Batman: Under the Red Hood

Certificate: PG
Running time: 75 mins
Director: Brandon Vietti
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris
Genre: Comic book, Action, Animation
Country: USA

No man has exclusive rights of the cape and cowl, though Kevin Conroy has been responsible for some truly exceptional work.  Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days, Star Trek) takes up the challenge of protecting Gotham City against a new enemy with traits that are all too familiar.

Vietti’s tale of the Dark Knight opens with a sequence fitting of the guilt and brooding origins of the character with more than a slight nod to Batman: A Death in the Family as Robin is beaten and then killed in an explosion at the hands of the Joker (Di Maggio).  The animation style is highly detailed, organic in nature yet stylish in it’s own way.  It has none of the flair of Batman: Gotham Knight nor the Art Deco echoes of Batman: The Animated Series and in considerably darker than Superman/Batman:Public Enemies yet it has considerable style in it’s attention to detail.  Gotham looks dangerous, dark and dirty, coated in graffiti and neglect and is all the more welcoming for it.  Rarely has an animated city at night looked so beautiful, tranquil yet fearsome.  The animation of Batman is relatively unchanged, similar in style to both Batman: The Animated Series and Public Enemies.  By and large animators are reluctant to update the drawing style of Batman (to make him similar to his live action counterpart) as the more detail there is to consider the more chance there is to go wrong.

The narrative of Batman: Under the Red Hood has several key sources of influence.  We’ve already mentioned A Death in the Family and with The Dark Knight offering no fresh insight into the origin of the Joker the film falls back on the classic tripping hazard/boiling acid origin that Tim Burton’s Batman opted for.  Narrative arches dealing with human trafficking, drug deals and grief are not commonly found in animation, Under the Red Hood has a lot darker tone than most Batman animations, certainly a lot more adult and challenging that Public Enemies or Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.  It’s a welcome addition to the more challenging adult geared animated films that are gradually finding and keeping an audience in recent years.

Bruce Greenwood does a great job as Batman.  You probably wondering “what is there to do other than know your lines and deliver them with a gravelly tone?!” and in some respects you’d be right but when you consider how Conroy has owned the role for two decades and Under the Red Hood being a high profile dark animation with a strong cast you’ll see what is meant.  Greenwood is an accomplished actor, has been for years, there will be some out there looking for faults – adamant that the role was Conroy’s (by right).  Greenwood delivers the dark gravelly Batman well but he also has moments of light and shade.  In scenes with Nightwing (Harris) he’s momentarily sarcastic and familiar, also contemplative in the Batcave as he switches from fighter to detective.  More outings as The Bat-Man are a must, more please Bruce…more!  Neil Patrick Harris is a clever piece of casting (as Nightwing), many Batman fans have called for him to have some form of role when word was that The Riddler would appear in The Dark Knight Rises.  Alas this came to nothing but he’s done himself no disservice in a very uncharacteristic performance.  If you weren’t to know it was him you certainly wouldn’t have guessed and with Nolan/Bale on the way out of Gotham and a potential reboot around the corner The Riddler/Robin/Nightwing could still be on his horizon.  I’m a fan of Supernatural, though seasons six and seven have been unbearably underwhelming I still like to see the actors who have given me five seasons of happiness do well so was pleased to see the casting of Ackles (Dean Winchester) as Red Hood.  He’s an interesting antagonist according to Batman legend.  Many villains have adopted his disguise in order to remain anonymous and Ackles (with his character having several narrative twist and turns) does a great job playing in “the moment” in order to create a character that’s true to the story on multiple viewings.  There’s a tragic ruthlessness to this sociopathic vigilante as he looks to snatch the torch from Batman and control rather than clean the streets of Gotham.  It’s all incredibly Shakespearian and wonderfully put together.  The inclusion of the Joker, played wonderfully by John Di Maggio (Futurama) and Ra's al Ghul voiced by the amazing Jason Isaacs in supporting roles only goes to show how incredible this film is.  My only wish is that Isaacs has more Ghul on screen in future films as he's a truly remarkable actor.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is very much the equal peer to Batman Begins, it’s as dark and as challenging to the preconceived codes and conventions of the medium.  A fantastic, atmospheric and deeply psychological thrill ride and will have done more for Batman animation than any of the DC Universe crossover films have ever done.

Movie Bar HEROES! featuring a foursome of fantastic yet forgotten Superheroes including The Champions of Justice and 3 Supermen Against Godfather can be booked by clicking [here].


Ty said...

Great review! Totally agree, this is one of the best Batman animated movies. As good as Mask Of The Phantasm.

John Baxter said...

Thank Ty. Had almost forgotten about Mask of the Phantasm, I think those two would make excellent live action offerings the quality is so high in both of them.

A hero never dies said...

Loved this film, was in my top ten of the year and deservedly so.

John Baxter said...

I instantly wanted to watch it again. Remarkable really.

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