I just took a look at the 2010 DC animated film, Batman: Under the Red Hood, to see if it still held water after a few years, and stands with the rest of the DC animated film line. I must say, I think it still holds up pretty good.
Most of why this film works is because of the creative team. It was directed by Brandon Vietti, who has done a lot of previous Batman work. Moreover, the screenplay was written by Judd Winick, who also wrote the comic book storyline that this film is itbased on, called Batman: Under the Hood, which ran in the Batman series back in 2005. Years after the death of his sidekick, Jason Todd a.k.a. Robin, Batman is still battling underworld crime in Gotham City, which is run by the mob boss Black Mask. However, things get shaken up when a new upstart who has taken the mantle of the Red Hood starts taking territory and influence away from Black mask. Things get personal for Batman, when it appears that the Red Hood may in fact be Jason Todd, back from the dead. To make matters worse, Black Mask hires the Joker to help them take care of both the Dark Knight and the Red Hood. And it all comes down to a fateful showdown between the bat, the clown, and the boy.
The animation and art direction for this film is again, pretty good. Like most of these DC animated films, the art style is pretty similar to what we are ready got in the DCAU, but just different enough to tell that this isn’t the same universe and were getting a different story. The action throughout this film is very good. I can tell what’s going on and who’s fighting who. In particular, I was very impressed with some of the acrobatic animation that went along with the Nightwing and Jason Todd characters. The original animated series could never get away with animation that was that crisp and that fluid, but they pull it off in this film very well. There are some very good shots of Gotham city in this film, and I get a much better sense of how large and bustling this city is.
The characters and their voice actors are very well done in this film, for the most part. This film sets a pretty good tone right off the bat, with a pretty intense and gruesome opening scene of the Joker beating the second Robin, Jason Todd, with a crowbar. Right away, this film establishes that it is dark and gritty, even more so than the animated series (which, in case you didn’t know, this film is not in continuity with). However, Jason is portrayed here in a way that shows that he is not helpless or without dignity. Later, there is a very good introduction for his new persona, the newest Red Hood, which immediately establishes that he is skilled, and a threat to both the criminals in Gotham City and a physical match for Batman. A lot of what makes Jason Todd so good comes from his voice actor, Jensen Ackles, who does fantastic. He perfectly delivers the seriousness of what’s happened to the character, as well as his cockiness and sense of humor. Also, in the flashbacks were he’s a teenager, Vincent Martella performs decently as the angsty teen Robin. However, was far more impressed by the performance of his younger brother, Alexander, as the very young Jason Todd, who was able to get across the characters joy and excitement about his new life as a superhero sidekick. One of the best performances in this film is from the legend-(wait for it)-dary Neil Patrick Harris, who takes over the role of Dick Grayson/Nightwing, who was also the first Robin. I get a real sense of Dick’s lighthearted attitude, which contrasts well with Batman’s more sullen disposition. I’d say this was a case of perfect casting. Also appearing as a side character in this film is one of Batman’s greatest enemies, Ra's al Ghul, voiced here by the great Jason Isaacs, who does phenomenally well. Isaacs displays all of the qualities that I’ve come to expect from the Demon’s Head; he is cool, calm, elegant, not without honor, and believably remorseful in this story. Isaacs’ British accent is back in full force here and it works well with Ra's al Ghul, conveying his class and aristocratic demeanor. However, not every performance was a home run, in my opinion. Wade Williams did fairly well as Black Mask in trying to convey what they wanted the character to be like in this film. However, I think the problem is their approach, not particularly Williams’ performance. He comes across as a petulant child, in my opinion. However I did very much like his assistant, Ms. Li, voiced by Kelly Hu, as a levelheaded aide who doesn’t bat an eye at her boss’s tantrum-like behavior.
In the end though, what the acting comes down to are the performances of main hero, Batman, and the main villain, the Joker. And here, both do . . . okay, but not great. I’m probably being too critical here, because in my mind, both actors are matched up to previous performances that are near impossible to top. So, you could say that it’s unfair to judge them as bad, only because they’re up against an insurmountable wall. Bruce Greenwood does objectively pretty good as Batman. But like I just said, he’s not as perfect as Kevin Conroy was, but he is good at his own right. Greenwood can convey the repressed emotion of Batman, but not the same of authority and power that Conroy could pull off, both as Bruce Wayne and as the Dark Knight. Overall, Greenwood did well enough for this film, and he would later go on to reprise his role as Batman in the Young Justice series. My critique of the Joker’s performance is pretty much the same. Here, the Clown Prince of Crime is voiced by none other than John DiMaggio, a veteran voice actor. Here, he does pretty good as the Joker, but again, doesn’t give us the same perfection that Mark Hamill could do. However, he still does objectively very well. We get all of the good characteristics of the Joker that we’ve seen before; DiMaggio delivers very well the character’s dark humor, irreverence, sadism, and madness, far better than some other recent voices for the Joker that I’ve heard. I’d say that as the voice of the Joker, John DiMaggio places as a solid second-best. Again, my opinion of these two performances is marred by the fact that I grew up with the original animated series, which remains in my mind as one of the best interpretations of these characters ever done, which is a hard standard to live up to.
The climax for this film is very well done. It is intense, suspenseful, has great action, and very good use of the characters’ gadgets. It comes down to Jason, the Joker, and Batman in an interesting variant of a Mexican standoff. What makes this climax so good is that it contains a great discussion of the ethics and reasoning of Batman. You really get a feel of how Batman thinks and how that plays into his actions and how he deals with his enemies. Overall, this was a very good film. It had a compact story that was complex but not too difficult to follow. We got great performances from most of the actors, and there was a great ethical discussion at the end. This is a very good entry in not just animated Batman films, but Batman films in general.
The DVD extras here are pretty good. There the standard sneak peeks and trailers, and so forth. There are two pretty good documentaries about each of the robins featured in this film: Dick Grayson and Jason Todd. These documentaries highlight the histories of each character, and gives good insight on their similarities and differences and what made each character good in his own right. Also included standard with these DC animated films are a few episodes of the original Batman: The Animated Series, which on this disc are some of the best episodes from the entire series run, including Robin’s Reckoning, the fantastic Mad Love, and the interesting The Laughing Fish. As per some of the recent entries in the DC animated films line, this one also includes as a bonus feature a short film, Jonah Hex. Don’t worry; it has nothing to do with the live-action Josh Brolin film and this one is actually pretty good. It was directed by Joaquim Dos Santos and music by The Track Team, some of the guys behind the Avatar animated series and some episodes of Justice League Unlimited. There’s good art design here, even better than the DCAU’s version of the character, as well as good voicing by Thomas Jane as Jonah and character portrayal. What I’ve noticed with this and the other DC animated short films is that there less like adventures or battles, and more like “A Day in the Life of”-type stories, which fits perfectly with the nature of the short films, and gets across what's good about the characters without overstaying their welcome. The short film is pretty good, in and of itself, but I’d do think that it’s got kind of a cruel and dark ending, but then again I suppose it fits the character.