by Aaron Einhorn
Generally speaking, I’ve been a fan of all of the DC Animated films, going all the way back to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. There are some I’ve liked more (Wonder Woman) than others (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths), but I can’t think of any I have completely disliked. (Yes, including Superman: Doomsday.)
Now, Batman: Under the Red Hood had some strikes going against it for me. To begin with, I’m not a big fan of the Batman: Under the Hood storyline from the comics, although I never read the actual issues, instead picking things up from inference. The Red Hood irks me, and I was never a big fan of seeing how they brought the character under the mask back into the DC Universe. But, I resolved to go into this with an open mind. So, when my review copy of Batman: Under the Red Hood – 2-Disc Special Edition DVD arrive, I dutifully inserted the discs and started watching. And let’s just say that I’m glad that I did.
Batman faces his ultimate challenge as the mysterious Red Hood takes Gotham City by firestorm. One part vigilante, one part criminal kingpin, Red Hood begins cleaning up Gotham with the efficiency of Batman, but without following the same ethical code. Killing is an option. And when the Joker falls in the balance between the two, hard truths are revealed and old wounds are reopened.
As I stated earlier, I never read the actual Batman: Under the Hood comics, all I knew was that the resurrection that created the Red Hood was complicated and ugly, involving shapeshifters, timeline shockwaves, Ra’s Al Ghul, and many other confusing factors. I’m pleased to say that the storyline of Batman: Under the Red Hood is much cleaner, easy to follow, and full of references to classic Batman stories (Death in the Family and The Killing Joke), while not requiring you to be familiar with the entire Batman history and supporting cast. All you need to know going in to the story is that Batman had a sidekick named Robin. The first one, Dick Grayson, eventually grew up and became Nightwing. The second one, Jason Todd, was killed by the Joker. And if you didn’t know that, they recap that fact for you before the opening credits.
The plot focuses on the arrival of a new crime lord, the Red Hood, to Gotham City. The Red Hood shares some mysterious ties to Batman himself, as well as ties to the Joker and to Ra’s Al Ghul. And what starts off as a gang war between the Red Hood and the current king of Gotham, Black Mask, is instead revealed to be a deeply personal fight that reaches back to Batman’s first, and greatest, failure.
If it seems like I’m dancing around the plot, it’s because I am. The reveal in this story matters, and while I knew it going in, I don’t want to steal it from anyone who doesn’t already know. So, let’s skip the details of the plot, and get in to what makes this film great. And it is great.
From vocal casting to visual style, this film feels like Batman. The moodiness is there. The villains are at once over-the-top and at the same time, deadly serious. The action sequences are wonderful, with the fight between Batman and Red Hood on one side, and hired goons in power suits on the other, being one of the best superheroic fights I have ever seen on screen. If there’s anything to say against the movie, it’s that some characters are introduced without much of an introduction, and if you don’t already know who Amazo or Ra’s Al Ghul are, then you may feel like there is never much of an explanation. This isn’t a problem for Amazo, but is a bit more of one for Ra’s.
That said, there is very little bad to say about the film. The writing is very solid, the stakes are high, yet personal, and the vocal acting is amazing. The Joker is psychotic. Black Mask is a great crime boss. And Batman? He is stoic, yet vulnerable. Seriously, there hasn’t been this strong of a Batman story seen on-screen since Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
The Secondary Feature: DC Showcase: Jonah Hex
I thought that DC Showcase: The Spectre was one of the best things about Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, so my hopes were high for DC Showcase: Jonah Hex. It had going for it the fact that it was based directly on one of the original stories from Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Grey, and Phil Noto. Not to mention having a superb vocal cast in the form of Thomas Jane as Hex, and Linda Hamilton as Madam Lorraine, Michael Rokker as Red Doc, and Michelle Trachtenberg as an unnamed prostitute in Lorraine’s employ.
I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. This was a nice little western tale, and it richly deserved the PG-13 rating that accompanies the disc. Sexual without being explicit, violent without being gory, and brutally harsh, this is everything I want in a Jonah Hex story, unlike a certain feature film released earlier this summer.
It’s a short enough piece that I don’t want to go into the plot, but suffice it to say that it’s full of bad people who have bad things happen to them. There’s murder, betrayal, violence, and two seductions, all in ten-minutes. In other words, I really liked it.
