Batman: The Killing Joke

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Batman: The Killing Joke Movie Poster Image
Intense, extremely violent, and sexual superhero tale.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 76 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 15 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 18 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Good people must challenge evil despite the consequences. Not all humans can be corrupted; truly tragic and/or devastating experiences can be overcome. At least some evil originates from small missteps that spiral out of control.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Commissioner Gordon retains his humanity and moral compass despite overwhelming challenges. Batman, while acknowledging a darker side to his complex character, continues to fight for good. A backstory is given to partially explain the source of the Joker's insanity; the character embodies evil with some self-awareness; his worldview is relentlessly bleak. An offensively stereotyped gay man appears in several scenes.

Violence

Animated, but with graphic violence and frightening visual images throughout. Many characters are shot at point-blank range, bleed, die. Extensive gunfire with an assortment of high-powered weapons. Brutal hand-to-hand combat and some torture. Car chases, crashes, mayhem in the streets. A leading character is shot, permanently paralyzed. Brightly lit, fast-paced scenes in an amusement park are violent and ghoulish, include savage fighting, injuries, and death. Batman, Batgirl, and Commissioner Gordon are in extreme peril in numerous scenes. A sexual predator menaces Batgirl; there's an attempted sexual assault; characters are stripped naked.

Sex

In a departure from other Batman stories, this one sexualizes both Batman and Batgirl. The two characters have a sexual encounter on a rooftop: passionate kissing, Batgirl starts to undress, scene ends as intercourse is implied, then it's acknowledged in dialogue later. Batgirl is harassed and stalked by a villain, briefly appears to flirt back. Two violent assaults on leading characters in which both are stripped naked and that nakedness is exploited. 

Language

Occasional swearing: "hell," "ass," "bitch," "Jesus," "asshole," "pissed," "good in the sack," "goddammit," "holy Christ."

Consumerism

Another entry in the Warner Bros./DC Comic franchise.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Occasional drinking.

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMarvelFanParent August 4, 2016

An excellent graphic novel turned into a decent animated film.

3.5/5 stars If you're reading this, I'm sure you already are aware of the plot, so I'll spare you the gory details, and cut right into the conte... Continue reading
Adult Written byStevie111 August 5, 2016

Disappointing Adaptation of decent graphic novel

I didn't care for The Killing Joke as a movie. I think they added too much at the beginning and I didn't like the way the characters were portrayed. I... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byDC5906 April 28, 2017

Movie Based on Graphic Novel is outstanding

Violence 4.5/5 - Sex 3.5/5 - Language 3/5
Teen, 13 years old Written byMLPFan2 April 23, 2017

Kids shouldn't watch

Parents need to know that this movie contains some sexual stuff like Batman has sex with Batgirl and lots of violent scenes. It also contains some swearing, but... Continue reading

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?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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