23 July 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood
Cast (Voices): Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Vincent Martella, Kelly Hu
Writer: Judd Winick
Director: Brandon Vietti
Release: 27 July 2010 (Direct-to-DVD)
DC Animation, 75 mins., PG-13

Plot: The mysterious villain Red Hood is making Gotham's criminals a little uneasy, and once confronting the Dark Knight, Batman realizes he has a personal connection to this adversary that will make him difficult to defeat.

Under the Red Hood is harsh and dark, a story about guilt, revenge, and chaos. It's also perhaps the most personal Batman story brought to DVD by DC Animation, including Gotham Knight. I dig Batman a lot, seeing as how he's my favorite costumed hero of all time, but I'm not a rabid fan of the comic books. Thus, my knowledge of this Red Hood character, and the continuation of the Jason Todd story arc after the explosion was extremely, extremely limited. As in null. Going in with a blank slate such as me, I'm sure Under the Red Hill will be exhilarating from start to finish; if you are, however, familiar with this mythology backwards and forwards, I wager you'll find this a pretty good adaptation.

The movie begins with a flashback - a dramatization of the events that lead to Jason Todd's death at the hands of Batman's most sadistic foe, the Joker. Jason's beating utterly tortured and beaten by the Joker, and Batman's zooming on his Batpod as fast as he can to save the day. Expect he's too late. The Joker locked Jason inside with explosives, and the warehouse went BOOM! Taking a cue from the infamous image in the comic book, Batman cradles the lifeless body of his former Padawan in his hands, consumed with guilt and fury. This event right here is Batman's greatest failure, his greatest regret, and perhaps the single thing that torments him as much as the death of his parents. That night in Crime Alley Bruce vowed to never have another innocent die - and tonight he didn't succeed, and it will haunt him for the rest of his days.

Fast forward a few years down the line - Batman is as distant as ever, trying to shove Nightwing aside and flying everything solo. Bats never has been the biggest talker - well, take the amount of time he normally talks and reduce it a whole bunch. He's like, well, the Silent Knight or something. He's pissed, sad, determined, and feeling the need to isolate himself from anyone he's ever cared about. So Batman's entirely dedicated to his mission and to isolate himself from his allies, and now this brand new mobster makes his way on the streets, calling himself "the Red Hood" (modeled after a previous Joker incarnation, apparently). This character makes deals with crime lords, constructs elaborate plans, and doesn't hesitate to kill or double cross somebody. Oh, and he's super resourceful and intelligent. To make matters even more interesting in Gotham, the Joker's released from Arkham once again and just wants to wreck havoc and cause some more chaos.

By the finale, this grand story boils down to a very personal showdown between three people in a room.

Alright, review time: the storyline - awesome. It's always interesting to watch Batman deal with another vigilante in town who doesn't follow the Caped Crusader's rules, a individual who firmly believes that you gotta do whatever necessary to protect not only the people but the city - which includes making deals with criminals and, if one must, killing. It's equally cool to find that this vigilante is basically Batman's opposite - he's as clever and advanced as Batman, knows all the Dark Knight's tricks, and can (at times) even outsmart him. Talk about awe-some. Furthermore, the identity of the Red Hood, the flashback about what happened to Jason Todd's body post-being exploded, and the emotional journey of Batman/Bruce Wayne is a very interesting subject that is more or less well displayed here. A lengthy running time would have allowed for deeper psychological insights into Bruce's reactions to Red Hood, no doubt; but for what we got, I'm content.

Another stellar sequence that's reminiscent to Kevin Smith's Batman limited series 'Cacophony', Batman's decision not to allow the Joker to die. The Red Hood has the Joker at gunpoint, and even threatening to kill Batman if he doesn't kill the Joker. It's a intense sequence as Batman makes his decision. Why does this remind me of the Smith story? Well, mainly because Batman had a choice whether to save a dying (by his own hands) Joker, or save him.

Spoiler warning for those who know nothing about this Red Hood storyline -- alright, having Ra's al Ghul be responsible for bringing back Jason Todd is epically awesome! [By the way, sidenote: is that really how his name is pronounced? Guess I'm just used to the Batman Begins pronunciation]. I'm assuming that's straight from the comics. Having Jason resurrected and a bit cuckoo as a result of not only that but his life before (and somewhat during) Bruce - just simply cool.

Bruce Greenwood voices the Dark Knight, and for the most part he does it quite well. He's no Kevin Conroy, and no one can possibly match up to the guy (although the "Crisis on Two Earths" Batman was pretty good), but Greenwood nicely conveys Batman's pissed off-ness and, when Red Hood is revealed, his shattered soul. As for the Joker, who will forever be linked to Mark Hamil, John DiMaggio is quite the solid replacement. There are actually times where I'd be momentarily mistaken it was Hamil (don't hate me!). DiMaggio is also gifted with some great Joker lines, so I'm sure that helped his performance out rather a lot. Jensen Ackles is perfectly cast as the enigmatic Red Hood, easily breezing through jovial and playful to downright Heath Ledger Joker nasty. I would not want to piss off Red Hood, simple as that.

Animation is pretty solid, though for some reason (probably to add 'realism') particular characters are given a few more lines on their face. Sure, it does add some realism to the bloke, but it sure makes them look way more age-y. The Red Hood design, the architecture of Gotham, the few computer generated sequences, the unique but simultaneously traditional Joker look, even Ra's al Ghul - all pretty damn nifty. Can't say I paid too much attention to the score, so I can't comment on that precisely. However, it is recieving it's own CD release, so for the lovers of the composition, you can now own it and replay to your hearts desire.

Overall, Batman: Under the Red Hood is a rousing success. A bloody awesome storyline that's richly Batman (as in, a arc of emotional complexity and awesomeness only Batman can bring), a solid voice cast and animation style, a super quick pace, and a overall entirely enjoyable experience - Under the Red Hood comes highly recommended. Coming up next later this year is another Batman/Superman crossover called Apocalypse, and believe you me I am super freakin' hyped for that. But until then - absolutely check out Red Hood. It's awesome. Though is it sad that I'm already imagining the live action Nolan version of this story?

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