Movie Review – Batman: Under the Red Hood

Happy one month after Christmas, everyone. I’m finally reviewing one of my all-time favorite movies. That’s right. Not all-time favorite DC animated movies, not all-time favorite Batman movies, movies in general. This’ll be a long one but for good reason. Welcome to the second to last post of my “Christmas” spectacular. This is Batman: Under the Red Hood.

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Links to the other parts:
Unboxing the Special Edition DVD/Inboxing the Soundtrack
Batman: Under the Red Hood Special Features Review

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Batman. He’s one of those iconic characters that everybody knows. While I am a bit tired of so much Batman when it comes to media, there’s no denying that his stuff breaks a lot of ground. I’m embarrassed to say this but Batman Begins was what really got me into Batman. He was always my favorite superhero but I was a very casual fan before that movie. I didn’t even see it on the big screen. The bare bones DVD was on sale and I thought…”Sure”. The whole time it was on I didn’t even pause to go pee. I was so into what was going on. That movie changed my perception of the character and I was a Batfan ever since. After that I started to immerse myself in other Batman things. I went and bought Batman: The Animated Series which I watched but didn’t appreciate when it was airing.

Fast forward to 2010 where I was fortunate enough to go to San Diego Comic-Con. I saw that there would be a screening for Batman: Under the Red Hood. Once again, I thought “Sure”. I knew almost nothing about it going in and while I had seen a few of the animated movies prior to this one, none of them really wowed me. They were either more of the same or felt like generic plots we’ve seen over and over again in cartoons. I was so glad I decided to see this at Comic-Con with the big screens and the audience. Some in the audience were annoying and loud but for the right reasons. These people were pumped. The atmosphere is much different from normal theaters with them screaming at every awesome moment. I wasn’t screaming and cheering with them, but I shared similar feelings on the inside.

I saw the film for free so I don’t have to buy it now, right? Wrong. I bought this thing day one. I don’t always buy things on day one at regular price but when I do, it must be good. It’s great knowing that this had over 10 million dollars in sales making this the third best-selling animated DC Universe film. I didn’t watch Superman: Doomsday which took first probably because it was the first to come out. I didn’t care for Batman/Superman: Public Enemies which beat this by just a bit. Still, what this movie made was much more than every movie that followed. The audience was speaking with their money and saying that we want more of this. I… question if the studio capitalized on that. I don’t know how popular the source material for the following films were but I’d be lying if I said I liked any of the ones I saw more than this. There were a few passable ones but for me, none of them pushed the boundaries like this one.

I think what knocks this one out of the park for me is the story. As I said, a lot of these animated movies just cover common ground. For the most part, it’s something I’ve probably seen in one of the cartoons. More beat the bad guy stuff or big enemy requiring the Justice League. As a movie there’s not enough time to spend on the characters which is a big negative. I would usually rather watch the same attempts in the cartoons again. This one switched it up in so many ways. The story was much darker than any Batman thing I had seen with the exception of one other animated movie. Dark isn’t necessarily a good thing even if it’s a go-to tone to many these days. This was dark done right and as a Batman story, everything just felt so much more real. How often in these superhero cartoons do the heroes die? I really felt this was going back to the roots of The Animated Series. I cared about what was going on and it was done very well.

I have to make a note on the immensely increased violence level. As much as I’d like to show this to kids because it’s awesome, I’d wait a little longer. I like a good animated fight but I’m not one to enjoy overly violent content. Still, I think this was acceptable. The recent animated films have taken it to a level I’m not too comfortable with. “Bad people doing bad things” was their excuse for Assault on Arkham but I think what we got in Under the Red Hood was close enough to the edge. I wish they would’ve made this their “do not cross” line. I’m not saying we should go back to the days of offscreen punches and laser water pistols. I know that these films are targeting an older audience but I’m not a fan of how far they’re taking it. I’m curious how they got the PG-13 for this one or even the more recent animated movies.

The Story:
Jason Todd (the second Robin) was killed by The Joker and Batman was mere moments away from saving him. Jason comes back as the Red Hood to save Gotham his way. He takes everything Batman taught him to get his point across by killing criminals, making deals with them, and trying to control and reduce crime instead of stopping it completely. Batman wants to stop him as he thinks this isn’t the way to go about it. Knowing that it’s his greatest failure returned, it isn’t easy for him. Insert lots of bad guys with memorable performances/dialogue and we have a great movie. You can argue the importance of many characters but I’ll let that slide. I’ve actually read the comics for this story and this adaptation felt so clean and straightforward. Jason’s revival actually made sense here and they more or less didn’t stray from their priorities. These animated DC movies either hit or are under 90 minutes. For some reason these guys know not to drag it out but most movies on the big screen today? Nobody knows how to make a 90-minute movie anymore.

