Film Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

“I don’t know what’s worse: your grief or your antiquated sense of morality.”

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Oh, I went there.  This week: BATMAN.

Whether you love him or love to make fun of him, Batman is a pop cultural and media phenomenon that probably won’t go away for a long, long time.  And, thank goodness for that: I’m not a “Batman conossieur” by any means, but the guy is still one of my favorite superheroes.  He’s just a nut– what’s not compelling about that?

Here, Warner Brothers Animation gives us a direct-to-DVD film: Batman: Under the Red Hood.  Keep in mind, these are the same animators behind the beloved Batman: The Animated Series of the 1990s.  That show was my childhood.  I was never a comic book kid, but the Kids WB line-up schooled me on almost everything superhero, from Kryptonite to Catwoman…which could be a bad thing to a lot of diehard fans out there.  I’ll be honest with you guys right now: if you’re looking for solid comparisons to the original comics and whatnot, you in the wrong neighborhood.

Still, I think we can all agree that Mark Hamill kicked ass as the voice behind the Joker.

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Yeah, I’d like to thank Luke Skywalker for being single-handedly responsible for my fear of clowns.  I salute you.

Yet, I was lured to watch the more contemporary Under the Red Hood  this weekend because of a different interpretation of that legendary super-villain: John DiMaggio (the voice of BENDER, people) plays the Joker.  I had to see and hear this for myself.

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Without further ado, here’s my two cents on Batman: Under the Red Hood.

THE GOOD

First of all, any WB fan knows that this animation is right out of the original 1992 series.

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The dark and mysterious comic book-style remains intact, but, hey now, this is almost twenty years later…and the animation shows it.  It’s crisper, more detailed, and – in the first scene especially – more realistic.  From the blood to the genuine expressions on the characters’ faces…just wait, I’ll show you guys a clip in a sec.  In short, for a direct-to-DVD film, it looks fantastic.

In addition to more grown-up animation, we also have more grown-up drama.  Blood, swearing, drug dealers and pimps…this is not the Gotham City from my childhood, but it does feel like an authentic Gotham.  The clownish hysteria of Mark Hamill’s Joker is shifted to a meatier madness in John DiMaggio’s interpretation.  Balloons filled with the notorious “happy gas” are replaced with brute force in the form of a crowbar and other assault weapons – he’s a more adult and violent Joker that I wasn’t expecting in an animated film, especially one from Warner Brothers.  Nevertheless, it’s a menacing and compelling change that, for me, makes the Joker all the more terrifying.

If you’re still not sold, check out the first scene of the movie.  If this doesn’t wet your whistle, I don’t know what will:

DiMaggio once said that playing the Joker is like “playing Hamlet” – the role is timeless, iconic, and should be up for the actor’s own interpretation…there’s no “right way” to play the Joker.  At least, that was his response to all the hate he received for deviating from the Mark Hamill-style.  I have to side with Johnny D on this – yes, his Joker is very different, but it’s still dark and intriguing, which is undeniably true to the character.  Hell, if everyone played the Joker the same way – from Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger – wouldn’t the Joker just be boring?

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What about the Bat himself?  Batman (Bruce Greenwood) is as stoic and brooding as ever – determined to use fear, not intimidation, to clean the streets of Gotham.  Nothing all that special, right?  Well, on his caped shoulders, the Dark Knight carries one of the most dramatic and addicting plot lines I’ve ever encountered in a Batman adaptation.  For the first time on-screen, Under the Red Hood DIRECTLY addresses the question that, quite frankly, has plagued my mind since I fell in love with the franchise: why won’t Batman just kill the Joker already?

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Seriously, why?  It can’t just be because of a moral code…that Batman just refuses to kill in general.  Through jaw-dropping fight choreography, engaging character dynamics, various twists and turns, and a nail-biting climax, Under the Red Hood challenges you to answer the “why” yourself…and decide if Batman’s justified.  It’s done amazingly well.

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Neil Patrick Harris also lends his voice to a comedic Dick Grayson, the original Robin who now goes by “Nightwing.”  The character provides a stark contrast with the “new” Robin, Jason Todd (Jensen Ackles).  That’s all I’ll reveal about the plot for now…trust me, the story’s too good to spoil.  See the movie.

THE NOT-SO-GOOD

The plot is strong, but the writing is…okay.  In one scene, Batman engages in a clunky, emotional monologue about Jason…yeah, it’s a little strange.  I don’t know about you guys, but I never thought of Batman as THIS:

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I was like:

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Another nitpick: while Dick Grayson serves his purpose as comic relief and a comparative example…I coulda used a little more Nightwing.  He’s in the film for about the first half hour and then just disappears.  He makes a brief appearance towards the very end, but, come on, he could’ve at least shown up for the climax!

Movie, ya shouldn’t have skimped on the Neil Patrick Harris.  There’s no such thing as too much NPH.

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THE BAD

No Badman here.  Other than my little nitpicks, the film is ON POINT.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Christopher Nolan, have a seat and take notes.  Under the Red Hood can easily stand beside any cinematically released Batman film any day of the week.  Beautiful animation, fantastic story, strong characters, a grown-up Gotham like we’ve never seen before from Warner Brothers…what’s not to love?

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The stakes are high, the drama is intense…if you’re a Batman fan and you haven’t seen Under the Red Hood yet, it’s a MUST.  Or, if you were a fan of the 1992 animated series like me, Under the Red Hood is definitely worth a look – purely for the sake of nostalgia.  For me, it was awesome to see that this franchise has, in a way, grown up and matured with Generation Z.

BATMAN.  THE CAPED CRUSADER.  THE SILENT GUARDIAN.  A DARK KNIGHT.  I’ll stop now.

4.5/5

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2 thoughts on “Film Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

  1. The only animated “Batman” film I’ve seen is “The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1”. But I hear so much good things about this movie. I’ve actually heard a fellow blogger saying that “Batman: Under the Red Hood” is his favorite “Batman” movie ever, be it live-action or animated.

    • It’s a GREAT movie – I really didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, especially since it was direct-to-DVD. But seriously: Under the Red Hood + a few friends + mediocre Chinese take-out = perfect night-in. It’s a proven formula.

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