Batman Under The Red Hood is about the time Batman picked up a sexually transmitted disease from whatever random superwoman he was banging at the time. OK, it’s not but it could have been. So apologies for that image I just gave you. Batman Under The Red Hood is actually and adaptation of the Under The Hood storyline from a few years back. It starts with the death of everyone’s least favourite Robin Jason Todd and continues 5 years later with the arrival of a villain using the Red Hood name who’s planning on controlling all crime in Gotham. I’ll give you until you’ve clicked the link to guess who The Red Hood actually is.
Spoilers for those that are a bit dim but The Red Hood is a resurrected Jason Todd (Jensen Ackles). Now I try to avoid spoilers but it’s pretty damn obvious and this particular plot point is very much central to the story as a whole and so discussing it is unavoidable. See the relationship between Batman (Bruce Greenwood) and Jason Todd is everything to this story. Batman’s feelings of failure to save him and Todd’s feelings about how Batman handled the situation after his death are the key components of what makes the bulk of this films conflict. I won’t spoil how this all plays out of course but suffice to say Jason’s idea of justice doesn’t quite gel with Batman’s any more. He sees himself as who Batman needs in the city. Someone who’s willing to kill to put fear into the villains that aren’t scared of the bat because they know he won’t kill them. Obviously they don’t fear being in full body casts for 6 months.
Yesterday I reviewed Year One and made note that it is too much of a straight adaptation of the comic with characters living too much in their head and the story itself not being fleshed out in the way a filmic story needs to be. Under The Red Hood is exactly an example of how you should adapt a comics story to film. They’ve not followed the original comic exactly but they’ve gone to lengths to make sure the story plays out just as well. It’s honestly one of the best written of all the animated Batman movies. Every scene has a purpose. Character interactions are truly geared towards how those characters should interact, especially in the case of The Joker (John DiMaggio) who’s plain unpredictable, as he should be. Best of all though is the fact that the story builds it’s conflicts and takes its time to make sure the right moments have the right dramatic impact. One thing I also liked is that any cameos here, with the possible exception of Amazo, serve the story in a positive way. One thing that’s really bugged me with comics in recent years is how much they just love throwing random characters into the story just for the sake of fan service. When Nightwing appears it serves the story first as it gives a contrast in the relationship between him and Batman compared to that of Jason Todd and Batman.
Bruce Greenwood makes for quite a good Batman here. He has the right level of gravitas and clearly got quite involved in the logic of the role, even doing a younger, more fun Batman voice for the flashback sequences. John DiMaggio’s Joker takes some getting used to as his Boston accent comes through more than once. He kind of sounds like Bender doing an impression of The Joker. What he does bring though is a suitable level of insanity to the performance which is always needed. Never like it why my Joker sounds too sane. Overall all the cast seem to be giving it they’re all here and barring the aforementioned Boston Joker moments no-one seems as out of place as Benjamin McKenzie’s Batman did in Year One.
The animation is very good considering the limited budget the team work with when compared to the big cinematic releases. One day Warner will do the smart thing and give Bruce Timm and his team the money to make a cinematic release on a large scale. I think the audience is there and I’d like to see just how fluid and cleanly designed they could make a film when budget isn’t an issue any more. Some of the action and chase sequences employ some clever little techniques to give their locations a three dimensional feel even when not animating within a 3D model. Not to say that there isn’t some CGI at work but it’s well done. The Batwing especially doesn’t stand out like similar CGI vehicles have in their previous animations.
This is up there with the Batman Beyond film in terms of how dark it gets. It’s also easily the most violent of them all coming very close to what would have been a 15 certificate here in the UK if it weren’t for a few cleverly arranged scenes. The film opens with a teenage Jason Todd being beaten about the head with a crowbar at the hands of The Joker. That pretty much sets you up for the tone the rest of the film will have. I’d like it if Bruce Timm and co were given the free reign to make the animations match the content of the comics when it comes to language and violence but at the end of the day there’s a large portion of their audience that are kids and I suppose you can’t show too many crowbars to the face in a film that the under 12s will be watching. Although growing up watching Robocop and Lethal Weapon never did me any harm. And now pretend I made a dark joke about how my love of those films just made me harm others instead.
Under The Red Hood is very much a strong animated film and is one of the highest rated of all the Batman films, quite deservedly. It has a strong story and one of the best scripts used in any of the the animated movies. It’ll be interesting to see how well Bruce Timm’s next Batman Project, Return Of The Dark Knight, will compare. That’s pretty much the ultimate Batman comic to adapt into an animated movie, it’s actually being split into two films. If they can approach that with the same mindset as they have with under The Red Hood we could have a new great animated Batman film to enjoy. For now I’ll place this one up there with Return Of The Joker and Mask Of The Phantasm. I’ll be getting to the latter of those soon by the way.