I was so excited to finally watch the movie adaptation of the popular comic The Killing Joke. I had heard there was an extra prologue with a story centered around Batgirl, one of my favorite female superheroes. However, as the film went on, I grew sad. I was sad that this strong female character had been reduced to nothing but a prop for the male heroes.
In the original comic, that was the only role she played. She was there to be shot by the Joker to further the torment of her father, Commissioner Gordon. The writers decided that wasn’t good enough for a character as popular as Barbara Gordon, so they added in the prologue. What they didn’t do, like they originally intended, was make her character into something other than a prop. The prologue actually perpetuates that idea.
In the first half of the movie, on the surface it appears Batgirl is the focus. However, even when it’s just her on the screen, Batman is the actual focus. She is constantly pining for his love, talking to her coworker about him, and eventually quitting fighting crime because Batman isn’t reciprocating her feelings. All this does is set up Bruce’s pain in the second half of the movie. Her love for him is what puts her in danger. He goes after the Joker in a more violent manner because of Barbara.
Barbara getting shot is not about her pain. It is not about her struggle at all It is about perpetuating the pain that both Batman and Commissioner Gordon feel. She is used, in a more extensive way than the comic, as a prop for their emotions. The film also supports the idea that strong female characters are only strong because of the men around them. She only fights crime because Batman does, and she’s in love with him.
Also, there’s an extremely unnecessary sex scene between Batgirl and Batman. He is seen in this film acting as a father figure or a mentor. He constantly tells her how to fight, who to fight, and what not to do. The writers stated that they saw him acting in a parental manner towards Batgirl. So why did he then have sex with her? It’s also extremely telling that she’s the one shown stripping down. The only skin shown is Barbara in her bra. And then when Batman doesn’t want to “date” her, or whatever you’d call it in the crime fighting world, she is seen spiraling out of control and acting recklessly.
And what was up with Batman explaining what objectifying women is? Or the awkward period comment made by the villain “Paris Franz”? This movie is trying so hard to scream, “look, we aren’t sexist!” when in reality it treats its only female characters as a prop. Batgirl is the embodiment of misogynistic tropes. The film repeatedly presses the idea that women are too emotional to be rational crime-fighters. Her love for Bruce gets in the way of her properly dealing with the bad people. And her weird attraction for the sexist bad guy is totally off key. She naively falls into his traps as if she’s a kid, when she clearly is not a teenager in this movie. Batgirls literally calls the villain’s stalking of her “cute” and “flattering”, in a way that is not sarcastic. My jaw dropped. She isn’t treated as a hero in this film at all—she’s treated as a victim. Also, she’s completely objectified. There are multiple close ups of her butt as she jogs, and her breasts as she fights crime.
Barbara was assaulted and abused simply because they wanted to further Batman’s story and give him emotional depth. During a panel at Comic-Con, Brian Azzarello, the screenwriter of The Killing Joke actually said, “She controls the men in her life in the story” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Initiating sex does not mean a woman controls the story. Batman controls her emotions and her crime-fighting and Joker controls her physical body when he cripples her and then sexually assaults her. Sex is definitely a way that women hold power in many films, but this is not one of them. The sex doesn’t come off as her acting empowered, it seems like it is pandering to the male gaze. And it honestly felt more like a fan-fiction that anything that would be written into the Batman Universe.
This film is an insult to everything the character of Batgirl represents, and I was incredibly upset by it. I’m tired of female characters in comic-books and their screen adaptations being there to simply serve as an object for male characters or readers.
Next time, don’t write about a strong female character if you know nothing about strong female characters. Batgirl deserved better.