DVD REVIEW: Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood

 

Written Judd Winick

Directed by Brandon Vietti

Producers: Alan Burnett, Benjamin Melniker, Bobbie Page, Bruce W. Timm, Michael E. Uslan

Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John Di Maggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs



75 minutes / PG-13 / DVD and Blu-Ray 



Warner Home Video

Let's put all the cards on the table straight away. This is probably DC's strongest animated feature since Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. It's maybe a little better. It's certainly the strongest of DC Animation's recent line of adaptations, with a tight script, inspired voice acting, stellar animation, and a mature tone that elevates this story to an upper tier in direct to video animation.

We've been living with this Batman and Robin dynamic for decades. A brooding caped crusader and his plucky, effervescent boy wonder. It's an eyebrow raiser. For a number of reasons. The most relevant of those being "How could a seemingly brilliant man with such a rigid moral code allow a child to hurtle headlong into the Gotham underworld?" Dick Grayson turned out great, but that's gotta be a fluke, right? But when Dick becomes Nightwing, Bruce Wayne doesn't stop there. He recruits a new Robin, a new helpless little bird to contrast his cynicism, his dark aura. Jason Todd is a gifted kid, but he's not so charmed as Dick Grayson. Jason Todd's career as Robin doesn't end in graduation. It ends with a funeral. Say what you will about Jason and his legacy, but the story of his death is, in my opinion, a terrific addition to the Batman mythos. It's Bruce's great failure. And I don't think Judd Winick's decision to resurrect Jason nullifies that. It might compound it, depending on the execution. Jason's second life hasn't always been very compelling, especially in the larger DCU. But the idea of a scorned and bitter Jason within the Batman family is something that I find wholly captivating. He's living evidence of Bruce's failure, a dark sheep in contrast to his bright and talented brothers. What I'm saying is that this whole situation makes for great drama, and this particular movie got it so, so right.

Confession: Though familiar with the story and background, I've never read Judd Winick's "Under the Hood" story line. I don't know how direct an adaptation this is. If there were any bugs in those comics, Winick worked them all out in this adaptation. We witness the brutal murder of Jason Todd at the hands of an incredibly creepy Joker. John Di Maggio only references Hamill's iconic Joker when he pauses to laugh. Otherwise, he's a hard edged gangster, a cruel man with a cruel sense of humor who just happens to be wearing a purple suit. It's a portrayal very much in line with Nolan or Azzarello's take on the character. He takes a sick, almost sexual pleasure in torturing Robin. Batman never makes it to the warehouse on time. Five years in the future, a new Red Hood (Jansen Ackles) surfaces in Gotham as a vigilante set on controlling the local crime lords. This doesn't sit well with the Black Mask (Wade Williams), a comically ferocious kingpin straight out of Breaking Bad. Batman (Bruce Greenwood) and a visiting Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris) are caught in the middle of the conflict, as Red Hood and Black Mask fight for supremacy in the Gotham drug trade. Batman seeks out the incarcerated Joker to see if he has any connections to the Hood, only to come up dry. Through a series of violent confrontations, Bruce realizes that Jason may have returned from the grave. He seeks out the only man in the world who could possibly be responsible, the long quiet Ras al Ghul (Jason Isaacs).
 


 

It's a great story with a perfect blend of action and character work. I was immediately taken in by the filmmakers' restraint. The tempo of this movie is pitch perfect, with wonderfully choreographed action sequences leading into quieter, more reflective scenes. It feels cinematic. The Gotham of the 90s animated series is back, and it serves as a fine backdrop for chases and big brawls.

If I have any complaints about the film, it's that they might've gone a little bit overboard with the CG. We've seen a lot of CG modeling incorporated into DC animated projects, usually to enhance a building or a vehicle. Here, the element can be as a subtle as a pleasant Gotham City Police Department zeppelin floating over the skyline, to a distractingly conspicuous car chase featuring vehicles rendered entirely in CG. The juxtaposition leapt off the screen and left me cringing. I understand they need to take these shortcuts sometimes, but it was one of those glaring special effects that made me wish they'd simply half-assed it or cut it entirely. That said, this chase is only one sore point in a truly entertaining movie.

