The newest DC animated film, Batman: Under The Red Hood. highlights Batman’s biggest failure: the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, at the hands of the Joker. Ten years later, the mysterious Red Hood begins wrecking havoc on Gotham’s underworld, and it’s up to Batman to face his greatest fear. Along with top-notch animation and a great voice cast, highlighting Batman’s fallibility as well as his guilt-ridden conscience is refreshing, and makes for a challenging story that sets a really high bar.
But be warned: just because the movie is about Robin doesn’t mean this film is a campy, spandex version of the Sunday morning funnies with “holy bank robbers, Batman!” sprinkled throughout. Nope, this is a serious adult film with bloody murder, swearing and challenging questions about morality and blame. Under the Red Hood is dark and gritty and sad, which is really what a Batman film should be.
But along with all the blood and grime, there’s also a level of emotion not usually present in Batman stories. Bruce faces not only his greatest failure but also his once-dead apprentice, whom he regarded as a son. With this challenge, Bruce Greenwood gives the best Batman performance aside from Kevin Conroy, and that’s saying something. Greenwood, whom you may recognize as Captain Pike from Star Trek, is authoritative and commanding, but he gives Batman the depth of emotion needed to make this story believable.
The DC animated film crew set a high, high bar in this one. This is Batman’s darkest and emotional period in his history, with four villains and a high death count along for the ride. Under the Hood showed me that these animated films aren’t just side attractions in between live-action blockbusters: they’re going to go places that the live films won’t, they’re going to push the envelope, and they’re doing an excellent job at it.
- DC did it right: Judd Winick, author of graphic novel Batman: Under the Hood on which the film is based, adapted his story for the film. He did a great job encapsulating both volumes without sacrificing anything, and some of the scenes and even some lines were the same! (Mr. Freeze would have been awesome though.) I’d recommend watching the film first, like I did, so you can appreciate the abridged version before delving into the original.
- Jason Isaacs (the greasy Lucius Malfoy) did a brilliant job portraying Ra’s al Ghul, though he had few scenes which is really a shame. I would have enjoyed a lot more of Ra’s and a lot less of Black Mask, who doesn’t do much. On the other end of the spectrum, the moments when Alfred pleads with Batman to forgive himself were probably the best in the entire movie. Regardless of the pulse-pounding action scenes and psychotic villains, Alfred is the glue that holds Bruce’s sanity together.
- I was very impressed by the animation, as the action scenes were very fluid; Red Hood, Nightwing and Batman all had their own distinct fighting styles which is probably difficult to execute. The action rarely slows, and the climax was brilliantly done; I appreciate it when they take the characters to the limit. The ending was a little jarring at first, but it fits the darkness of the story.
- Barbara isn’t even seen throughout the entire course of the film. Babs’ nightlife as Batgirl was cut short when paralyzed by the Joker; now she works behind the scenes as Oracle. Bans must share in Jason’s hate for the Joker, and Bruce or Dick could have at least talked with her once over a communicator. Yes, one more character might be too much, but Babs deserves to at least have an opinion about morality of killing the Joker.
- I was NOT expecting Neil Patrick Harris to pull off Nightwing, but he did. Granted, sometimes I could tell that Dick was in fact HIMYM’s Barney with a deeper voice, but he was both serious and comic relief at the same time. Kudos. Moreover, John DiMaggio did an excellent job performing as Joker, and I heard some inevitable Heath Ledger influences in there, and some Matt Hamill in the cackle.
The next DC animated film, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse releases later this month. More news on that soon!