This isn’t another “beat the bad guy” story. It’s a clash of ideals. Many agree with Batman. He’s trying to stop crime in Gotham but he won’t kill criminals. A common argument against that is: if you don’t kill the criminals, they will kill, steal, and do whatever they like until they’re caught again. If you just kill The Joker, wouldn’t the world be a better place? Here we finally have someone who subscribes to that idea in one of these animated stories. I really enjoy when a villain or in this case an anti-hero does things we don’t agree with… or do we agree with him? It makes you think about both sides when it comes morality which was also a big point in The Dark Knight. There’s an obvious answer most of the time but the other option might make sense so it’s not always an easy choice.

The conversation at the end between Batman and Jason is just wonderful to listen to. Unfortunately, Batman’s argument does feel weak when Jason lays it all out. Batman says he’d love to kill The Joker but is afraid of what he would become by doing so. Jason counters with “Come on, just this guy.” Jason seemed so heartbroken when even his death couldn’t bring Batman to finally kill The Joker. Jason doesn’t want Batman to kill all the criminals, just the one responsible for his death. Lots of emotion in this final exchange between these characters and it was fantastic on so many levels.

One complaint I heard was that the film had no conclusion. Well, of course. How is this any different from any DC animated movie? They’re always open-ended. You know The Joker’s not going to die. You know Jason’s not going to die. I’m not sure what you wanted. Jason to stop killing? Batman to start killing? It’s clear they could easily do more with Jason if they wanted to but I think the film ended fine as you’d need another story at that point. You do get a feeling of “That’s it?” when the film’s over but it was a good way to end Batman and Jason’s reunion.

Characters:

Jason Todd/Red Hood voiced by Jensen Ackles –

This guy was ass of the bad variety. He gives everyone who runs into him a lot of trouble. I think it’s because “trained by the bat” is on his Heroclix card. It’s a joy to see him do his thing as his action scenes really get the blood pumping. He also gets some funny lines and exchanges that I really appreciated. Not only that but this character is also someone you feel really bad for. The movie opens with his death and that wasn’t an easy scene to sit through because it wasn’t instant or fast-paced. As the film goes on you start to get into his head and understand more and more what he’s up to. Then by the end, everything comes together and he opens up to Batman with all the things he’s been keeping in. This was the “villain” of the story and I thought he worked incredibly well. He isn’t someone who’s just out to do bad. He’s doing what most consider bad for the right reasons. Batman even admits that crime has gone down since Red Hood came in. Jason’s methods work. Batman just doesn’t agree with them nor does he want him to continue. I don’t remember seeing characters like this in DC animations. The heroes generally don’t kill in those and there isn’t much when it comes to anti-heroes either. It’s why I would really like to see more Jason. There are other stories involving him and he’s been ignored in animation for too long. Granted, he wasn’t everyone’s favorite Robin but he was still a Robin. After all these years they finally put him in something and it wasn’t a passing reference or the butt of a joke. Give me more of this guy. Look at the sales!

As for Jensen Ackles, I want to meet this guy and tell him he did a great job. Maybe get an autograph too… If they ever use Jason again, I’d really want for him to come back to voice him. There isn’t anyone to compare with since this is Jason’s first animated appearance but I feel he did good on both the snarky and emotional parts of the character.

Bruce Wayne/Batman voiced by Bruce Greenwood –

Batman’s basically Batman here. The difference is that there’s an extra element of guilt because he felt responsible for Jason’s death. Knowing Jason’s back, you’re watching this film waiting for these two to finally interact properly. Batman doesn’t usually have conversations like these so when he does, I get into it. It’s another side to the character that we don’t see often because of who he is. Otherwise, like Jason his ass is bad too… it wouldn’t be a Batman film without a few of those moments for him to prove it.

Kevin Conroy will always be my favorite Batman but I’m never against someone else giving it a try. Would I prefer if it was always Kevin Conroy? Probably, but I’m not sure after seeing this one. It really comes down to the final scene where he and Jason talk it out. I can’t recall many moments where Kevin Conroy voiced similar dialogue. I’m so used to his voice as Batman that I try to imagine him saying these lines and my imagination can only go so far. While I’d like to hear Conroy’s take on the final scene, I thought Bruce Greenwood did a fantastic job here. There’s really just one or two of his lines I wasn’t too keen on but for my first time hearing him, the performance was good. They even kept him for Young Justice.

The Joker voiced by John DiMaggio –

This guy got so many good lines. He’s honestly not too important to the plot but despite that it seems they went out of their way to give him something funny to say or do every time he’s on screen. It felt like the “glass of water” scene was probably trying to top the “pencil trick” in The Dark Knight. He didn’t disappoint.

Like Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill is my preferred Joker. I tried to imagine his voice for some of the lines here and I’m not sure it works. The design is too off. Unlike Batman who usually looks more or less the same in most things, this was too drastic a change for Joker so Mark Hamill may not have been appropriate. That said, I feel John DiMaggio pulled it off. The delivery on the comedic lines was very well done. The opening scene where he’s beating Jason with the crowbar was downright creepy. I liked his laughs as well. They’re different from what I’m used to. At times the laughs sounded raspy? throaty? but they’re still good.

