Batman: Under the Red Hood
Reviewed by Brant W. Fowler
Producers: Bruce Timm, Bobbi Page
Co-Producer: Alan Burnett
Director: Brandon Vietti
Writer: Judd Winick
Casting Director: Andrea Romano
Music: Christopher Drake
Batman (voice): Bruce Greenwood
Red Hood (voice): Jensen Ackles
Nightwing (voice): Neil Patrick Harris
Joker (voice): John DiMaggio
Run Time: 75 Minutes (Main Film)
Release Date: July 27, 2010
Premiere: July 23, 2010
Batman faces his ultimate challenge as the mysterious Red Hood takes Gotham City by firestorm. One part vigilante, one part criminal kingpin, Red Hood begins cleaning up Gotham with the efficiency of Batman, but without following the same ethical code. Killing is an option. And when the Joker falls in the balance between the two, hard truths are revealed and old wounds are reopened.
In 1988, the ever-growing unpopularity of the new Robin, Jason Todd reached its culmination with the Batman: Death in the Family storyline. In the story, fans were given two phone numbers to call to decide the fate of the cocky new Robin, who had been taken hostage by Batman archenemy, The Joker. As a result of the viewer poll (regardless of how legitimate it may or may not have been, which has been a subject of debate over the years), which was a rather close margin, Jason Todd died at the hands of the maniacal Batman villain, much to the pleasure of Batman fans across the board.
In 2005, nearly two decades after his demise in real time, Jason Todd made his return to the land of the living in the now infamous arc by writer Judd Winick, Under the Hood (a follow-up to Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's Hush arc). He played the part of a vigilante with a twist, sort of an anti-hero who took over Gotham's crime syndicates delivering a brand of justice Batman never taught him, as the new Red Hood.
And this brings us to the present. Tomorrow, Friday, July 23, 2010, the newest animated film out of Warner Bros. Animation, Batman: Under the Red Hood, makes its debut at the San Diego Comic-Con International (CCI or SDCC, whichever acronym you may prefer). I was fortunate enough to get a hold of an advance copy of the film that of course inspired this advance review.
The film loosely follows the two Jason Todd arcs mentioned above, and is written by the same writer of its source material, Judd Winick. Winick is a writer either loved or hated, followed or avoided, but I for one, by and large, have enjoyed his work to date.
Batman: Under the Red Hood opens with the Joker mercilessly beating Jason Todd, as Robin, mostly seen off screen, then fast forwards five years in the future as the Red Hood pops on the scene, giving us a glimpse of this no-nonsense character before shifting to Batman, with a very welcome guest appearance by Nightwing, the first Robin, Dick Grayson.
The animation in this film is top notch, possibly one of the best offering visually out of Warner's line of DC animated films, and that's saying a lot. But with people such as Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett behind the scenes producing the film, is there any doubt? The film indeed does pay homage to Timm's much beloved Batman: The Animated Series in tone and feel, with an updated look and even crisper animation.
This film also contains quite possibly the most seamless combination of 3D and 2D animation I've ever seen, shifting between the two in the opening sequences so effortlessly it doesn't even remotely jolt your senses like so many other uses of the two visuals normally do.
The cinematography is equally stunning, giving this animated film the feel and sense of a blockbuster live action movie, cutting between scenes of Gotham with credits rolling in a much more visually interesting way than many live action films of the ilk do.
The voice acting is also stellar, from John DiMaggio's (Batman: Brave and the Bold, Futurama) very believable Joker, to Jensen Ackles' (Supernatural, Smallville, Dark Angel) dead-on Red Hood depiction. Even Bruce Greenwood's Batman does the character more justice than I would have given credit for. And Neil Patrick Harris' (How I Met Your Mother, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) Nightwing? There couldn't be a better fit. His one-liners, in particular (:Lasers! He's got lasers!") add a new dimension to the film, giving it just the right balance of slight humor needed, expected and applauded in a Batman story - not silly, over the top or slapstick, just occasional and rare situational chuckle humor.
Even the musical scores are intricately timed and composed to capture that dark yet exciting and vibrant, but gritty essence of the Batman corner of the DC Universe.
The story itself, whether you're a fan of the comic version or not, and whether you're a fan of the return of Jason Todd or not, is a solid, interesting and entertaining story expertly scripted and enforced in this film. Very faithful to the source with some minor adjustments here and there for film, it makes for an enjoyable experience and welcome addition to the line of animated Batman adventures.
