The Film: Batman: Under The Red Hood(2010)
The Principles: Judd Winick (Writer). Bruce Greenwood, John DiMaggio, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs
The Premise: A mysterious vigilante arrives in Gotham and moves in on Black Mask’s mafia protected territories in a very violent way. As Batman gets closer to stopping him, he is forced to question tragic events from his past.
Is It Good: Batman:Under the Red Hood follows the trend that Batman:Gotham Knight started. It hired a comic book writer to put in charge of the story, and just like Batman:Gotham Knight the writer they hired works with a story line they wrote in the comics. Judd Winick took a concept toyed with by Jeph Loeb in the Hush series and took it full circle, utilizing some of the most shocking methods possible.
Batman:Under the Red Hood lands near the top of a lot of Batman and DC fans list as one of the better DC Animated Universe films. I’ve heard quite a few say it is better than the Dini/TImm works, while others will just put it into a class of direct to video films. No matter what you want to compare it to, it is definitely one of the more exciting and action packed animated superhero films.
The story revolves around a mysterious lethal vigilante in a red hood taking turf and collection money from the sociopathic crime lord, Black Mask. Those who are versed in the comic know this is a mean bastard who murdered his way to the top of the crime world. In the comics, he had just killed Robin #4, Stephanie Brown in one his most defining moments. Roman Sionis aka Black Mask is toned down in the movie, as this is a guy who led a cult of people that were either disfigured or they would disfigure themselves. If they weren’t disfigured, he would kill them. He is bad news, but smart enough to evade criminal prosecution and keep himself protected.
Black Mask also has minions in the film, and his agenda is always focused on his personal gain, but he isn’t the only villain. Winick gets the keys to the kingdom, as he gets to work with the Joker, and retell one of the most famous batman stories ever created. When I think of famous batman stories, they generally involve the Joker, and some more than others. This story is filled to the brim with comic lore and legend involving not only the Joker, but Jason Todd, the second Robin, Nightwing, the first robin, Alfred Pennyworth and Ra’s Al Ghul. It also uses more mystique than the Nolanverse does and leverages one of the bigger aspects of the man known as “the Immortal”.
The comparisons can be made between the emotions ruling Bruce Wayne at The Dark Knight Rises and during the first half of this story. He has lost someone very near and dear to him, and he feels his decisions caused the loss. I’m not doing a write up on The Dark Knight Rises, but one of my biggest issues with the script is exactly this. We witnessed Wayne losing someone close and feeling responsible. If you read Death in the Family, it is Superman who has to stop him from murdering the Joker. He then spent the next few years angrier and moodier than ever. He didn’t kill, but he didn’t just knock someone out. He broke arms, legs and ribs while creating work for Arkham’s physical therapists and Blackgate’s doctors. But that’s not this story, this story is what happens when all that emotion is forced to be revisited.
The Red Hood is the disguise a young comedian once wore while leading a gang through a chemical factory. There are many stories as to why the Red Hood, some saying it was so the others could pin previous crimes on him, others were for him to hide the sorrow of losing his wife earlier that same day and yet others would say it was just to build confidence. No matter what the original story is, the guy who wore the red hood first would wear green hair and a nasty smile later. The Joker started as the Red Hood, and even wore it again to rebuild his confidence after Batman nearly killed him (end of Death in the Family). When a villain shows up wearing a red hood, the connection is formed for Batman, and when things start connecting this Red Hood to the death of Jason Todd, then it adds depth to an already devastating 20 year old story.
The action is better illustrated here than in most of the previous batman works, even than the combat heavy but often frame rate challenged Batman Beyond. The characters work together and against with such a precise choreography that while watching Nightwing and Batman dispatch a cyborg, you can feel the synergy that two people could only have after doing similar tasks daily for years. Batman uses a variety of gadgets, keeping the arsenal interesting, while combating villains with flat out Superman like powers, swords, rockets and a plethora of guns. The Red Hood in return shows his knowledge of guns and knives and sets the tone that he plays for more permanent stakes than the Bat.
I won’t go into spoiler territory, but it plays out as it should. The story moves at a very brisk rate, making the 75 minutes feel tight but not cramped. We switch locations a few times, and shift our way through some Bat family history. The thing that carries the movie the most is the story and the dialogue mimic the comic book series that Winick did so well.
Is It Worth A Look: Batman:Under the Red Hood is one of the better direct to video superhero films. For Batman animated, it strongly competes with Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker for my favorite pick, though for some unknown reason I always turn to the former when asked. The story telling is tight, and the characters all stay true to their history, and that’s important when you deal with such an ensemble where most of the characters have 20+ years of characterization, if not more.
I really like Bruce Greenwood, but Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman and do I even need to mention Hamill. I should mention that John DiMaggio at times attempts to sound like Heath Ledger, and was not successful. I really wish he would have done his own thing. Big and outrageous, but his own rendition.
After those two exceptions for voices, the rest of the vocal work is great. Neil Patrick Harris is barely recognizable as Nightwing, genre favorite Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) brings a youthful but challenged voice to the Red Hood and Jason Isaacs is once again great at all he does. Even Lumberg himself, Gary Cole, gets in on the action playing Commissioner Gordon and a lot of other supporting roles.
The only issues I had with any of this movie is that the pacing actually slows as it nears the end, converting from action driven adventure to character based drama. This forces it to lose steam even though both sections work well on their own. The finale gives the payoff we deserve, and makes up for the change in tone.
DC used Batman:Under the Red Hood to strengthen their dominate control of the direct to video comic stories, and once again produces a great entry. WB has a hard time getting the DC universe much past Batman in live action films, but they have continued to build an animated collection that demands attention.
Death in the Family, the story line that served as the starting point, was a test to utilize 900 numbers. It was one of the first and most popular for years, as fans voted to save or kill Jason Todd. The outcome is apparent, post crisis Jason Todd was a punk that most fans didn’t like. I wonder if the crowbar bomb death was what anybody else expected, I sure didn’t.
During the comic book arc for Under the Red Hood, commissioner Gordon was retired, and Nightwing was wearing a cast as he was shot during the War Games crossover. This was also shortly after Black Mask killed Robin #4 (Stephanie Brown, the first female robin and shortest Robin in a regular series, Dark Knight Returns was a mini).
Post Crisis Jason Todd had less than 2 years after his redefinition until the famous live or die vote.
Cinematic Soulmates: The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, almost all the animated and almost anything except Dark Knight Rises, which shows Batman handling grief much differently
P.S. My condolences for those affected in Aurora last night, and my thought and prayers go to those that are coping with the aftermath.