The Lego Ninjago Movie (Full Review)

Like most, I was skeptical when a movie franchise based off of LEGOs was announced. Then I saw the Lego Movie. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough to be seen as something more than a soulless cash grab. Lego Batman came along in 2016 and set the bar even higher with a witty and fun film for all ages. Now comes Lego Ninjago, a big screen version of the popular line of toys that also happens to be a TV show.

The_Lego_Ninjago_MovieTaking place on the island of Ninjago, this story revolves around six “ninjas” who use giant robots called Mechs to defend the city from the Evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Under the tutelage of ninja master Woo (Jackie Chan), the team consists of macho earth ninja Kai (Michael Pena), humanoid ice wielding robot Zane (Zach Woods), panicky lightning ninja Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), feisty water ninja Nya (Abbi Jacobson) and her obnoxious fire ninja brother Cole (Fred Armison). Leading the team is Lloyd (Dave Franco), a teenage outcast who lives with his mother (Olivia Munn) and just happens to be the son of their arch nemesis.

In many ways, this movie is the epitome of my fears when I first heard about the LEGO movie franchise. Kids who play with LEGOs have a ton of imagination, but that imagination can concoct a ton of random, scatter brained adventures that just don’t translate to a cohesive story. The father/son dynamic between Garmadon and Lloyd that dominates most of the narrative is fine, but all of the sequences that surround them are noisily uncoordinated. From the goofy start, the action in the movie moves like it’s being made up as it goes along. And that may be fine for children, but it’s just annoying to anyone who stopped playing with LEGOs years ago.

There’s no point in most of the characters even being ninjas, as they’re more like members of Voltron or Captain Planet’s Planateers than Power Rangers. Many of the jokes are forced too, with the few comedic moments coming from the villain. By the end, if you haven’t gotten bored, you’ll just be hoping that the creators of this mess can scale it back a bit for the next installment.

FINAL GRADE: D

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The Emoji Movie (Full Review)

Pixar kind of already did this before. In fact, between talking toys and cars, the animated film giant has cornered the market on turning odd concepts into critically acclaimed, box office gold. So it was only a matter of time before someone tried to replicate the formula. Enter Sony Animations’ The Emoji Movie, an obscure idea to turn phone emojis into a kid friendly comedy.

The_Emoji_Movie_film_posterT.J. Miller stars as Gene, a ‘meh’ emoticon who hopes to follow in his parents lethargic footsteps (Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge) and present the perfect ‘meh’ face when called upon via text by his teenage user. When Gene crumbles under the pressure, the ‘Smiley’ emoji (Maya Rudolph) sends a horde of robots to take him out before the entire phone is deleted. Gene’s only help is to journey with the forgotten ‘Hi-5’ emoji (James Corden) and a mysterious hacker emoji (Anna Faris) to ‘The Cloud’ where he can be reprogrammed as the perfect ‘meh’.

Filled with enough bad puns to make a 90’s action movie director cringe, The Emoji Movie is relatively short on laughs. James Corden and Patrick Stewart’s ‘Poop’ Emoji provide a few snickers here and there, but not enough to overtake a horde of eye rolls that will undoubtedly accompany most of the people old enough to understand the film’s jokes. When it isn’t failing at puns and sight gags, the movie is trying its best to make social commentary that also feels redundant.

From the start of this predictable narrative, the film’s premise is hard to get behind. The characters that aren’t bland, like Miller’s Gene who is completely void of comedic wit, are just flat out annoying like Rudolph’s insufferable villain. Even the message, “Be Yourself”, feels wholly played out in a children’s film, so Emoji Movie never manages to stand out as something more than a weak copy cat of something we’ve seen done with more originality. Director Tony Leondis deserves credit for some solid visuals and at least making an attempt to be endearing, but by the time the credits role it’s hard to feel any emotion about The Emoji Movie other than… ‘meh’.

FINAL GRADE: D

Despicable Me 3 (Full Review)

Pixar and Dreamworks aren’t the only ones who can make great animated films. When Despicable Me first arrived in 2010, it became a surprise hit thanks to its endearing family story that molded seamlessly with a brand of Looney Tunes-like slapstick humor. But after a solid 2013 follow up film, the animators at Illumination tested their luck by making a Minions spinoff that fell flat. With Despicable Me 3, there is a need to rekindle the old magic to avoid the franchise from becoming stale.

