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Batman: Under the Red Hood

Posted by Luke Brown On July - 26 - 2010

I’ll admit that when Warner Bros. announced Batman: Under the Red Hood as their eighth direct-to-DVD feature, I was a little disappointed. The story of how Jason Todd returned from the dead seemed a bit too convoluted and complicated for a seventy minute movie, and there were easily a dozen other comic storylines I’d like to have seen adapted for film first. After the brilliant Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Warner had a lot to live up to with their next title, no matter what it was. Though Under the Red Hood doesn’t quite live up to the high standard of Crisis on Two Earths, it’s actually pretty enjoyable, and is one of the more action-packed animated movies DC and Warner have released.

Way back in the glory days of 1988, fans voted for the Joker to kill Jason Todd, the then current Robin, by calling into a 900 number DC created to give readers a say in what happened during the monumental “A Death in the Family” storyline. Batman was of course devastated, and since that day has had a Robin suit hanging in the Batcave in memoriam. In 2005, Todd was resurrected by time shockwaves created as the result of Superboy-Prime punching the walls of his inter-dimensional home. Jason returned to Gotham a changed man, obsessed with finding out how Batman could possibly have let the Joker live after what he did. Taking up the moniker of one of Batman’s first villains, the Red Hood, who would later go on to become the Joker, Todd brought a war to Gotham in the hopes of drawing out the Joker so he could finally finish him off for good. Even though that’s just the extremely short version, it’s still a bit… complicated. Trying to condense years of continuity into just over an hour could have resulted in one messy movie. Surprisingly, Winick does a great job adapting his own comic script into a film that though a bit heavy on continuity, is easy to follow.

The first step in making Under the Red Hood‘s story more accessible to the general non-comic reading public is ditching the whole Superboy-Prime time punch angle, and instead opting for a more traditional (at least in the Batman universe) resurrection courtesy of Ra’s Al Ghul’s Lazarus pit. You see, the Joker still kills Jason Todd, though the violence is awkwardly toned. Joker mercilessly beats Todd with a crowbar, yet there’s nothing wrong with his face save a few scratches. I’m not asking for gallons of blood pouring from gashes across the boy’s face, but this strange double-standard the DC animated features have with portraying violence continues here to odd effect. It actually takes you out of the moment for a second, but you’re reeled back in the moment a bomb goes off, blowing the building up, and leaving Todd dead and buried in the smoldering ruins. Flash forward a few years, and suddenly a new Red Hood is popping up in Gotham, challenging current big crime boss Black Mask for territory. None too happy with gang violence of any kind, Batman teams with Nightwing to investigate this new Red Hood. As the mystery deepens, Batman’s findings lead him down a path that leads to only one answer: the Red Hood is Jason Todd. The final act brings the Joker, Batman, and Todd together again in an appropriately intense conflict, and it does a great job bringing everything that has happened full circle.

The characters are brought to life wonderfully by one of the best ensemble casts Andrea Romano has ever put together. Bruce Greenwood’s Batman is intense and driven, but he’s also introspective and mournful. Greenwood’s able to bring the father figure in Batman out with ease, and though we don’t get to see much of Bruce Wayne in this movie, Greenwood’s able to present the duality of the character very well. Jensen Ackles does solid work as Jason Todd. It’s got to be tough trying to emote when your character spends 90% of the film behind a full face mask, but Ackles somehow finds a way to get all of Todd’s rage, passion, and regret through to the viewer. I’d love to spend more time talking about Neil Patrick Harris’ Nightwing, but he’s in and out of the movie so fast, you don’t ever get a chance to enjoy him. That said, he steals every second of the brief amount of screen time he’s given. Jason Issac’s Ra’s Al Ghul is appropriately regal, but as good as everyone else is, John DiMaggio really brings it. I love Mark Hamill’s Joker. For the rest of time, his will be the voice that I hear when I’m reading the Joker’s dialogue in a comic book. In this film though, DiMaggio is able to make the Joker his own, and he’s darker and more twisted than ever before in an animated story. You really believe that DiMaggio’s Joker would kill, which was always a trait missing from other voice actors. Even Hamill at his psychotic best never made me believe for one second the Joker was going to kill someone, and that’s a testament to both DiMaggio’s performance and Romano’s direction.

What really stands out in this picture though, are the incredible action sequences. Since Todd was trained by Batman, he’s got virtually the same skill set, which makes for some pretty intense fights that feel like they belong in a Bourne movie. And that’s a good thing. Too often, Batman’s enemies are either untrained crazed thugs or madmen more focused on killing then they are technique. When going up against one another, Red Hood and Batman are almost equally matched, and by the third counter attack, you’ve really lost track of who’s actually winning the fight. The animation in these sequences is spot on, never moving too fast for you to see what’s happening, while at the same time showcasing rapid-fire moves that would make real fight choreographers jealous. None of the characters in this movie actually have any real superpowers, and it’s refreshing to see an honest approach to hand-to-hand combat rather than the “I punch you really hard, you punch me really hard” combat theory that so many more powerful heroes subscribe to.

Now, like Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Under the Red Hood also comes with a “DC Showcase,” this time for Jonah Hex. Try not to think about the live-action movie that was in and out of movie theaters in the blink of an eye. This short manages to be faithful to the core of the character, well-acted, and expertly animated. Tom Jane stars as Jonah, who rides into town looking for a man with a bounty on his head. It appears something unpleasant may have happened to this outlaw before Hex captured him, but Hex always gets his man. A few quick action sequences and one eye for an eye later, it’s all over. The only thing wrong with the short is, well, it’s too short. Just like the Spectre’s story on the previous DVD, I was left wanting more immediately. Now that the “DC Showcase” is going to be a regular part of the package, I look forward to them almost as much as the feature.

Even though I still think Crisis on Two Earths is the current front-runner for best direct-to-DVD DC Comics feature by Warner Bros., Under the Red Hood is still highly watchable. The creative team does a great job adapting the comic storyline, and the action, intensity, and acting will have you enthralled until the very end. Combined with another solid effort in the Jonah Hex-starring short, this is a package that’s hard to resist. I just hope Superman/Batman: Apocalypse can live up to the new standard set by these last two films.

2 Responses so far
  1. Tweets that mention Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu Ray. "... a package that’s hard to resist." -- Said,

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gamervision and TheQuarterbin, TheQuarterbin. TheQuarterbin said: Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu Ray. "… a package that’s hard to resist." [...]

    Posted on July 28th, 2010 at 9:44 AM

  2. Jonathan Hollander Cooper Said,

    It was good, but I’m going to agree with CoTE was much better. This felt… off. Maybe it was the voice acting, not sure.

    Posted on August 3rd, 2010 at 1:03 AM

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