A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Batman: The Killing Joke is an animated feature based on a 1988 graphic novel that is noted for its darkness and the fact that it included the origin story of the Joker, a failed comic whose life and sanity turned on a single day's catastrophic events. This R-rated, 2016 film is extremely violent and, though the violence is "drawn and painted," it's brutal and played for real. Action includes frequent gun battles, killings, bloody body parts, a scene in which a leading character is tortured, sexual intimidation, fierce hand-to-hand combat, explosions, and car crashes. In addition, (spoiler alert) a beloved heroic figure is shot and paralyzed, and there are clear references to the off-camera death of a young pregnant woman. In adapting the graphic novel, the writer has accentuated and expanded the sexual overtones: Batman and Batgirl have sex (the actual intercourse is implied and referred to rather than shown); Batgirl is the object of a sexual intimidation and stripped naked (nudity suggested rather than shown); Commissioner Gordon is forced to spend a good portion of the movie naked and in restraints. Some swearing is heard ("asshole," "sonofabitch," "hell," "pissed off," "holy Christ"). The many intense, frightening, and dark scenes, coupled with sexuality, coarse language, and an ambiguous resolution, make this unsuitable for kids.
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What's the story?
There are two distinct parts to BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE with a thin thread holding them together. Batgirl (the alter ego of Barbara Gordon, voiced expertly by Tara Strong) moves the story in the first section. In the midst of a rash of criminal activities with a sleazy gangster obsessing over and sexually menacing her, Batgirl does some obsessing herself. Caught between an escalating romantic crush on Batman (Kevin Conroy) and annoyed by his dismissive attitude of her abilities, Batgirl makes some risky choices. A sexual liaison between the two intensifies her conflicted feelings. Before anything can be resolved, however, the Joker (Mark Hamil), sets in motion a plot that may doom all of Gotham City. Spoiler alerts: In a bloodbath during which Batgirl is shockingly injured and her father, Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) taken hostage, the Joker reveals his intent to drive Gordon insane and lure Batman to destruction. The present-day story of the Joker's torturous abuse and intimidation of the police officer in a derelict Fun House, complete with freakishly tragic misfits on a rampage, is intercut with the story of the Joker's own plummet to insanity years earlier. It's a sordid tale in which a failed comic driven to crime to support his loving, pregnant wife falls victim to his lapsed sense of right and wrong and the malice of two small-time crooks. It's up to Batman to thwart the Joker's evil plan, save Commissioner Gordon, and avenge the tragic outcome of Batgirl's injuries.
Is it any good?
An overlong forced preface, extreme bloodthirsty sequences, as well a curious reliance on nakedness and the sexualizing of its iconic superheroes set this Batman adventure apart from the familiar. Adapted from an already dark but highly thought-of graphic novel also called Batman: The Killing Joke, the film takes some of what were thought to be mildly offensive themes and doubles down. Batgirl becomes a "flattered" sexual victim, the emotional casualty of a one-night stand with her mentor, and a martyr all in the first 20 minutes. The movie fares much better when the Joker's story amps up. The Joker's origin story, detailing the source of his insanity, comes directly from the novel and is well done. Performances are uniformly excellent; animation is first-rate. A final confrontation between Batman and the Joker will both surprise and perplex. So it's a mixed bag. With its dark underbelly and philosophical complexity, as well as its questionable sexual content, it's definitely for adults, both visually and thematically.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Batman: The Killing Joke. How did the depth of pain and suffering experienced by well-loved heroes raise the stakes and make the violence more personal and thus more affecting? What role did humiliation of the characters play in the story?
In film terms, what is a backstory? Now that you know the Joker's backstory, is the character more sympathetic? Is his behavior any less inexcusable? Given "a bad day" similar to the day that changed the Joker's life, how did Commissioner Gordon react differently?
Discuss the ending of the movie. Was it funny? Unsettling? Unexpected? What do you think the filmmakers wanted you to take away from the final confrontation between Batman and the Joker?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.