Despicable_Me_3_(2017)_Teaser_PosterDespicable Me 3 picks up where Part 2 left off. Former supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) continues to raise his three adopted girls Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Nev Scharrel), and Edith (Dana Gaier) while serving as a secret agent with his new wife Lucy (Kristin Wiig). After failing to capture an 80’s obsessed former child star turned supervillain (Trey Parker), Gru and Lucy lose their jobs as agents and are forced to seek refuge with Gru’s long lost wannabe villain twin brother, Dru.

If Minions almost made you forget just how great the Despicable Me stories are, Despicable Me 3 thankfully has several moments that are a pleasant reminder. The family dynamic is once again wonderfully charming and the laughs are plentiful. The biggest flaw is in the addition of the wholly unnecessary and often annoying character of Dru, but by the end even he manages to fit into the dynamic without feeling out of place. As for the minions, they are thankfully back where they belong as the comedic sideshow where most of them are involved in a plot that requires them to break out of prison.

Like the villains in the previous films, Trey Parker’s Balthazar Bratt is meant to be less of an in depth character and more of just a comedic caricature. And what a caricature he is. Dancing to Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ while doing the “running man”, the character provides some good laughs even if you could care less about why he exists. Despicable Me 3, unlike the Minions spinoff, has a better understanding of what works best in the franchise and even if the story isn’t quite as memorable as parts 1 and 2, it manages to still be a wholesome and funny family adventure.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Worthy of a Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

 

 

Cars 3 (Full Review)

Cars has always been the black sheep of the Disney Pixar family. The first film is pretty good, but its unwarranted sequel is the only purely bad film in the studio’s illustrious gallery. And yet, thanks to the magic of merchandising revenue, the sequel no one liked has begat the sequel no one asked for in Cars 3.

Cars_3_posterOwen Wilson returns to voice Lightning McQueen, the famed champion of racing in this world where vehicles replace people as living beings. When a sleeker, more dominant young racer named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) threatens to force him into retirement, McQueen decides to work with a spunky young trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) in hopes of proving that his best days aren’t behind him. Larry the Cable Guy reprises his role as McQueen’s best friend Mater and Bonny Hunt returns as McQueen’s girlfriend Sally.

Cars 3 is as wholesome as ever, for better and worse. ‘G’ rated films have become increasingly rare, as more and more animated family films try to keep things as interesting as possible for older audiences while still remaining kid friendly. Thus, Cars 3 feels like the Nick Jr. to the rest of the animated world’s Nickelodeon. The jokes are pretty simple which makes things delightful enough to warrant a smile but never anything heavier than that. The story might also fail to interest any non-toddler as it lulls in the middle before finally becoming exciting in its final act.

While it is by no means on par with any of Pixar’s masterpieces, Cars 3 does deserve points for being far more necessary than its predecessor. It is undoubtedly a fun film for youngsters, even if their parents might dose off once or twice. And if you are a childless adult who scoffs at the idea that Pixar movies are only for kids, I suggest you pass on Cars 3.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

 

Redbox Reviews: Kubo & The Two Strings

Laika has quickly become a studio known for sensational filmmaking. Paranorman was one of my favorite films of 2012, and even though their last film, Box Trolls wasn’t as strong of a story, it still managed to dazzle with its unique animation and generally charming message. Their newest film, Kubo and the Two Strings, feels like an old bedtime story with all of the magic, mysticism, and heart that make old legends so entertaining.

kubo_and_the_two_strings_posterLike all of Laika’s films, Kubo and the Two Strings is a stop motion animated film. It tells the story of Kubo (Art Parkinson), a boy who lost his eye when his mother escaped with him after her magical father (Ralph Fiennes) and sisters kill her husband. When Kubo’s magical twin aunts (Rooney Mara) track him down, the boy must journey with his talking monkey guardian (Charlize Theron) and an amnesiac beetle samurai (Matthew McConaughey) to find the only thing that can protect him: his father’s legendary armor.

As mentioned, all of Laika’s film are gorgeously animated. Knowing the meticulous nature with which these films are made only adds to the splendor. But even if it didn’t look incredible to the eyes this film would still be a triumph. The story is filled with wondrous adventure and incredible action sequences that never slow. And at the heart of it all are some of the most endearing characters in any animated film. Monkey is a harsh, but caring mother figure and Beetle is a bumbling but brave sidekick. Even a mute, magical origami samurai that guides Kubo provides a touch of comic relief and a dash of nobility.

