Before I saw "The Killing Joke" (dished up now as an apparent "Suicide Squad" warm-up), I read it: that is, I purchased Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's '88 graphic novel. At the time, the publication was all the DC rage: a mere year before Tim Burton's "Batman", which incorporated the novel's concept of how the Joker biochemically came to be.
The novel is considered a classic. As such, it seems strange that it's taken this long for an adaptation (animated or otherwise) to reach film.
Nonetheless, the time has finally arrived, and as with the "Dark Knight Returns" two-part animated adaptation, the big question is, does "Killing Joke", the movie, live up to its comic-book foundation? I'm happy to report--heck, yes!!!
That the film, directed by Sam Liu and adapted by Brian Azzarello, adheres to the original source is to its advantage, though it also offers an affluence of additional footage: a sort of mini-film within itself, but that's all right. Once the story gets rolling (and alas, it does take a spell), it successfully sways between terror and poignancy, just as the original story does.
Beyond the spirited (and unique-to-the-film) Batgirl, prologue, we're finally introduced to the Joker, who's presented as an aspiring comedian, struggling to provide for his family, but turns to crime (of the Red Hood sort) to compensate for his monetary failures. However, just prior to his first, big job, he learns that his wife and unborn child were killed in a home mishap. Their deaths lead to his complete, mental breakdown and to supplement his psychological alteration, he falls into some toxic goo, and well, you know the skin-bleaching rest.
As in the novel, the movie focuses on Batman's intent to unravel his foe's origins. He visits Arkham to get the nitty-gritty (and to prevent the strong chance that one will likely kill the other someday). However, he finds a decoy in the Joker's place. Yes, the Clown Prince of Crime has escaped once again, with mayhem naturally ensuing, this time with Commissioner Gordon and his daughter, Barbara (Batgirl, of course) becoming casualties of his spree: the latter shot and the former placed in a carnival "arena", where the Joker intends to prove (primarily to Batman) how fast madness can consume one.
The novel concludes on a demented, but gleeful note, and the film mirrors this celebrated turn. The movie's style, however, is more in tune with the '90s Batman animated series: not religiously so, but close enough to appeal to those who've yearned for a return to that style of cartoonery. Also, from the '90s series, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are back as Batman and Joker respectively, which solidifies the tense, sentimental feel. (Ray Wise and Tara Strong also do a swell job vocalizing the Gordons.)
Gordon's sideshow-based torture is undoubtedly what earned "Killing Joke" a R-rating. Personally, though, I didn't find the intensity anymore over-the-top than in other "adult" oriented, DC animated features, but perhaps the extended, insinuated nudity is what confirmed this one's designation. All the same, sissified kids won't handle any of it very well, but I don't see it proposing a problem for those youngsters whose parents actually discuss such in-depth content with them. Heck, as hard-hitting as "Killing Joke" may be, it's still a worthy morality tale: more good for the soul than bad.
It's also a damn good character study and an appeasing escape after those "Son of Batman" in-fighting offerings. Sure, it's grim and borderline sadistic, but it's still traditional Batman, with the conflict flowing just the way it should for this particular hero and villain. No matter how one slices it, whether on the printed page or on the screen,"Killing Joke" hits the maniacal mark.