- Title: Batman Under the Red Hood
- Director: Brandon Vietti
- Voice Director: Andrea Romano
- Date: 2010
- Studio: Warner Brothers
- Genre: Action, Fantasy, Mystery
- Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Cole, Jason Isaacs
- Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
- DVD Format: R1, NTSC
"You really think I would stir up so much trouble and not make sure you knew it was me?" -- Joker
Under the Red Hood is a major departure from previous WB Animation Batman films. Where those films (previously reviewed, see Mystery of the Batwoman, Subzero, and Mask of the Phantasm) felt like longer episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, this film is cinematic, full of action, and also tragic. In short it feels like a film. It's also very grounded in Batman graphic novels published by DC Comics, especially A Death in the Family and Under the Hood. And this film is violent. People die. Granted, most are criminals, but still - not for the under 15 set. This is a film for adults, which, again, is more in the same tone as the more adult Batman graphic novels.
The film opens with a scene from the end of my favorite Batman graphic novel, A Death in the Family, Joker beating Jason Todd/Robin nearly to death with a crowbar and then blowing him sky high. Batman arrives, but too late to save the boy wonder. The shot of Batman, standing in the rain, holding Jason's dead body is nearly as effective as the still in the novel - where Batman is half kneeling (one knee on the ground, one up) clutching Jason, and has his head bowed. Jason's death would haunt Bruce nearly as much as his parents' death.
The film then moves forward five years. Batman is out on patrol and ends up fighting Amazo (a killer android), Nightwing arrives and the two work together flawlessly. Nightwing (aka Dick Greyson), voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, I really liked. And I actually thought the re-casting worked. I preferred him to Loren Lester who had voiced Dick/Robin/Nightwing in Batman: The Animated Series. But what Batman discovers is that two new players are at work in Gotham: Black Mask and the Red Hood. Black Mask is a gangster, similar to what we've seen before in Gotham City, but grotesquely disfigured with a skeletal black head. Red Hood is both attacking, and killing, criminals in Gotham, and taking a percentage of their take. Batman, at first with Nightwing's help, goes after Red Hood. Since Red Hood was once upon a time an alias of the Joker, they pursue a lead to Arkham Asylum, checking in on the straight-jacket restrained Joker. But, Joker has been held tight, and even more convincing, says he wouldn't keep it a secret if he was causing chaos in Gotham.
After their first confrontation with Red Hood, Batman and Nightwing, now suffering a broken ankle, are in the Cave with Alfred (who's bandaging said ankle) going through Batman's video and audio recordings of the fight. Nightwing notes that Red Hood isn't just some hood or gangster - he's trained. Batman points out that even the ability to have knives that can cut his lines is unheard of. However, Batman also sends Nightwing away, asking Alfred to bring Dick home. In part, because Bruce still sees a need to protect Dick.
Once Dick is gone, Bruce reviews the audio, and thinks he hears the Red Hood call him "Bruce". Only a handful of people know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. After another confrontation with the Red Hood, Bruce is able to get a blood sample for analysis. He's running the sample through the computers in the cave, running a comparison. The results come back just as Alfred walks in. The result: a match between Red Hood and Jason Todd, startles the normally unflappable butler so much he drops the coffee service he's carrying. But he also, immediately, tries to console Bruce, while trying to figure out what's happened. Together, they dig up Jason's grave. Bruce realises he's buried a latex dummy. Alfred tries to comfort Bruce, reminds him how distraught he was, but Bruce is angry with himself and insists he should have realised.
Bruce flies off to the middle of nowhere and confronts Ra's al Ghul. Ghul explains exactly what happened. During a confrontation between himself and Batman five years before, in desperation, he had hired the Joker to provide a distraction. But, he hadn't counted on the Joker's madness or savagery. Ra's, in short, actually felt bad about Jason's death, arranges the switcharoo with the bodies, and takes Jason's body to a Lazarus pit. But, the resurrected Jason is quite literally, quite nuts.
After he's discovered the truth, Batman heads back to Gotham in his jet. Alfred talks to him over the video link.
"Sir, please take this to heart. Who Jason was before, how we lost him, and this dark miracle or curse that has brought about his return, it is not your fault." -- Alfred
"Then I got him killed. My partner. My soldier. My fault. I own that. I'll carry that like everything else." --Batman
The conversation is filled with everything I love about Bruce and Alfred's relationship, and nearly brought me to tears. Alfred cares so much for Bruce, the man he sees as a son. Bruce, however, can't really accept that caring in any way. (He has the same problem accepting how Dick feels about him). And Bruce is, oh, so ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The conversation is cut short, however, by Alfred's discovery on the news that Joker is causing trouble. Batman needs to rush to the scene. Red Hood shows up where Joker is (who's taken all of Gotham's criminals who work for Red Hood hostage) and reveals everything was a plan to get an audience between himself and Joker. Joker scoffs, but is then impressed. Then he's on the run for his life. (Imagine -- someone scarier that Joker chasing the Joker. And in this film, it works.) Red Hood catches the Joker, takes him to a room, and starts to beat the crap out of him with a crowbar -- using the exact same taunting words Joker had used five years ago. Formerly confused as who Red Hood was, now Joker gets it, and still manages to insult Jason.
Batman does arrive and tries to stop Jason. In the fight, Jason tears off the cowl, then removes his own red helmet. (He does return the cowl to Bruce) He leads Batman to Joker. Their conversation, again, is heartbreaking. Bruce tries to apologise and tries to make things right, but it doesn't work. Finally, Jason tells a startled Bruce that he forgave him for dying (that is for Jason's death). But he doesn't forgive him for not killing the Joker. Batman tries to explain that he has thought about it, but that's a dark pit he'd never crawl out of. Jason continues with -- "I'm not talking about Penguin, or Scarecrow, or Dent -- just him!" But Batman is adamant - he will not kill. So, Jason gives him a choice -- kill the Joker or kill Jason (as he puts a gun to Joker's head). Batman turns, slowly walks away, then after Jason's fired at him, he ducks the bullet as he turns back and throws a batarang into Jason's gun, which explodes and so does the room, with charges that Jason has set. Batman isn't able to get everyone out safely.
This is a dark, violent story. But vintage Batman. Well, new Batman, to be precise. It's an excellent, excellent movie, dealing with dark themes. The voice actors are good, especially Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing and Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd/Red Hood. I was very disappointed that Kevin Conroy, who was so excellent as Batman, and in many ways is my favorite Batman actor, (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and old Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond, plus various movies) is re-cast with Bruce Greenwood. However, Greenwood does do a good job. And oddly enough, Batman, Alfred, and Joker, all sound very much like their counterparts in the Warner Brothers live action movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
But, I also cannot stress enough just how good this film was. It's cinematic, it's shot or filmed like a film -- with some really great shots (the close-up of Robin's eye as he realises the Joker's rigged the place in Sarejevo to explode; Batman holding Jason's broken body, etc). I also loved how flashbacks were introduced with ghost images that then became solid. The storyline is great, and based in the books (always a plus for any filmed version of Batman). And, Warner's has gotten away from the "no one can really die" code that makes it's animated television shows occasionally resemble The A-Team (the original TV series, not the movie).
Recommendation: See it! Buy it! Appropriate for children over 15 and adults.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next film: Batman Beyond Return of the Joker