The voice work here is pretty great. Bruce Greenwood offers a seasoned Batman, hard as nails, but deeply wounded by past mistakes. Neil Patrick Harris makes for an appropriately theatrical and lively Dick Grayson/Nightwing. It's that contrast between the good son, Dick, and the prodigal Jason that holds this whole thing together. Some have asked why Tim Drake was excluded from this story. I say this as a big Tim fan, but the kid would've gotten in the way. The dynamic works wonderfully in the comics, but to include both Dick and Tim here would've been an unneeded complication. Let's not even get started on Damian, though I can't wait to see the young tyrant turn up in some future animated project. This movie has enough gray area as it is, with major villains in the Black Mask and the Joker as well as wild cards like Red Hood and Ras. There's even some cameos from other Bat rogues and DC villains which I refuse to give away here. Let's just say, there's a couple of really amazing fights.

Under the Red Hood is a great Batman story executed incredibly well. It's worth buying.

But that's only part of the story.

The Blu-ray and 2 disc dvd sets of the movie also include a short. It's called DC Showcase: Jonah Hex, and it's probably the most badass DC cartoon we're likely to see. Written by Joe R. Lansdale (based on a story by Palmiotti and Gray) and starring Thomas Jane, Linda Hamilton, and Michelle Trachtenberg, it's a brutal, filthy, effed up short story. It knocked me sideways. 

 


 

Trust me. You want this. 

 

Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

Batman: Under the Red Hood is on Blu-ray and DVD right now.

Comments

  1. I think the only problem that I had was with the characterization of Black Mask.  I always saw him as more subdued.  Outside of that, this was my favorite DC animated film to date.

  2. woah. 

    Im gonna get this >:D 

  3. Before anyone asks: Yes, there is going to be a podcast on this.

  4. OH I can’t wait for this to come in the mail, I think it should be coming today, I’ll be ravenous trying to get it out of the box. 

    Excellent review . 

  5. Yea this was a very strong & very awesome Batman animated movie. When I saw it it made me very much want to pick up the Red Hood trades but idk if it would be as good or not.

  6. Bah, Netflix isn’t getting this for another month (I think it’s one of those delays in exchange for more streaming content deals).

  7. Joe R. Lansdale writing Jonah Hex?!?!?!?! That is possibly one of the most ingenious combinations I have ever seen. I’m a huge Lansdale fan. Out of all the gritty Southern writers, no one is grittier or more Southern than him. I can’t wait to watch this short.

    As for the main story, it hooked me when I heard about it, despite REALLY not being a fan of Jason Todd. However, I’m reading Winick’s Red Hood: Lost Days mini at the moment, and I find myself connecting with him mopre than I ever had while reading the character. I get it now. I really get the character, and it’s an interesting story to be told. So I’m looking forward to watching this. 

  8. I saw this at SDCC. It worked well for the entire group I was with, and that group ranged from the die-hards to almost entirely inexperienced comics folks. I did worry that some of the flashbacks might slow the movie down too much, but it actually worked well.

    I think the only disappointment for me was that we were missing a beat with Nightwing. He comes and he goes, and it just feels like there needed to be one more beat. Maybe something between Jason and Dick. That would’ve been nice. Otherwise, I thought this was REALLY strong.

    Also: I agree about Tim Drake, Paul. Excising him from the story kept it pretty streamlined. I think you could go two directions: use Tim but NOT Dick, or use Dick but not Tim. It would actually be a pretty cool story with Tim as the "next in line," facing the horror of what came before, but I think that may have pushed the tone in a direction they didn’t want to go. In this case, they benefitted from showing that there was already one Robin who grew up and turned out okay. It’s a little proactively redemptive, in a way.

  9. I’m looking forward to this.  Unfortunately, it isn’t available from Netflix until 8/26.  I won’t hold my breath.

  10. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @daccampo – If they had more time to work with, even 90 minutes, I could definitely seem them doing more wit Nightwing. I also agree that a story with just Tim and maybe a mention of Nightwing would’ve worked well too. I’m amazed at what they did with only 75 minutes though. 

  11. Assuming I didn’t know the baby, and it could be guaranteed to me that the baby wouldn’t grow up to cure cancer or some such, I would totally smother a baby if they would make a full length animated Hex story in that style.  Man, that was awesome.

  12. @Paul — totally. I keep wishing they’d give ’em just a liiiiittle bit longer on these movies. I think DC/Warner is getting much better at pacing the story for the time they have.

  13. can’t wait to get this…haven’t had a chance yet, but sooooon. 

  14. I usually don’t post negative comments (and thus have little to do online) but I’m gonna be a sourpuss until they start releasing these things in the UK.