With memorable characters, great animation, soothing music, and a captivating story that is great for all ages (although perhaps a bit frightening for the youngest viewers), there is nothing to dislike about Kubo and the Two Strings. It is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2016, and if you failed to catch it in theaters as I did, then you should rush to your nearest redbox if you’re a fan of any period adventure film.

FINAL GRADE: A

The Lego Batman Movie (Full Review)

In case you were unaware, I love Batman. And like most Batman purists, I find enjoyment with every iteration of the character, from the campiness of Adam West’s 1960’s version and the 90’s Joel Schumacher films to the darker Christopher Nolan trilogy and the critically acclaimed animated series. A spinoff of the Lego Movie, Lego Batman combines all of the different incarnations into a fun, family friendly story about a brash, brooding hero whose greatest fear is being part of a family again.

the_lego_batman_movie_promotionalposterWill Arnett returns as the voice of Lego Batman/Bruce Wayne, a talented but arrogant hero whose prideful life as a loner is turned on its head when new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) starts to steal his thunder. While the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) plans a scheme to take over Gotham City and prove to Batman that he is his one true arch nemesis, the Dark Knight struggles to share his mansion and crime fighting lifestyle with his butler, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and his adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) who is both skilled and overtly dorky.

Like The Lego Movie, this film is filled with sight gags and enough puns to play a drinking game to if you’re my age. Hilarious easter eggs that hearken back to all of the different incarnations of Batman are enough to please fans while the goofy tone and wholesome message are perfect for families with young children. Each character plays a fun role and the growth experienced by the titular character is arguably the most nuanced of any Batman character on film to date.

The animated film genre has long been one that works best when a film can entertain children and adults alike. Lego Batman manages to encapsulate old fans and young ones with a film that mixes the quirkiness of legos and the action of a comic book film. With loads of cameos and jokes for all ages, Lego Batman is proof that the Dark Knight doesn’t always have to be dark to be entertaining.

FINAL GRADE: A

Sing (Full Review)

It’s been quite the year for animated movies. Disney set the bar high with three fantastic films in Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Moana. But Illumination (the folks behind the Despicable Me franchise) showed that they could create a fun film without minions with this summer’s Secret Life of Pets. Now they close out the year with Sing, an exciting concept aided by a stellar voice cast.

sing_2016_film_posterSing is the simple story of Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a down on his luck koala bear whose rundown theater is about to be taken due to bankruptcy. His last ditch effort is to have a singing competition with a collection of vocally talented locals. There’s Johnny (Taron Egerton), the gorilla son of an unsupportive gangster father, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) a stressed pig housewife with 25 kids, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a teenage porcupine who is chosen for the competition over her jealous guitar playing boyfriend, Mike (Seth McFarlane) a rude crooning street rat, Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with a massive case of stage fright, and a confidently flamboyant German pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll). With a talented group, Buster is poised to prove his sheep best friend (John C. Reilly) wrong, if only his elderly iguana secretary (Garth Jennings) hadn’t accidentally put a $100,000 reward on the audition flyers.

The movie breaks no new narrative ground, but that isn’t the purpose of Sing. Instead, it’s a thoroughly wonderful experience because of the different characters and their arcs. They are all interesting, funny, and loveable. And the music is sensational. If you aren’t familiar with the vocal splendor of Tori Kelly, then you’ll be in for a marvelous surprise. Her voice is angelic and her shy, wholesome character is the heart and soul of a film filled with soulful characters.

The holidays should be about family and fun, and for that reason Sing manages to be a triumph without any fresh twists or turns. It delivers what it promises and gives some hefty laughs and heartwarming moments along the way. So while it might not be Academy award worthy, anyone who comes out of Sing without a smile on their face went in for the wrong reasons.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Holiday Quick Reviews

trolls_film_logoTROLLS One of the most popular children’s toys of the 90’s becomes a kids movie, ‘cause why not? Anna Kendrick stars as Poppie, princess of the happy-go lucky singing trolls who must team up with surly troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) to rescue her friends from big goblins who believe that eating the trolls are the only way to be happy. The movie is filled with covers of popular songs and a message about true happiness being something that comes from within not from what you put into your body or what you materially gain.

