Zechs takes a look behind the hood of Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010).
Credits & Solicit Info:
Written by: Judd Winick
Directed by: Brandon Vietti
Bruce Greenwood as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Jensen Ackles as the Red Hood/Jason Todd
Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing/Dick Grayson
John DiMaggio as the Joker
Wade Williams as Black Mask
Jason Issacs as Ra's Al Ghul
Kelly Hu as Ms. Li
Jim Poddock as Alfred
A new player has arrived in Gotham City donning a familiar identity, the Red Hood (Jensen Ackles). He muscles his way through the Gotham Underworld and challenges it's head, Black Mask (Wade Williams), for its control. Batman and Nightwing (Bruce Greenwood and Neil Patrick Harris) are stuck doing crowd control. But just who really is the Red Hood targeting and what's his connection to Batman's greatest loss?
Based on the comic book story Under the Hood (Batman #635-641, 645-650, and Annual #25) also written by Judd Winick, this movie goes to a VERY dark corner of Batman lore. It touches on probably the greatest loss Batman has ever experienced, the murder of Jason Todd by the Joker. The movie opens with that very scene however modified (instead of a foreign country it is Ra's Al Ghul who's behind the Joker's doings and Jason wasn't looking for his mother and being betrayed by her to the Clown Prince of Crime).
However that's the key thing. All the problems the comic had (being stuck during DC's Infinite Crisis) are all omitted (aka a certain infamous wall punch, the Society sending in super villains to help Black Mask, Bludhaven being nuked when the Red Hood and Batman have their climatic fight). Also other needless things here and there are also removed (the Joker's months-long captivity under the Red Hood, Oracle save for a casual mention, Batgirl, the Tim Drake Robin, Oynx, a Batman approved vigilante, involvement in the story, plus Black Mask versus the Red Hood). Frankly, I have to admit this makes the story much sharper and all the more riveting to watch.
Gone is the hope Batman had with Tim Drake (though his costume is used by Jason interestingly enough). Here even years after his sidekick's demise, the mental wounds are still open. Thus it makes the acuality of the Red Hood's identity more apparent, shattering the Dark Knight to his very core. The piece becomes much more on why the Batman just won't do the thing many readers sometimes question: taking that extra step and becoming the jury and executioner. So major kudos for Judd Winick for telling the story and dropping the baggage that needed to be dropped to tell it.
All the action in this movie is top notch. From Batman and Nightwing versus Amazo to their confrontations with the Red Hood. All of which are top notch. I personally enjoy the finale as it utilizes just about everything I adore about Batman from his gadgets to his methodical nature. Also this film given its dark subject matter is equally brutal. There are deaths and cutaways that you know imply some bad ends for certain people. This is the darkest animated Batman movie. More so then Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker: Director's Cut (1999). So those looking for a nice family fun, this so isn't the movie for that.
The acting as you read the cast list above is really top notch. Bruce Greenwood does a good job as the voice of Batman. At first I was unsure due to a clip awhile back when a preview scene was posted. However Greenwood does a nice job balancing all the mental turmoil going inside of the Detective when more and more he begins to realize just who the Red Hood truly is. Plus I really do enjoy the way he delivered the final speech he has to the Hood's question why he couldn't kill the Joker. It really gets to the utter core of Batman.
Though the real star of this movie is Jensen Ackles from Supernatural fame as the Red Hood and Jason Todd. I couldn't even tell it was the same actor. He perfectly captures the various emotions going through both the Red Hood and Jason Todd. I found myself sympathizing more on Jason's viewpoint here, than in the actual comics all thanks to Ackles' performance. I really hope he does more voice acting in the future, because he was a joy to hear (say, Deadpool or Spider-Man maybe?).
Neil Patrick Harris is equally entertaining as Nightwing. It's an interesting role to behold of him since the last voice acting he did was for the epic Music Miester episode from Batman: the Brave and the Bold. I keep forgetting how adept he is in the voice acting business (voicing Spider-Man in the short lived computer animated series of the same name and a freaky mutated kid who had his perfect little world in Justice League).