When you load the DVD, you get the traditional assortment of trailers. The Batman: The Brave and the Bold video game, Smallville, and, oddly enough, Matty Collector. Disc One gives a wide selection of trailers, including Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Batman: Gotham Knight, Superman: Doomsday, The Lord of the Rings, Animated, Jonah Hex: Motion Comic, and Legend of the Guardians. Then we get a sneak peek at Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, and this looks oddly impressive. I never read the Superman/Batman comic line, and I generally wasn’t thrilled with the return of Supergirl/Kara Zor-El to the pages of DC Comics. But I have to admit, I really liked the sensibility that Bruce Timm and company brought to Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and it looks like they’re taking a similar approach here. Plus, we get the return of Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly as Batman and Superman, and they’re joined by Summer Glau as Supergirl and Andre Braugher as Darkseid, which makes me begin to reconsider and put Superman/Batman: Apocalypse higher up on my “can’t wait for this” list.
Disc One also contains the DC Showcase: Jonah Hex, covered above.
Disc Two is nothing but bonus features. First off, there are two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, Robin’s Reckoning, Part I and Robin’s Reckoning, Part II, which oddly mirror the transformation from Robin into Nightwing that we see the echoes of in Batman: Under the Red Hood. Then we get the featurette Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson.
Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson is a fun little featurette, that explains the evolution of Dick Grayson, beginning with explaining why the character of Robin was invented, and then going through Dick Grayson “growing up,” and eventually becoming Nightwing. Sadly, probably for the sake of maintaining relevance, they don’t go into Dick’s stints as Batman, instead focusing on the question of “Will Dick ever become Batman?” This is a little odd to the comic fans who know that not only has Dick been Batman in the past, but that at the time of the DVD’s release, is currently wearing the Batman costume. Nonetheless, it’s still a fun feature. While there probably isn’t anything new for long-time comic fans, it’s still enjoyable to watch.
Unfortunately, starting with this release, the Digital Copy is only located on the Batman: Under the Red Hood – Blu-Ray. Since we didn’t receive the Blu-Ray for review, we can’t address the Digital Copy this time around. The Blu-Ray also includes two additional episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, and the featurette Robin’s Requiem: The Tale of Jason Todd, which addresses how Jason Todd was revised and reshaped.
It’s a little odd seeing the style used for the original Batman: Under the Hood story reinterpreted through the Bruce Timm lens. The lines share the simplicity we grew used to in Batman: The Animated Series, but the style is completely different.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is presented in a 1.77:1 aspect ratio, and needless to say, the image is spectacularly crisp, even on DVD instead of Blu-Ray.
We’ve got the traditional (by now) Dolby Digital sound, and a surprisingly limited bit of language tracks – only English, with English and French subtitles available. But that doesn’t begin to address the full extent of the sound here. First off, there’s the vocal casting. While I’ll always have a soft-spot for the traditional cast from Batman: The Animated Series, I’m really happy with what we have here. To begin with, Bruce Greenwood is about as perfect of a vocal choice for Batman as you’ll find. This doesn’t mean I prefer him to either Kevin Conroy or Diedrich Bader, but it does mean that he ably filled the role for me in this film. Jensen Ackles makes a very good Red Hood, and I’m firmly convinced that Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Isaacs were born to voice Nightwing and Ra’s Al Ghul. If there’s one voice that struck me as odd, it’s John DiMaggio’s Joker. It’s not that his Joker is bad, it’s just not at all what I’m used to.
Christopher Drake’s music is gothic and moody, reminiscent of earlier musical themes used for different versions of Batman without being directly repetitive.
There isn’t anything special to talk about here. It’s a cardboard slipcover, mirroring the box art. The cover poster is gorgeous, as you can see above, while the back features the traditional blurbs and a few random screenshots. Absolutely nothing wrong here, but nothing special either.
It’s a great story, well-paced, well-acted and full of continuity nods to the DC Universe without demanding longtime fandom. The vocal cast is great, the visual style is wonderful, and the pacing is solid enough to make 75 minutes feel like longer – not because you want it to end, but because you are so wrapped up in the story that you can’t believe it was less than an hour and a half in length.
Visually and vocally, I still prefer Mark Hamil’s Joker to the one we get in Batman: Under the Red Hood. It’s a minor quibble, but the Joker is a hard role to own.
Honestly? As much as I loved the film, I still hate the fact that they brought the Red Hood back into DC Comics. Maybe if the comics were able to tell the story as a stand-alone, like we get here, it would be different. But the actual resurrection was tied to far too many DC Universe events to make a concise story.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is fabulous, that’s really all there is to say here. It is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the best Batman stories I’ve ever seen, and despite the fact that I expected to be mostly unimpressed with it, it may be my favorite of the DC Animated Originl movies. (I’ll need to watch it again to see if it really dethrones Wonder Woman for me. If you’re a fan of animated superheroes in general, and Batman in particular, you really need to give this one a try.
You can order Batman: Under the Red Hood – Single Disc, Batman: Under the Red Hood – 2-Disc Special Edition DVD or Batman: Under the Red Hood – Blu-Ray through Amazon.com, or order through Comic Hero News at our brand new online store.