Filled with bright colors and enough pep to make even the most whimsical person gag a little, Trolls can be a bit much to any viewer over the age of five. Most of it I found downright annoying (the Trolls literally hug every hour). The plot, which feels almost exactly like the Smurfs, doesn’t take very many risks and none of the supporting characters do anything of significance. So while it may be a movie to take your kids to, if you don’t have any little ones, you might want to pass. FINAL GRADE: C

allied_filmALLIED Brad Pitt stars as Max, a Canadian spy who infiltrates Casablanca with a French spy (Marian Cotillard) named Marianne on a mission to assassinate a Nazi general. While posing as husband and wife, the two fall in love and once their mission is over, they marry in London and give birth to a baby girl in the midst of World War II. A year later, Max’s superiors suspect that his wife is actually a German spy and give him orders to kill her if their suspicions turn out to be true.

The film is intriguing throughout and carries a mysterious tone that makes it a worthy thriller. The problems stem from the relationship between Pitt and Cotillard’s characters. The two are great actors with solid chemistry, but the romance never truly has time to develop. Everything seems rushed in the beginning so it takes Pitt’s amicably desperate performance to even make us care whether Marianne lives or dies. Things wrap up well in the climax, but a better conceived construction of the romance would’ve made the film stand out much more. FINAL GRADE: B

nocturnal_animals_posterNOCTURNAL ANIMALS This dark and gritty film stars Amy Adams as Susan Morrow, an art gallery owner who’s marriage to a wealthy businessman (Armie Hammer) is slowly fading. One day, Susan receives an early copy of her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal)’s novel, Nocturnal Animals. In the story within a story, a husband (Gyllenhaal) on a road trip encounters thugs (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who kidnap his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter, forcing him to get the help of a local sheriff (Michael Shannon) to find them. As Susan reads the violently grim story, she begins to notice the undertones that hearken to her past relationship.

There’s a way to be poignant and powerful without being overtly graphic. And here, director Tom Ford (yes the fashion designer) doesn’t seem to know whether he’s making a drama, a thriller, or a horror film. The overall narrative is void of subtlety and he seems hell bent on beating you over the head with blunt imagery that horrifies more than intrigues culminating in an equally depressing, albeit fitting, climax. The performances are strong, and sure, not all movie need to have a happy message, but watching a film should never feel as uncomfortable as it does here. FINAL GRADE: C-

office_christmas_partyOFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY It isn’t the holidays without a Rated-R holiday comedy. This year’s designated film in the genre unites an all-star cast  (Jenifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon, T.J. Miller, and Courtney B. Vance) in an outrageous twist on a holiday tradition. In the film, a failing software company seeks to avoid the closing of their branch by wooing a high end client with a Project X style party in their New York office building.

But, this isn’t remotely as charismatic or fun as Project X. None of the characters seem to have chemistry and most of them aren’t effective in this style of comedy. The ones that are (specifically Miller and McKinnon) seem bogged down by a script that doesn’t know how to flesh out characters. Even the party scenes that are supposed to be hilarious, seem recycled or forced. Last year’s The Night Before was a goofy, but fun romp that gave each of it’s leads time to be funny in their own way, but Office Christmas Party seems to inefficiently operate with the idea that loud and outrageous always equals funny. It doesn’t. FINAL GRADE: D

10 Must-Watch Batman Films

In honor of the release of Batman: The Killing Joke, and also in honor of my excitement for Suicide Squad and love for Batman in general, I’ve compiled a list of ten exceptional animated Batman films to check out if you haven’t seen them already. No hero has been put on the big screen as often as Batman and yet, some of the hero’s greatest adventures on film are ones that aren’t live action. So here is a list of movies to indulge in if you are a new or casual fan of the Dark Knight.

 

10. Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)

Set in the same universe as Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, this movie is actually a set of short films created by the minds behind the Animatrix. While every story isn’t great, each one is done in a beautifully unique style of Japanese animation.gotham knight

Best Moment: It’s hard to choose which short film is the best, but the opening act is a fun story involving a set of teenagers who encounter the Batman and each have a very wrong, but very interesting take on what the hero is like.

