It's amazing that, more often than they should, the big screen adaptations of our favorite super heroes can fail so grandly. One hero that's actually managed to succeed more often than not in these ordeals is the caped crusader. Tim Burton's original effort, Christopher Nolan's latest installments; cinema has mostly been kind to Batman (heck, even the horrendous Batman and Robin can be enjoyed for its... Schwarzenegger
It could be argued, however, that the animated universe of DC comics is wholly superior to anything the Hollywood big wigs could churn out. Look at Batman: The Animated Series for any proof you need that just because something is a cartoon doesn't make it not compelling, deep, dark, and complex. Following in that pedigree is Warner Premier's latest DC Comics home release, Batman: Under the Red Hood, an adaptation of a more obscure story-arc in the Batman mythos. Does it live up to its legacy, or fail to meet expectations?
SO WHAT'S THIS MOVIE ABOUT?
Under the Red Hood takes place in what could be described as "recent" Gotham city, the birthplace, home, and troubled dominion of Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman. After a suspenseful and surprisingly brutal opening depicting the Joker's murder of Batman's second protege, Jason Todd, the film cuts to the modern day. The crime lords of Gotham are under the control of maniacal gangster, Black Mask, until a mysterious thug going by Red Hood enters the fray and takes control of some of Black Mask's top earners. This starts an all out gang war between the established kingpin and the new gun in town, with Batman getting caught in the middle trying to clean up. To further complicate things, the mysterious Red Hood begins to more and more resemble Bruce's long dead protege, and his savage and manipulating methods are making him question what kind of teacher he actually was to the boy. Batman stalwarts Nightwing, Ra's Al Ghul, and of course, The Joker play pivotal roles before the film reaches a heart-wrenching climax, one that's both thrilling and somewhat depressing.
SO WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT THIS MOVIE?
As I've already said, if ever you were to doubt the gravitas of what can be portrayed in animated form, look no further than Batman: Under the Red Hood. This is a DARK story (rated PG-13, in fact) that comic author Judd Winick has penciled here, and it's pulled off so well by all the moving pieces involved. The movie moves along at a blistering pace (totaling 75 minutes in all), but manages to make you feel for all the characters involved and stresses their human elements. Part of this is due to the excellent voice cast. It might take a while to get used to one Bruce Greenwood voicing the Dark Knight, but he brings an uncertainty and humanity to role while still being very Batman-y. Jensen Ackles plays a great charismatic villain as the Red Hood, and Jason Isaacs tears it up in a limited role as Ra's Al Ghul. Who I feel really steals the show, however, is John Dimaggio (veteran voice actor best known for voicing Bender from Futurama and Marcus Fenix from Gears of War) as the Joker
. He manages to give the villain a more sarcastic humor, and plays him much more menacing than he's been in some time, making it actually plausible how such a ridiculous villain commands so much respect. Lastly, the action sequences in this film are amazingly animated and directed. They literally pull no punches when it comes to depicting the brutality of a fist fight between highly trained vigilantes
and criminals, and it is to the film's ultimate benefit.
SO WHAT SUCKS ABOUT THIS MOVIE?
As much as the movie packs into its 75 minutes, it still can feel a bit rushed at points. We're dealing with existing characters here, and an audience that likely knows all about them, but for the unacquainted, there can be a lack of character development that can be somewhat troubling. Also, as excellent as the animation is in dealing with action sequences, there are some instances of long dialogue where it seems like the animators had troubling conveying the right emotions in their "cast". Lastly, although I generally like Neil Patrick Harris in his acting AND voice acting jobs, he just seems an ill fit for Nightwing here. He's only in a few scenes, but it seems like he's trying just a bit too hard, playing more Peter Parker than Dick Grayson... if that makes any sense.
The copy of this movie I got didn't come with the Jonah Hex animated short film, which is disappointing. I guess I'm gonna have to get the new Superman/Shazam short film collection if I wanna see it. Bummer.
SO WHAT'S THE FINAL VERDICT?
Even with some missteps, this is a fantastic Batman film. Period. No qualifiers are needed. It's dark, it's brutal, and it tells a tragic tale all within an excellently animated format. If you're a fan of comic books in the least, this movie is definitely worth the 75 minutes it takes to watch it.