When Batman: Under The Red Hood was announced as the latest animated feature that DC was coming out with, I have to confess that I wasn’t very excited about the announcement, and in the following weeks I couldn’t understand why people were talking about it so much. Whether it was on this website, other Batman websites, or general comic book websites, I just didn’t understand why people were so excited about a glorified cartoon. At the time, I thought that there was no way that this would be good for the Batman Universe, there was no way that this animated movie could be meaningful because of the fact that (a) there was no way the creators behind the feature could possibly fit the entire Jason Todd story into the plot, (b) if they did (I felt at the time) it would make the film drag on and on, that’s only to say IF they could fit it into 75 minutes worth of animation, and (c) how respectful would it be to the source material and the fans in general? The whole animated feature thing (with a few exceptions) fails to meet a certain mark that I personally set in my mind, as often these films feel thin and uninspired, falling into a meaningless category that I, for the most part, ignore and regard as nothing but a one trick pony. They lack a certain element that makes them distinct and memorable in the sense that I feel that I can’t believe in what is happening on the screen. I complained and complained mostly to my friends that this was just going to be another piece of trash stuck on the bottom of a garbage can, that we were being set up for a big disappointment that we were suckered into buying. And let me just state now that I was devastatingly wrong, little did I know all I needed to do was shut my mouth.
Under The Red hood could have been horrible, shuffling through the mud to progress a story to it’s horrible end, or it could have played the “I’m dead, but now I’m alive to enact my revenge” card. Both of which are just disgusting. Thankfully though, everyone that participated in this little gem has taken the high road and actively took the material to heart to present a coherent, meaningful, respectful, and memorable piece of a collective movie experience. Not only did it meet and exceed my expectation, it single-handedly made me believe the animated feature is a viable medium to which you can tell a story. This movie peeled off my immediate misconceptions of how this specific subject matter could and would be handled. Whether it was the strong dialogue or the majestic flow of the story, the movie is woven with the most delicate and sweeping moments of everything that you hold dear, and all the misconceptions I’ve previously mentioned is quickly forgotten as you are engrossed in the story that is told, and the action sequences that are perfectly choreographed with such grandeur that your mouth will be hanging open throughout the whole movie. The movie succeeds because of the fact that it isn’t trying to beat you over the head with the major plot points and twists it takes into consideration the fact that we’ve all seen this before, but that not to say the movie is bland and unconvincing, the twists and major plot points of the story still hit as hard in this movie as the first time you read the source material.
Although, plot points were cut out and some were completely re-written the film stays true to the original vision of the writers and artists that created it. The art in the film is nothing short of impressive, Bruce blends into the background while striking a distinct presence in a given scene while the spikes of color come as a surprise, the cape and cowl are pure black, and while the cape doesn‘t have the romanticism it has in the comics, the overall bat suit is perfectly drawn, it breathes fear and respect whenever it is shown. The Joker is also drawn well, this Joker is physically scarier and a lot more sinister than your average Joke. They don’t over do it, but don’t undercut him either. With the attention to detail, the Joker’s back room plastic surgery, mangled, disfigured face folds in and out as he talks and laughs showing the same old smile we are all familiar with while evoking a certain sense of insanity and madness. As for Jason Todd, I don’t think the artists in the film really brought anything new to the Red Hood persona, besides the striking red, I do think they did Jason as Robin really good, you can almost feel Jason trying to make his way out of the warehouse before the bomb explodes, you feel his pain and desperation, which helps you emotionally connect with him, and to help you understand why he’s so mad at Batman and why he wants to beat the Joker with a crowbar. The art overall is a true winner, it is boundless and flawless, as it flashes, turns grim and has that down to earth realism that bounces effortlessly between the dialogue which works to the fullest of it’s ability to deliver a complex and subtle stream of words, that is not too preachy or overly wrought. You can tell Judd Winick didn’t overdo the dialogue, the way Dick and Bruce interact and react to each other, the innocence of Jason Todd and his interaction with Bruce, are just two examples from a plethora of well written and smart script. Winick also succeeds with the relationship in the film, the way Dick and Bruce fight and look out for one another, the way they seamlessly work together each of them knowing where the other is, what their gonna do, and if they need help. Or the Bruce and Jason relationship that starts out innocent enough with Jason in the full spring of youth, joking around with Bruce and, like Dick, working with him, to a troubled teenager who is over aggressive, brash, and is upset at everything, to a vengeful, spiteful dark shade of what he used to be when he was a boy. They all work together like they should and like they do in the comic books.
The dialogue in the film is hit and miss for me. Bruce Greenwood feels misplaced to me, like he doesn’t truly get the overtone of Batman his voice just doesn’t have that extra push into darkness and fear that I have come to expect, it almost feels like he half performed it. While Greenwood’s Batman growl/voice isn’t very good, he does a very good Bruce Wayne capturing that honest, good-hearted Fatherly figure, you can really feel the remorse and pain in Bruce’s voice and Greenwood knocks it out of the park, as a whole though I think he did a very good job portraying the voice of the Dark Knight, although stiff at times, Greenwood becomes both Batman and Bruce Wayne. John DiMaggio as The Joker struck me as odd. I didn’t know he had such a thick talking voice, it sounds like he drank some bourbon and ate gravel after screaming all night. While it is a great voice I don’t think it matched at all, and maybe I’m used to Mark Hamil’s high pitched squeal, but The Joker in the movie doesn’t match the voice and while the look of The Joker has been attuned somewhat to DiMaggio’s voice, his voice fails to match the physical Joker, even though he has a great voice. But where DiMaggio succeeds is with the laugh. The Joker’s laugh is haunting, as it should be, it sends chills down your spine and gives you goosebumps, it sounds as if he is laughing so hard his voice is breaking and that he can’t laugh any hard and as soon as you think it’s going to break it tops itself in a symphony insanity and madness. Neil Patrick Harris as Dick Grayson/Nightwing was also a weird casting choice, honestly I couldn’t see Doogie Howser voicing both sides of Dick Grayson and while he can sound forced and cheesy at times he does a fairly good job at playing Dick. And finally, Jensen Ackles as Jason. While nothing really stuck out to me he doesn’t fail at bringing the true believable qualities that Jason has or doesn’t have to the screen, you can hear the anger in his voice and you buy into it which makes Jason an even more tragic character. Overall though, while it isn’t the easiest thing to do (voice Batman characters), I have a newly found respect for all these actors and their work in this film which I must wholly applaud.
All in all, the film doesn’t fail to hit it’s mark, in fact, it not only hit its mark, it far surpasses it. To me, the greatest triumph of this movie is how the creators, actors, and whoever else balanced the emotions and the emotional struggle the characters feel and go through, it brings to life a deep sadness that lives within all of us that have read the source material and have suppressed, you just can’t get this kind of thing with a comic. At the end of the film I was heartbroken, not only because of Jason’s tragic life but because it brought back the emotion I felt when I first saw Jason being murdered. It brought it out of my subconscious and brought it to the light where I was forced to face it. And the fact that this movie was done so well lends to the overall success of this film. Truly a great watch for any Bat-fan.
Batman: Under the Red Hood:
Reviewed by Dane