Thursday, July 29, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Jason Todd. The mere mention of his name can lead to hour-long discussions between longtime Bat-fans. The street thug, who took over the mantle of Robin after Dick Grayson moved on to a new persona, died at the hands of the Joker (and, to be fair, at the hands of thousands of Batman fans). It took 17 years but, as comic characters have a habit of doing, Jason returned to the DCU in the guise of a sociopathic anti-hero: The Red Hood.

The latest direct-to-video feature from Warner Premiere and Warner Bros. Animation is a faithful recreation of the Under the Hood storyline by Judd Winick (who also penned the script to the film). The film begins with the brutal death of Jason Todd (Jensen Ackles) from Batman: A Death in the Family before jumping right into the Red Hood's first appearance in Gotham cowing local drug lords and forcing them under his thumb in his attempt to take the role as Gotham's #1 crimelord from Black Mask (Wade Williams).

Although the story follows much the same pattern as the comic there are some slight alterations, mostly for the better. Rather than try to explain the Superboy-Prime reality punch the story broadens Ra's al Ghul's (Jason Isaacs) involvement with Jason's resurrection. This has the added effect of muddying the water further as to the reasons for Jason's murderous behavior. Did the Lazarus Pit drive him insane, or did it just allow the natural downward spiral of Jason Todd to continue unabated?

One of the things I appreciated most about the Batman: Under the Red Hood is how much effort is taken to showcase each character. Batman (Bruce Greenwood), Jason, Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris), Black Mask, and Ra's are all given enough screentime without being marginalized. I was disappointed that Taila drew the short straw (she only appears for a second in a non-speaking role), but Winick and director Brandon Vietti do justice to the rest of the cast.

The film also doesn't back down from the bloodier moments inherent to this story. It goes for a strong PG-13 rating and earns it. The Red Hood kills many people over the course of the film, and (though a bit of camera trickery was used in what you seen on-screen) I was surprised to see both the Joker's crowbar beatdown of Robin and the Red Hood's dufflebag of heads making their way into the final cut.

That's not to say the film is perfect. Some of Winick's original dialogue comes off far more clumsy on-screen than the printed page and the Amazo plot-thread doesn't lead anywhere given the condensed running time. And although most of the casting decisions work well, though I think it's passable, I personally wasn't thrilled with John DiMaggio's version of the Joker.

The one-disc Blu-ray comes with three featurettes: one on Dick Grayson, one on Jason Todd, and one on the next animated feature Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (which has absolutely nothing to do with this story). Also included are a handful of Batman: The Animated Series episodes featuring Robin and a short Jonah Hex episode which plays up the character's western-style and that actually made me want to see a full-length version.

The featurettes on the Robins are interesting but there's nothing new here for longtime Batman readers. If I have one lasting complaint for all of DC's animated features of this type it's the complete lack of extras relating to the feature you are paying for. There's no commentary and no behind-the-scenes discussion of this film (only of the next project). Though they're continually putting mostly good material, this is definitely a major flaw with DC Animated's process that becomes more pronounced with each release.

I have to say overall I'm very happy with Batman: Under the Red Hood. It's no Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but as DC animated features go it's pretty darn good. It's got style, its fair share of violence, and captures Batman's shock at his one-time companion's return quite well. It's worth a long look for all Bat-fans out there.

1 comment:

Kal said...

I really enjoyed the fight scenes which were different than what we are used to seeing and the chases around the city. I miss Kevin Conroy as Batman but Bruce Greenwood did a great job I thought.