  15. I have to disagree with your opinion on Di Maggio’s Joker. I thought his Joker was an unhappy medium between the Nolan/Ledger Joker and the Hamill Joker.  It didn’t work for me and it was mostly jarring and an obvious weak spot in an otherwise great product.

  16. RedBox here I come!

    Glad to hear John DiMaggio did a good job as the Joker. Since he puts a Brooklyn accent in everything he does, I thought it would pull me right out of the experience.

  17. This flick is SOOOOO good. I highly reccomend it.  The Nightwing lines are hilarious.

  18. @ comicBOOKchris

    Lansdale’s written Jonah Hex before. He wrote 3 limited series for Vertigo in the 1990s. Art by Tim Truman. Very solid.

  19. @ SpiderTitan the series is powerful and just a fantastic read, every bit worth your while.

    Saw this live on Friday in San Diego and was so glad both to be experiencing it in a room full of enthralled fans and to have already pre-ordered the DVD months back, because I need to watch it again in a quiet room where I can hear everything I missed due to the cheers, laughter, and bursts of applause.  This was the best animated movie I have seen, and in terms of Batman movies overall, I’d put it miles ahead of everything other than the Nolan films.

  20. This movie was the shit. Animation was smooth and slick as well. Having Greenwood and Di Maggio voicing two iconic characters was great too and I grew up with Conroy and Hamill.

  21. Most certainly picking this up before the week is out. I dug the Winick run and this storyline in particular to check it out.

  22. I just listened one of dc comics panels form sdcc and in it Judd Winick explained why tim was not in the movie was becasue he said that were batman was in this movie he would not have another robin becasue of what happend in death in the family 

    I also really liked this movie 

  23. saw this movie over the weekend……..so awesome…….wooot!!

  24. @RapidEyeMovement (and any other UK/Irish readers):

    All the DC Animated movies have been regionfree on Blu Ray so I’d recommend getting them on Amazon.com and importing them. You can check out what blu rays are region free on regionfreemovies.com/

    It’s a great site. Came across it last year when I was looking for the Ultimate Ed of Watchmen and I’ve used it to check all the DC Animated stuff as well.

  25. This was easily the best. My only problem is really the lack of story specific extra features. I would’ve loved seeing a feature with Judd Winick talking about adapting the story, or the climate the story came out in, and especially I wouldve loved a commentary from Winick and Timm and Lauren Montgomery and Andrea Romana plus some of the actors on this. I think more than anything that’s what these DVDs have been missing since Wonder Woman.

  26. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Yeah, I was very disappointed not to see a commentary trick listed. There’s a nice feature on the history of Dick Grayson in the comics, but that’s about it. 

  27. I’ll rent it, won’t buy it though. might be awhile til I rent it too. . . 

  28. Just added this to my Netflix list.

    Does anyone have any others to recommend?

     

  29. Joe R. Lansdale wrote Jonah Hex back in the 90’s, I think they are now out of print, but both mini’s were fantastic. I hope the Hex cartoon makes up for the crap movie.

    Man, I have to wait until next Tuesday. Amazon said it would be delivered then. Nice review, gotta say I disliked the original story line, thinking that it wasn’t very well told. But I am expecting that this is an improvement. 

  30. At first I was really not too keen on this, but after seeing trailers and reading about it, I can’t wait to watch it.  Definitely excited for Jonah Hex as well.

  31. @HailScott~  Merely my opinion, but Justice League: New Frontier, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and Wonder Woman are the three strongest DC animated features from the past few years.  Previous ones from back in the animated series days include the one Paul mentioned plus Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.  I also enjoyed the Superman/Batman Animated movie they did in the late ninties that merged the two animated series for a flick.  All good stuff.

  32. I rented it on Playstation Network over the weekend and I loved it the fourth time I watched it.  The first three times I kinda fell asleep right after the Amazo attacked so I can’t really judge.

  33. I don’t think it’s their best work. It’s not a bad movie, I just enjoyed the books more. I understand they had to change things for time but still, I felt at times that the story was a little thin. I don’t think this was the best choice to make a movie out of, It worked better as a comic. I also was hoping to see Mr.freeze but instead  I got some random thugs in robotic armor,what can you do.       I still enjoyed it enough to own it but I was hoping for better. the next movie their doing sounds good though.    Bring on darkseid!

  34. Frickin’ GREAT @$$ movie!

  35. This was good.  I was going to skip it, but your review made me give it a shot, Paul.  I’m glad I did.

     That said, while I usually like mixing up the voice talent–everyone in this was pretty great– David Warner was sorely missed as Ra’s Al Ghul.

