I don't know shit about it.
    Prologue gave me context about this exact universe movie places in, and then threw me into a main story. Yeah, it was clunky, like "hey, man, you shot my friend to disability, but haha, lets be friends, i like yr jokes", but its still pretty good for a comic book movie. Its not the greatest movie, and even not the greatest dc movie, and even not the greatest dc animated movie, but it's entertainning and it holds up it's story almost every time.

  25. They added that because it wouldn’t have been long enough to be considered a feature film. If you ask me, that’s a terrible excuse, they could’ve at least had better effects

  26. Well the issues I had with the Killing Joke Portion was taking out some important details, for example when Batman passes Two Face’s cell at Arkham you are supposed to see his two halves separated by the Bars, showing the Jekyll and Hyde part of Two Face As well as foreshadowing that Batman and Joker are two sides of the same coin. Also the “Why aren’t you laughing” Speech is very different in the book where he was more disappointed then angry, check out the video made by “jwhit3d” to see what I mean. Also some of the acting is bad like when the Joker is his past self, as well as Batman sometimes talking wooden. Not to mention that the animation budget clearly wasn’t that high.

    This film is an insult to the original book, and I don’t really care for the original book, but I clearly have more respect for the original book than Bruce Timm.

  27. Honestly, that third act with Barbara and Bruce bonking can go fall into a scolding hot fiery pit of lava.

  28. According to way too many clickbait channels, Batman strangling Joker isnt even a clever guess. Sigh. Thats the DCU audience.

  29. Honestly I still go back to the movie but skip the first part because I hate it the killing joke part is fucking brilliant though

  30. Unfortunately you can't separate the "additional" material from the story, as it becomes part of the story. Most of the voice over acting isn't great either. There is less facial expression in the rendering of the characters in the newer movies, even the voice inflexion is not even half as good as the casting choice for the Animated Series. Although if you don't think, it could get any worse, then watch Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) – the movie makes The Killing Joke look better by comparison. Batman: Hush wasn't horrible, nor was it great – but at least it wasn't so cringeworthy as the Harley Quinn movie. Jim Lee did a great job on the graphic novel art. It's too bad that they didn't choose to use him. Also the Catwoman and Lois Lane have older women's voices. Kevin Conroy's Batman seemed more multi-level, while the new Batman is very stiff, and lacking the depth of emotion that he was known to have.

  31. The thing about Killing joke is that It doesn't really hold up that well in the modern day,it was the same e dgelord nihilism that was prevalent in the 90s and 80s ,even Alan Moore himself says that it was nothing more than a shock value rather than a good story.

  32. If they needed another story for time, maybe they could have shown an origin story for batgirl. That would have established her character and showed the beginning of her hero career. Showing her origin and end would make the story come full circle, and imo make the end more tragic

  33. Before I watch the video let me say this…yes it was bad…personally I think the comic is overrated and kinda trash but the changes they made to it were not an improvement, giving the joker a pathetic and tragic backstory kinda destroys his unique identity, there's no mystery that requires detective work or action and there's not even any real drama.
    Not to mention the whole batman and bat girl fucking on a rooftop thing…well that garbage is for porn parodies…along side superman and wonder woman hooking up…seriously this kinda shit is for bad fan fiction and should be imposed on the actual characters or their continuity.

    The only interesting things about the original story were…
    1 that bat girl gets attacked and crippled not as a hero vigilante crime fighter in some epic battle…she doesn't put up a glorious fight, she isn't targeted because of her secret identity, she's just another random civilian victim, it's got nothing to do with the costume and she's just another countless casualty of the jokers antics.
    2 The implied ending that the joker "wins" and finally makes batman snap and kill him…yeah it's left ambiguous and they didn't have the balls to go all the way with it like in the dark knight returns…but it is there.

    Personally I don't know why they decided to make it canon and apart of the ridiculous ever on going and escalating continuity…because aside from it's "shock value" there's nothing really to the story.

