Friday, April 27, 2012

"Batman: Under the Red Hood" (Brandon Viette, 2010)



Directed by Brandon Vietti
Written by Judd Winick
Based on the DC Comics Characters Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Adapted from the Graphic Novel by Judd Winick

Executive Produced by Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan and Sam Register
Produced by Bobbie Page, Alan Burnett and Bruce W. Timm

Main Title Design by Erin Sarofsky
Art and Character Design by Dusty Abell and Vince Toyama

Storyboards by Christopher Berkeley, Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery and Jay Oliva
Editing by Margaret Hou
Original Motion Picture Score Composed by Christopher Drake

Bruce Greenwood … Bruce Wayne/Batman (Voice)
Jensen Ackles … Red Hood (Voice)
John Di Maggio … The Joker (Voice)
Neil Patrick Harris … Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Voice)
Jason Isaacs … Ra’s Al Ghul (Voice)
Wade Williams … Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Voice)
Kelly Hu … Ms. Li (Voice)
Jim Piddock … Alfred Pennyworth (Voice)
Alexander Martella … Kid Jason Todd/Robin (Voice)
Vincent Martella … Teen Jason Todd/Robin (Voice)
Kevin Michael Richardson … Tyler Bramford (Voice)
Gary Cole … Police Commissioner James Gordon (Voice)
Brian George … Ra’s Assistant (Voice)
Robert Clotworthy … Leon/Thug (Voice)
Phil LaMarr … Rick/Bulk (Voice)
Dwight Schultz … Freddie/Drug Dealer (Voice)

A mysterious new player called the Red Hood sets off a firestorm of gang violence in Gotham City, drawing the attentions of underworld figurehead Black Mask, the murderous Joker and Batman.


Following the conclusion of “Justice League: Unlimited” in 2006, several fans were left to wonder what would come of DC Comics animation.

The regime had begun with 1992’s “Batman: The Animated Series” and flourished with subsequent follow ups including “Superman: The Animated Series,” “The New Batman Adventures,” “Batman Beyond” and “Justice League: The Animated Series.”

For many, this animated DC Universe was and still remains in a league of its own in terms of narrative quality, character development and visual aesthetic.

That being said, it was admittedly a hard pill to swallow that the potential successor to the series was to be found in the likes of “The Batman” or “Batman: The Brave and The Bold.”

As tremendous as those shows are in their own right and by their own rules, the foundation of this production team was built upon stories more grounded in the dramatic than straight up kid’s fare and, rightfully so, Warner Brothers along with longtime producer Bruce Timm saw fit to offer a possible solution with “DC Universe Animated Original Movies.”

Enacted with 2007’s “Superman: Doomsday,” this line of home video releases culminates in the participation of several original influences from the DCAU including Timm, voice director Andrea Romano and frequent collaborators Alan Burnett, Glen Murakami and current participants such as Sam Register and Duane Capizzi.

The films, separate from the DCAU continuity, range from original stories to adaptations of classic stories straight out of comics and are often liberated from the regulations of broadcasting with the bestowing of PG-13 ratings.

To date, Batman holds the title of most appearances with his involvement in the narratives of eight films out of the current list of thirteen. Given his current tidal wave of popularity, I don’t see that changing for the forseeable future.

While “Batman: Gotham Knight” was the first solo Batman endeavor in 2008 to capitalize on the anticipation for “The Dark Knight,” it wasn’t until 2010’s “Batman: Under the Red Hood” that the character received his first feature length film both under the “DC Universe” banner and helmed by a single director for its entirety (“Gotham Knight,” while feature length, was split between six filmmakers as opposed to one).


Adapted from the 2005 comic arc of the same title (technically, the comic is titled “Under the Hood”) by Judd Winick, “Under the Red Hood” tells the story of a new menace manipulating the gang landscape of Gotham City.

Becoming the newest custodian to a long-running alias used by everyone from petty thieves to a certain Clown Prince of Crime, the new Red Hood (Jensen Ackles) pits the various mob elements up against underworld baron Black Mask (Wade Williams) to a mysterious end.

With violence mounting, Batman (Bruce Greenwood) and Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris) rush to counter the Hood’s efforts before things go from bad to worse; all the while Bruce is conflicted with the death of former Robin Jason Todd, who was lost in a battle against the Joker (John DiMaggio) five years prior.

As the dark knight encounters Gotham’s newest menace, however, things take a shocking turn when Red Hood’s identity becomes all too tragically clear.


For many people, the very thought of resurrecting Jason Todd was a bad idea from the get-go. Sure comics are a realm of heightened reality and fantasy, where the laws of life and death might not (and certainly never do) necessarily apply. But “A Death in the Family” is sacred ground for many fans, symbolizing Batman’s greatest defeat and ranking among the greatest Batman stories ever told. Doing a follow up is just asking for trouble to begin with, but bringing Jason back to life is still a matter that splits fans in debate.

The difference with the character in regards to the supposed fatalities of other DC heroes is that his death was by choice on part of the readers themselves in the notorious fan poll of the time. Where Superman’s death was created by the teams on his books as a large-scale event that never intended to keep him dead for long, actual readers willingly voted that Jason die at the hands of the Joker.

As harsh as it can be interpreted, the decision can ultimately be argued as the right one for several reasons.

The character wasn’t popular to begin with. Having said that, he was clearly a perfect candidate to demonstrate the reality that Batman’s crusade would be suspect to casualty and having him remain dead for so long created a foundation of reality for the “Batman” books.