9. Justice League Doom (2012)

The plot centers around immortal villain Vandal Savage, who with the help of some of the Justice League’s arch nemeses, breaks into the Batcave and steals Batman’s secret files on how to defeat each member of the League should they ever go rogue. While it isn’t a Batman movie per se, Justice League Doom highlights Batman’s relatively tumultuous relationship with the rest of the Justice League (Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, The Flash, and Cyborg).Justice_League_Doom_BD_1_1330426979

Best Moments: At the film’s conclusion, the Justice League meets to vote whether Batman deserves to stay a member. Before anyone can even cast a vote, the unapologetic Dark Knight voluntarily resigns.

8. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

I was a quasi fan of the animated series Batman Beyond. The show was weighed down by new Batman Terry McGinnes’ mediocre turn as the Dark Knight. But this film finally highlights the unique character while also bringing back Mark Hamill’s iconic Joker from the 1990’s animated series. With a bit of a mystery that also features flashbacks to the old animated series, this dark story is captivating even if you were never a fan of Batman Beyond.

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Best Moment: New Gotham commissioner and former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, reluctantly tells Terry about the dark night (no pun intended) when Tim Drake/Robin was kidnapped and tortured by the Joker and Harley Quinn.

7. Batman: Assault on Arkahm (2014)

Not so much a Batman film as it is an animated Suicide Squad movie, this film features the team of villains (including soon to be household names Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and Captain Boomerang) as they break into Arkham Asylum, under the direction of shady government agent Amanda Waller, to recover an item stolen by The Riddler. Meanwhile Batman searches for a bomb placed somewhere in Gotham by the Joker. If you want a taste of the Suicide Squad, and are a fan of the Arkham Asylum video games, then this movie is perfect for you.

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Best Moment: Brief Suicide Squad member KG Beast tests Amanda Waller’s patience after she tells them that she’ll kill them if they disobey. There are so many to choose from, but this one is certainly the funniest.

6. Son of Batman (2014)

The first film to introduce Damien Wayne, the son of Batman and grandson to villain Ra’s Al Guhl. Batman takes his vengeful and violent estranged son under his wing as Robin and attempts to track down the assassin Deathstroke. Damien is a great character and the element of Bruce Wayne having a dangerous offspring to mold into a hero drives this fantastic story.

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Best Moment: Damien goes on his vengeful quest to kill Deathstroke despite his father’s wishes, only to be interrupted by Nightwing, Batman’s first sidekick.

5. Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998)

An offshoot of Batman: The Animated Series, this movie is what Joel Schumacher’s panned Batman & Robin movie should’ve been. Telling the tragic story of Victor Fries, this well animated film features Batman and Robin’s emotional mission to rescue Batgirl as Mr. Freeze prepares to kill her in hopes of reviving his terminally ill wife.

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Best Moment: Dick Grayson/Robin pursues Mr. Freeze on a high speed chase after he kidnaps his girlfriend Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.

4. Batman vs. Robin (2015)

The movie introduces the Court of Owls, a deadly ancient society of rich Gotham elites (and the best thing to come from DC Comics’ New 52), as their lead assassin Talon, attempts to sway Damien to leave Batman and join them.  A direct sequel to Son of Batman, this movie continues the development of the captivating, morally ambiguous Damien Wayne character.

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Best Moment: Refusing to condemn Talon, young Damien Wayne goes toe to toe with his father. The exceptional fight scene highlights both Damien’s superior raw talent and Batman’s incredible intelligence and experience. It’s a young Lebron James vs. a 38 year old Michael Jordan if the two were animated vigilantes.

3. The Dark Knight Returns (2013)

This one is a little lengthy and is actually split into two DVD’s, but it brings Frank Miller’s iconic graphic novel to life like no other. An old, rusty Batman comes out of retirement to battle the Joker and a new gang that is taking over Gotham. When his antics get out of hand, the President of the United States sends Superman to shut him down. If you’re wondering where Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice got the inspiration to pit the two iconic heroes against each other, it’s right here. The movie also features Carrie Kelly, the first female Robin.

Batman-vs.-Superman-in-Batman-The-Dark-Knight-Returns-Part-2

Best Moment: With an armored suit, a carefully crafted dose of Kryptonite, and a little help from Green Arrow and Robin, Batman goes up against The Man of Steel in a much better skirmish than what we got earlier this year.

2. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

The first theatrical animated film featuring the minds behind Batman: The Animated Series is a beauty. Form it’s animation to its writing, it features everything there is to love about the character and his world. When the mysterious Phantasm begins killing off mobsters, the Joker is hired to kill off this new masked vigilante. Batman must stop both of them, while also coming to terms with the return of his ex-fiancé, a woman he actually intended on giving up crime fighting to marry.