Dick Grayson/Nightwing voiced by Neil Patrick Harris –

Honestly, this was a waste. I don’t remember Nightwing having a big part in any of these animated movies and it’s too bad. I wish they either cut him out or gave him more to do. Granted this was a Bruce and Jason movie so giving him more to do takes away from that. It seemed like they added Dick in as exposition to tell people “Hey, here’s the first Robin!” and nothing else. He breaks his leg and disappears for the rest of the movie. He got a few funny lines and exchanges with Batman but I’d rather he just not be in it if he wasn’t going to interact with Jason. That would’ve been a great and relevant interaction I would’ve liked to see. Neil Patrick Harris was fine casting for what little I heard from him. It’s just too bad Nightwing didn’t play a bigger part.

Black Mask voiced by Wade Williams –

This guy was fun. Like most of the characters, he’s a side attraction. I’m not too familiar with the character but what I gathered is that he’s like Kingpin from Marvel. His role in the movie is pretty much to be pissed off at everything Red Hood does because it affects his criminal activities. That’s where his character’s entertainment comes from. Whenever Black Mask is going on a tirade, it’s fun seeing him constantly yelling and punching out his guys. I question if Black Mask had no options besides Joker when he wanted to hire someone to kill Red Hood. He did say that he wanted to fight psychotic with psychotic but I think the plot just needed to get Joker out of Arkham Asylum somehow. Black Mask had the “connections” to do so they said. Those connections were just paying off Asylum employees… Red Hood was taking money from mob bosses so he could’ve just as easily done that himself. Really wish I could see some “in the booth” footage for the recording sessions because I bet Wade Williams had fun.

Ra’s al Ghul voiced by Jason Isaacs –

Is that enough villains yet? Ra’s is fine because this time he doesn’t really play a villain role. His purpose was to give exposition on why Jason came back as he was responsible for the revival. Not much to talk about here but the performance was nice to listen to. It’s a Ra’s al Ghul I’d like to hear again.

Art and Animation –

I liked the art a lot for this film. Pretty much everyone looked simple, on point, and recognizable. I was so glad they didn’t have the generic bulked-up bodies everybody in the Justice League cartoon had. The only things I didn’t like were Nightwing’s haircut and Joker’s… whiskers? Seriously, what are those things?

2

Let’s get rid of them.

3

That’s better.

Also, what’s wrong with this guy’s… upper lip? skin-colored mustache? Seriously, what is that thing?

4

Black Mask, thoughts?

5

The animation was a thrill to watch. Fight scenes in this movie are so exciting and badass. The fights and movement looked so smooth and fast here. Some scenes astounded me with how great they looked. There’s a fight scene in a door-less bathroom at the end and it was brutal. Not brutal in terms of violence but when I’m watching that fight I feel every hit and I can see every “inner ouch” the characters feel. That had to be intentional. They succeeded if that’s what they were going for. I award the animation team the opposite of no points.

Final Thoughts:
Please watch this movie. It’s a personal favorite and I can’t recommend it enough. I laughed. I cried. I saved 15% on my car insurance. For me it’s one of the best animations that DC has put out and I’m waiting for more like it. The story was solid. Nearly every scene has a point which results in a non-exhausting runtime. This isn’t like any other animated superhero story. It’s a real shame these don’t make it out to theaters because if they got more exposure, I bet they’d be big hits. Let’s not forget that Under the Red Hood has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It even has a 93% on the audience score while Citizen Kane only has 92%. That means this movie’s as good as Citizen Kane, right?

Next time I take a look at the special features where I have to watch the Jonah Hex short…

Now for Nitpick Corner where I complain about the little things that stood out to me.

– Where are Jason’s shoes?
– Why is Batman using his bike for such a time-sensitive situation? He must’ve gotten to Sarejevo by plane.
– Same weak points as a human being? More like the same weak points as anything else…
– DC, your CGI vehicles are still awkward.
– Seriously, what’s that on his face?
– Alfred, why did you put bandages over the Nightwing costume? He’s just going to have to do it again later.
– Wait, that’s it for Nightwing?
– Red Hood’s gun is awesome. Unlimited bullets!
– So the assassin girl, is that a lightsaber? It makes regular cuts? Then what does turning it on do?
– Alfred fail when he sees Jason’s “dead” body in mint condition.
– Talia attempts to shoot the revived Jason but Ra’s stops her. Why? Shoot him and throw him back in.
– Batman, did you really just slice at the Red Hood helmet?
– What’s with the door-less bathroom?
– Jason! Did you just call Batman “Bruce” while Joker was in the closet? You didn’t know he was still knocked out.
– OF COURSE Joker survived the explosion.
– Hi Nightwing! Good thing your leg healed up for that last minute cameo!

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