Still there are flaws I noticed. Namely, there is no real end to this story (well okay a better end than the comic version gave us). It just sort of ends with some resolution, but I hoped we would get a more definitive conclusion. We get a brief summary of all the characters' fates save for two and honestly I think the Ra's part of the end could have been sacrificed to fit in the Red Hood's fate in all of this.
Speaking of Ra's Al Ghul there was another issue I had. He really well noble in this compared to his other media and comic counterparts (even his actual role in the comic story in this). I'd add as well the fact we only have Jason Issacs as Ra's call Batman, “The Detective.” but one time is also downright criminal.
Issacs does a nice job voicing Ra's, but seriously “DETECTIVE!” Just once more in front of his arch-foe would satisfied me (dear God I am such a fanboy and I blame YOU chap22 for twisting me into liking Ra's more. Oh and Christopher Yost in his Red Robin run). Still, the explanation the movie provides does make more sense on why the Red Hood is running around then say, a wall shattering the universe punch, with the added bonus of a Lazarus Pit. Sometimes I really wonder why DC made Winick write that?
Another great problem I had really, was how John DiMaggio handled the Joker. Honestly, there are parts where he's doing his own with thing with the role and yet other times I cannot help the shadow of Mark Hamill loom over him. I know on my previous review of Crisis on Two Earths (2010) these movies gives Warner's Animation a chance to broaden their animated scope. Though really if you're just having a good voice actor try their best at doing Mark Hamill's version of the character, then just hire the man.
There are parts where I can see DiMaggio doing his own thing with the role (when he's being interrogated by Batman and Nightwing over possibly being behind this new Red Hood or the “I need some water.” scene with one of Black Mask's henchmen). However there are other scenes where you cannot help but think of the Hamill version (the opening and his grand opus in trying to lure out the Red Hood). Plus if you fans of Hamill's Joker just shut your inner fanboy on how alike this version sounds you can just enjoy the performance for what it is. A nice Joker performance that just hits the right notes, but won't be particularly remembered.
As for the characters in this dark setting, it really worked. There's a nice golden age flashback with a semi-dark twist, but this movie is a nice treat for comic book fans. You get to see Dick and Jason fight with Bruce against criminals, showing off why they where called the dynamic duo. Again that just adds to the true tragedy of the story.
Throughout this all, I have to give some major props to the animation department. This animated movie has a real distinct and fluid feel. The designs in this aren't trying to copy an artist or the all mighty Bruce Timm's art style. It does it's own thing and I think when this movie ages more the style will help. About the only flaw the animation had was the car/Batwing chase at the beginning where you could clearly tell what was computer generated and what wasn't.
So where would I rate Batman: Under the Red Hood in the pantheon of DC animated films? Honestly, it's probably the second best Batman film out there for me, by edging out Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1991), though still can't hold a prayer to thus far the ultimate Batman film for me which was Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. It is miles ahead of the other Batman animated movie endeavors (which are becoming just so darn numerous).
Against other DC animated films? This still isn't on Crisis's level, but it's superior to other DC Animated movie fair. I find it almost funny I had no real expectation for this movie due to the comic book source, yet this flick delivers a much superior adaptation. It's a very rare thing to be had in this world of nerdom where fans will moan and groan over the slightest change of when a comic book storyline is adapted to a movie. I'll bet many more reviews from other comic book fans who see this movie will have the same feeling.
Regardless, Batman: Under the Red Hood delivers the goods it promises. We get a very dark Batman story with loads of fantastic character moments, action, and edge of your seat excitement. The only thing that really hinders the movie for me is the end. Though it's still a far better finish then we got in the comic. All and all, even the toughest Judd Winick critics will be hard pressed once again as the man scores another hit this year.
4.5 out of 5