  34. With the prolog being so unliked I wonder if some people didn’t turn it off before the killing joke really gets started

  35. I just skipped the first bit. They could've gone a few different directions, as you said.. but we asked for The Killing Joke, and we GOT The Killing Joke.

  36. Thought this guy to be an asshole but this might be the best interpretation of Comic to Tv review I've seen.

  37. As much as I LOVEEEEE Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy they were the wrong cast for this movie. Mark Hamill in particular misinterpreted so many of Joker's lines. Michael Emerson was probably the better choice for this type of story.

    The voice direction was off-point too. This amateur fan who did his Mark Hamill impersonation for the line reading way before Mark Hamill did captured the scene FAR better job of understanding the source material than Mark Hamill did 🙁 –

  38. I just skip the first half hour with Batgirl. It's better when you just watch the part that's ACTUALLY the Killing Joke.

  39. Damn it! People take movies too seriously. Movies are just background to me. The only thing that annoyed me about the movie was Joker's singing.

  40. Whilst I can see where you’re coming from critic, I disagree with one thing. The animation is not necessarily “a panel by panel copy” but more of a washed out copy. Lots of the colors, environments, shadows, and even imagery are gone or washed away. The artistic nature of the comic was stripped away from the audience thus not allowing us to think or go back to the movie to see things those may have never been able to understand upon a first viewing.

  41. While there were obvious issues with the first third, like Batman and Batgirl bat-bonking and the writing being so drastically different it is pretty painful, I still enjoyed it. While not the best animated Batman film, it isnt the worst one.

  42. It did but it didn't. Brian Bolland's art in the comic made ever single panel feel like a panel. The art style of the cartoon felt like any regular Justice League Unlimited episode. I definitely thing that had a hand in why it didn't translate as well.

  43. Just wish joker didnt smile after he shot her.

    That was such a mysterious choice in the comic and there are so many deliciously implied meanings that were possibly behind it.

  44. I can bear the first third for the brilliant remainder. There's certainly things that could be improved still. But I personally have just the movie version and discussion and clips of the comic to go on – I haven't gotten my hands on the full comic myself and don't have the dedicated connection, so I'm not starting out mad about any comparative shortcomings.

  45. I'm remembering the Superman vs. the Elite animated movie WB made, which was based on a fairly short story from the comics, shorter than even The Killing Joke. Like TKJ, that movie had to add more to stretch out its runtime or else the entire movie would likely only have been about 30 minutes long.

    But while it was overall faithful to the comic, unlike TKJ this movie can't be just be cut into two separate stories. The movie expanded on what the original comic contained, giving us more time to get to know the Elite and even having them and Superman working together and getting along for the most part. It added a villain to the story, Atomic Skull, so it could explore more whether superheroes should play judge, jury, and executioner and even showing how the average normal person in this world feels about Superman's idea of justice vs. the Elite's. And it all leads up to an climax overall very faithful to the original story.

    Even if you personally don't care for Superman vs. The Elite (it's one of my favorite DC animated movies, but to each their own) it was a good adaptation, holding true to the ideas, themes, and overall plot of the original comic but adding new content where it needed to, not only to make it feel like an actual movie but to also expand on what the original had.

  46. Barbara's whole storyline minus th only part she needed to be in needed to be its one episode or movie. This should have been just about Joker & Killing joke.

  47. Guess I’m the only person that loved the entire thing. But yeah the first part could have been a different move

  48. This is so accurate to the comic that I love it is so much better than the new 52 animated movie's let's be honest the new 52 movies cut Connors to make it easier on them

  49. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t say you want things to be faithful to the comics, but you also want them to be different. I loved this movie after the killing joke starts because it was pretty much exactly like the comic. I don’t like nor do I want a new take.

    If you do want a new take, and if you do want producers to be creative, you can’t complain when they aren’t faithful to the source material. It makes no sense to me.

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