Sure this Batman still interacts with Superman, but for the majority of the time Batman’s is a world of actual consequences and repercussions. If you’re going to make the effort to attribute Batman to a more grounded realm, you’re obligated to keep that aesthetic going by doing everything from using scientific explanations for scenarios to having people caught in the crossfire stay dead like they actually would in real life.

It’s definitely a double-edged sword, to be sure.


The film adaptation of “Under the Hood” is played straight forward in its faithfulness to the source material with one exception, namely that of Ra’s Al Ghul’s hiring of the Joker, which never happened in the comic.

Other than that, it’s loyal to the emotional weight of the story and molds it fairly successfully for a PG-13 animated venture.


I love Bruce Greenwood’s approach to Batman. An older character actor most recognizable for his performances as the President of the United States in “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” and most prominently that of Starfleet Captain Christopher Pike in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” Greenwood rightfully plays Batman older, more refined and weathered.

This is certainly a Batman I can believe in, both in terms of his actions and reactions. It’s odd; there’s weight to his presence here and yet there’s also just as much flight to it. It’s a Batman that comes with experience without losing youthful edge and that’s a terrific way to take the character with this story.


Neil Patrick Harris delivers as Nightwing and, despite having little to do beyond the first conflict with Amazo, he somehow embellishes Grayson with the same qualities Greenwood does for Wayne.

The odd duck for me here is John DiMaggio as the Joker; like Kevin Michael Richardson in “The Batman,” the voice might be just a bit too low in pitch for my taste.

This, however, brings to light a larger issue. Well not so much an issue as it is a point of interest and a refreshing rarity.


“Under the Red Hood” is one of the few instances where I’ve found myself genuinely more invested and interested in a villain other than the Joker during a story in which the Joker is an active participant.

Now I’m fully aware that nearly all of Batman’s prominent rogues are intriguing and engaging characters with the right approach and material. Being his greatest adversary, however, lends itself to the Joker quickly and most often becoming a show-stealer if he’s involved.

Here, nothing of the sort happens and yet one of the flaws of “Under the Red Hood” reveals itself with the narrative almost acting as if it’s trying to force it to happen.

I’m fully aware of how integral the Joker is to the Jason Todd story, but I found myself disappointed that all of the intrigue and effort Red Hood puts into his plan is deflated when the plan is just reduced to getting closer to the Joker and killing him in revenge.

The moment is saved when Jason attempts to force Batman to make the kill but to me it just feels like the movie wants me to focus on the Joker when I don’t want to.


When I say I don’t want to, it’s because I found a far more interesting villain in the film with Black Mask. I loved how he was handled, both in Wade Williams’ performance and his operations within the narrative. The only shortcoming is his actual design; they should’ve gone a little less Tony Montana and a little more Al Capone.

Aside from that, Mask is just a treat to watch. His attitude, his mannerisms and his temper are all wonderfully conceived and calibrated in this showcase.

"I hope you understand the trouble I've gone through to arrange this little get together here. A lot of money. A lof of dead meat."  

I don’t know; maybe it’s all residual and I had just been building up all this time as far as story after story feeling pressured to fall back on the Joker that I was ready for another rogue to get the limelight.


The visual style of the film is great and rightfully dark and moody, combining contemporary urban landscape with gothic flare such as the monstrous cathedral as part of the film’s climax. Other stand out locales include Black Mask's high-rise office, rich in its color palette and especially the Batcave and Arkham Asylum, which came out great. I suspect that this version of Arkham was somewhat inspired by Rocksteady's mega popular video game version from the year before.

I also love the approach to Ra's Al Ghul's mountain based citadel; it fits the longevity of the character and is wonderfully rendered.

The action is intensely paced to say the least.

The rooftop chases between Batman and Red Hood are kinetic and have incredible rhythm.


And there’s also the awesome confrontation with the Fearsome Hand of Four as Batman and Red Hood team up to take them out.

But of course my favorite scene HAS to be the finale of the piece, in which Batman faces Jason in a rundown apartment before being given the ultimate decision. This scene is exceedingly emotional and I love Jensen’s performance here, despite some of the hokey dialog.

“Why? I’m not talking about killing Penguin or Scarecrow or Dent. I’m talking about him. Just him. And doing it because…because he took me away from you.”

And one thing I have to say; I love that the film takes us through this horrible tragedy with Jason before ending it on a note of fateful optimism as we watch a flashback of him donning the Robin costume for the first time.

What's interesting here is that in the context of the scene, there's a moment when Jason encourages Bruce for them to get going on patrol.

Looking at it within the context of what happens to Jason and how Batman feels about him and their bond before and after his death, one can almost interpret it as if it's actually the ghost of Jason Todd. But not just Jason Todd; rather the Jason that he wants to remember. The young child with a bright future, uncompromised in his youthful innocence with becoming Robin for the first time.

It's as if it's an apparition Bruce might see nightly. Just as he's suiting up, the ghostly figure of Jason leaps into action with metaphorically as he holds the memory of the boy in his heart.

“This is the best day of my life.”


It’s just heartbreaking.

If nothing else “Batman: Under the Red Hood,” like several of the Animated “DC Universe” movies, is a great way to introduce a broader audience to concepts and characters from the comics like Jason Todd and the idea of there being multiple Robins.

With its approach as far as adaptations, the format can also help introduce viewers to the iconic DC stories we all know and love and I think that’s a positive thing.

Who knows; maybe someone’s interest got piqued enough that they went and bought the “Under the Hood” trade. That would certainly justify creating these films more than anything.

One can only hope that outcome is the one most favored.

Whatever the case, “Under the Red Hood” is a decent watch and certainly worth a look for diehard fans of the character.



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