Batman: The Animated Series set a high watermark for all animated series to come. Aimed at kids, made for adults, its success led to Warner Bros. creating an animated universe that was expanded with Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League. Those shows have run their course, but Warner and DC Comics have created a line of direct-to-video movies under the guidance of producer Bruce Timm. Each release is a stands alone and shares no continuity with the others. You don’t need to have seen Batman: TAS or any of the other films to enjoy their latest production, Batman: Under the Red Hood. A healthy knowledge of the DC Universe will definitely help.
Most folks are familiar with Batman’s sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder, as they are with the Dark Knight himself. However, his history is a complicated one and many characters have worn the costume.. The most famous Robin is the original, Dick Grayson, the son of circus acrobats who witnessed his parents’ murder just as Batman did. Bruce Wayne took Dick on as his ward and trained him to fight crime. Dick would grow up and establish himself as his own man by adopting the costumed identity of Nightwing. He was replaced by a street orphan, who attempted to steal the hubcaps off the Batmobile, by the name of Jason Todd.
Jason was later characterized as angry and openly defiant of Batman’s orders. The change wasn’t embraced by fans who felt the second Robin had become a snotty punk. The hatred came to a head with the “Death in the Family” storyline in which Jason confronted his mentor’s arch-enemy, the Joker. DC set up two 1-900 numbers with which readers could vote for whether or not Jason would live or die. By a slim margin, they gave him the thumbs down and poor Jason was beaten half to death with a crowbar. As comic book characters often do, Jason Todd came back to the grave.
This leads us to Under the Red Hood, based on the death and resurrection of Jason Todd. The film was adapted by comic writer and former Real World cast member Judd Winick.
Red Hood begins with Batman (Bruce Greenwood) failing to reach Robin in time before the Joker’s bomb deals the death blow to his sidekick. The Caped Crusader keeps Jason’s uniform in the Batcave as a constant reminder of the price he has paid.
Years later, a new costumed criminal makes a splashy debut in Gotham City. This fellow calls himself the Red Hood (Jensen Ackles), a reference to the nom de guerre that once belonged to the Joker (John DiMaggio) before his fateful fall into a vat of chemicals. The new Red Hood takes Batman’s crusade to a new level, hoping to control crime rather than fight it. He declares urban war against the current underworld boss of Gotham, Black Mask (Wade Williams). Batman and Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris) are caught in the middle of it.
The voice cast also includes: Jason Isaacs as Ra’s al Ghul, Gary Cole as Commissioner Gordon, Kelly Hu as Black Mask’s Gal Friday, and Jim Piddock as Alfred.
Fans of Batman: TAS will want to take note that Under the Red Hood is closest in spirit to that innovative program. While the art style is reminiscent of the WB’s The Batman, the gritty and mature tone is more akin to Batman: TAS. Parents should also take note since the film is rated PG-13. There is some light cursing (“Damn,” “Hell”) and it is surprisingly violent. Deaths aren’t alluded to, they occur onscreen. Oddly enough, when Batman cradles Jason Todd’s dead body, we see no sign of blood, let alone any scratches or bruises.
As Batman, Bruce Greenwood sounds an awful lot like Kevin Conroy. He’s gruff, but not as gravely as Christian Bale. As the Joker, Futurama’s John DiMaggio sounds like Bender with a dash of Mark Hamill. The ultra-talented Neil Patrick Harris provides a few funny quips as a lighthearted Nightwing.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The high definition transfer is exceptionally clean though a little disappointing. The colors aren’t as vivid and sharp as they have been for the previous releases.
The audio is presented with a robust DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The dialogue comes in crisp and clear while the action sequences sound exceptionally sweet.
Once again, I’m more excited about the animated shorts that are now being included with the main feature. DC Showcase – Jonah Hex (11:53) features Thomas Jane (who campaigned for the role that went to Josh Brolin) as the voice of the scarred bounty hunter and does more for the character in ten minutes than the entire live-action film. On the search for a wanted outlaw, Hex runs afoul of a prostitute and her gang of murderous thugs. Also lending their voices are Linda Hamilton, Michael Rooker, Jason Marsden, and Michelle Trachtenberg.
Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson (24:13) is an in-depth look at the creation of Robin and the evolution of Dick Grayson’s character.
Robin’s Requiem: The Tale of Jason Todd (20:58) takes a look at the creation of the second Boy Wonder as well as the controversial death voting.
A First Look at Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (12:12) is a sneak preview of the next DC animated film which will feature the return of Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy as Superman and Batman along with the voices of Summer Glau as Supergirl and Andre Braugher as Darkseid.
The Blu-Ray also includes four episodes culled from Batman: The Animated Series. These are actually some of the best installments of the series. The episodes found here are “Robin’s Reckoning 1 & 2” (featuring the origin of Robin), “Mad Love” (the origin of Harley Quinn), and “The Laughing Fish” (one of the best Joker episodes).
Rounding out the Blu-Ray is a collection of trailers for other Warner Brothers releases.
Film Value: 7
At 75 minutes, Under the Red Hood suffers from a runtime that is too brief. It moves at a quick pace, but it allows a lot of awful coincidences such as Batman rushing across the world from Gotham to Ra’s al Ghul’s stronghold and back. Casual fans may find some of the story a bit confusing. However, Red Hood works as a short and sweet action flick.