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Best Moment: The day after proposing to Andrea Bouemont, Bruce Wayne receives a letter from her, breaking off their engagement. Heartbroken and with nothing else to keep him happy, Bruce Wayne officially becomes the Batman.

1. Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

The movie tells the story of Jason Todd, the second Robin, who is kidnapped and murdered by The Joker. After mysteriously returning from the grave, Todd returns as the vigilante Red Hood and goes on a murderous path that brings him to blows with his old mentor. Mask of the Phantasm could easily be #1, but after careful contemplation, no animated Batman film is filled with as much action and emotion as this one. John Dimaggio channels his inner Heath Ledger as The Joker, and the film features a fun dynamic between Batman and his first partner, Nightwing, voiced perfectly by Neil Patrick Harris.

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Best Moment: The climactic fight between Batman and his old partner that culminates in Jason Todd finally breaking down about why he resents, but still loves his old mentor.

 

Honorable Mention: Batman/Superman: World’s Finest (1997), Batman: Mystery of The Batwoman (2003), Batman: Bad Blood (2016), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Batman: The Killing Joke (Full Review)

There are hordes of people who love Michael Keaton’s Batman movies or Nolan and Bale’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but not as many are aware that some of the best Batman films (Mask of the Phantasm, Under the Red Hood) have been animated ones. I fancy myself a Batman connoisseur. And when it comes to animated films about the caped crusader, there are few I don’t own and even fewer I haven’t seen. So when I heard that Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel The Killing Joke was being adapted for an animated film, I immediately prepared my blank check. The excitement only grew when it was announced that the film would be DC Comics’ first ‘R’ rated animated feature.

Batman-The_Killing_Joke_(film)The Killing Joke, is a controversial classic for numerous reasons, but mainly because of the “definitive” back story it gives to Batman’s sadistic arch nemesis, The Joker. This animated version reunites the iconic voices of Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (Joker) who worked together for over a decade on the Emmy Award winning Batman: The Animated Series as well as the popular Arkham video games. Tara Strong also heads the cast as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.

The plot to this animated feature is split into two parts. The first (not included in the original graphic novel) follows Batgirl as she tries to prove herself to Batman and take down a mobster’s nephew  (Maury Sterling). The second half features the Joker as he injures Batgirl and kidnaps her father, Commissioner James Gordon (Ray Wise). His twisted goal is to torture the Commissioner and prove to Batman that one tumultuous day can turn even the nicest people into maniacs like him.

All of the great philosophical questions about the sanity of both Batman and the Joker remain from the graphic novel and if you’re a fan of the Dark Knight, then it’s hard not to find some enjoyment in anything where those characters are done justice. That being said, it’ll be hard for casual fans and purists not to consider this Killing Joke film to be a bit of a disappointment. There are several reasons why.

The first, and most glaring, is its hardly relevant first half. A film about the Joker and named after the Joker should probably not go roughly half of its runtime without the character even being mentioned. And sure, the original graphic novel alone would hardly span the course of a feature length film, but instead of making the first half of the film a Batgirl mini-movie (that also makes the character seem juvenile), why not expand upon the flashbacks about the Joker’s supposed past? Limiting the actual Killing Joke portion of The Killing Joke to what was originally on the page just makes those elements feel rushed.

Then there’s the fact that this movie is supposed to be Rated ‘R’ and yet characters repeatedly say watered down swear words like “F’ing” instead of using actual profanity. This is especially unusual because other profane words that would be okay in a PG-13 movie are used several times. That might be a small gripe to some, but don’t promote something to be hardcore if it isn’t. Take away a few scenes with point blank gun shots to the head and one inference of rape and the movie could easily have been PG-13. In fact, if you’ve seen the PG-13 rated Batman: Assault on Arkham (a fun animated film about the Suicide Squad), you’ll notice that it is barely less extreme than Killing Joke.

The animation, while fine, only does Brian Bolland’s original artwork justice in spurts. The ending may also be anticlimactic and unsatisfying, but anyone who’s read the graphic novel knows what to expect. At the end of the day, I’ll add The Killing Joke to my collection and it’s certainly worth a watch for casual Bat fans. But if you were one of the people who paid more than the normal price of admission to try and catch the film on the big screen… sorry if it didn’t live up to the hype.

FINAL GRADE: C+