Bottom line is if you are a fan of Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animated Series, or even just a fan of good storytelling and beautiful animation you're going to find much to enjoy from this film. It does Batman justice, animated or otherwise, and geniusly captures the essence of the magic that is Gotham and its residents. Winick delivers a brilliant script only enhanced by the excellent casting and outstanding performances of the various voice actors.
I realize there is a lot going on at Comic-Con, but if you get a chance to view the screening of the film while you're there, you won't regret it. And if you aren't there, or don't get to view it, you will definitely want to add this to your DVD or Blu-Ray collection.
In addition to the film itself, the DVD presents special looks at some upcoming DC animated films, the origin and evolution of Dick Grayson, and the Jonah Hex animated short and motion comic.
First up is a special 12 minute look at the next animated film, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, which is the blockbuster return of Supergirl straight from the now modern classic tale illustrated by the late, great Michael Turner. This special feature shows the creative minds behind the film talking about the appeal of the story and why it's the logical next film and why it was such a great story. It also shows various clips from the arc that appeared in Superman/Batman issues #8-13. As a tribute to Turner, they mention trying to emulate his art as best they could for the film. Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dollhouse) provides the voice of Supergirl.
The next three special features are trailers for other previously released DC animated films, including Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Batman: Gotham Knight, and Superman: Doomsday. Of those three, all of which I have seen, Superman: Doomsday is the best, with Crisis being okay, and only one or two stories of the six in Gotham Knight being remotely entertaining in this viewer's opinion. All pale in comparison to Under the Red Hood and choice other DC animated films, like New Frontier.
Then we are treated by trailers of other upcoming animated release. The special DVD and Blu-Ray release of the 1970s The Lord of the Rings, Animated trailer is the first of these. Having seen this film also, it's decent for the time period it was produced in with the level of animation that was present at that time. The story was pretty faithful to the source, though not as entertaining as either the books or the live action films.
Jonah Hex fans will be excited about the next special feature trailer, which was for the Jonah Hex motion comic. I'm not a huge fan of motion comics, but as far as they go, this one looks well produced.
Next up is the Legend of the Guardians trailer, an interesting CGI animated tale about... owls. Yep, heroic owls and a heart-filled all ages animated tale like no other. I have to admit, as these things go, this one looks pretty good visually, and from a story point of view. Great family flick. It releases September 24th.
Then we are treated to the nearly 12 minute DC Showcase original Jonah Hex animated tale. The art style is reminiscent of that in Batman: Gotham Knight, and hits all the notes of any good classic or modern Western tale. A drunk comes into a bar spouting off his bravado, only to have his challenge met by the most unlikely of sources. Hex is then introduced, riding into town to the onlooking of the entire town, like any Western hero, and he's immediately challenged by a stupid upstart. It's a solid story with good animation that any Hex fan would be proud of. From what I hear, if the film had been more like this short it would have been better received.
Disc 2 gives us two more special features. First is Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson, A 24-minute special documentary style look at the history, rise and evolution of Grayson. Dick Grayson was the first Robin who later became his own man as Nightwing, then most recently in the aftermath of Bruce Wayne's supposed death took up the cowl of Batman. This feature shows DC Comics writers, editors and other experts talking about the character's creation and story.
As documentaries go, this one is as good as any, and is a real treat to Grayson fans and to anyone who wishes to learn more about the character.
And finally, as a special treat Bruce Timm selects two episodes of his Batman: The Animated Series, Robin's Reckoning parts 1 and 2, to show in their entirety. Most fitting and very enjoyable. If you've never checked out this series, you should, and these are two excellent issues to watch.
All in all, this DVD is well worth the purchase, even if it were just the main film alone. Most of the special features are a welcome addition and give an added value to such a great DVD to begin with. One of the best DC has put out in my opinion.
Watch the Trailer
Brant W. Fowler / Writer, Letter, Creator, Reviewer, Columnist and Comic Related PR Coordinator
Brant W. Fowler has been a professional comic book letterer and logo designer for three years, and has been a freelance editor for the past five years. He has also worked with graphic design, writing and many other area of skills for several years honing his talents. You can learn all about what he's up to by visiting Gonzogoose Design. Brant is also a member of the core operations team at Comic Related.
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