  36. I just finished watching this and I literally said, "daaaamn" out loud after the opening scene.  Awesome animated movie.

  37. I saw this friday night at SDCC and was totally blown away. So far the animated films have been hit or miss but this one blows them all away. I cant wait to get this.

    Also, I hope this film finally shows everyone that Jason Todd is a great character. Forget Tony Daniel or Morrisons take, Winnick is the one who nailed how the character should be.

  38. I watched this just now on Blu-ray and wow….what a movie. This is definitely THE BEST animated movie I have seen from DC and one of the greatest Batman stories told on film.

  39. Just to clarify — are the Showcase shorts exclusive to the two-disc version?
    I’m sure it’ll outrage Americans to know their Region 4 counterparts are yet to receive a two-disc version of any DC animated film. Along with Vol.2 of the Batman TV set and beyond. Crikey!

  40. I thought this is a much better telling of the story than the comics. The comic had too many disparate dangling threads left while the movie is more concise and every character is necessary to the plot. Ras Al Ghul was an excellent addition to the story and was used better than the Batman Annual which explained the resurrection used him.

    The voice acting was particularily strong this time out. Joker was a highlight with the best of Hamill and Ledger’s Jokers mixed together. A must buy.

  41. @vadamowens: I agree, Black Mask seemed over the top. Other than that this was a great movie.

    I was really surprised by the voice acting especially that of Ackles and Di Maggio. I’d love to see DC turn the first arc of Batman & Robin into and animated film. I think a movie with Dick as Batman would do well.

  42. DC need to get BLUR (cg animation studio who did the dc universe online trailer) to do the new animated movies. That DCUO trailer was great! CG is the way to go.

  43. I’m not a Batman fan but this had me looking up Winick’s Redhood arc.

  44. I think this was the best DC DVD movie yet. It all just worked perfectly. I also hadn’t read the storyline, so I enjoyed seeing how things unfolded. I thought the batplane chase down the city streets as well as the construction site chase were incredible.

  45. bought it last night. This was great, ot only the movie but all the extras as well.  The Hex short was really well done hope they can put together a full length one in the future.

  46. Definitely putting this on my queue

  47. I wasn’t disappointed that Tim wasn’t included.  I did feel however that the use of his costume for Jason Todd was a subtle hint from the Bruce Timm production company that they don’t like Tim Drake.  But hey that’s me.

    Overall it was a fantastic movie, surely one of the best for DCU Animated. 

  48. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @jmstump – Wait, seriously? It was just a visual cue that Jason had aged. They needed to sell that it was a different point in time. And they’ve used Tim before in the Batman animated series. 

  49. I think the use of Tim would have been too much, I’m surprised this movie juggled the number of characters it did with only 75 minutes.

  50. I really liked this too. Definitely one of the best DC animated films ever. I will say, though, for any other "Supernatural" fans out there, hearing Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd was really weird, although he did do a great job…just took some getting used to 😛

    I also still miss hearing Kevin Conroy as Batman, but I am getting more and more used to it.

    Maybe my favorite animated Batman movie since "Mask of the Phantasm", which is still my all time favorite Batman film, period.

  51. I rented it from Amazon last night (yay promotional credit!) and I thought it was pretty solid. The voice acting was a little weak, and I’m not sure I dig NPH as Grayson. DiMaggio was a poor Joker, clearly imitating, and not just running with his own version. One of the better DCU animated films so far, although not up to the quality of Mask of the Phantasm, SubZero, or Return of the Joker, which had the benefit of a seasoned voice cast. Still, much better than the comic arc, imo.
     
    I still think New Frontier is the best of these to date, followed by Wonder Woman.
     
    Anyone else think Black Mask looked one photoshop click away from looking like Red Skull? I never noticed the resemblence before…I always thought Black Mask‘s mask was more…masklike.

  52. @Paul – To be fair, the Tim Drake in Batman the animated series was really Jason Todd with a name change.

    Im a big fan of Tim Drake so Im still waiting for the day to see him adapted in other media

  53. The first paragraph of this review is exactly what I would have said also had it been me who wrote this review. It’s truly very entertaining!

    Go buy it if you still haven’t. It’s a must-have for all Batman fans, and even for those who aren’t . 

  54. loved it!! jonah hex short was AMAZING thomas jane NEEDS to play him…

  55. Having re-read Winnick’s run on the Red Hood, I think I enjoyed the animated adaptation just a little bit more (and overall, hold this DC Animated the best overall).

     

    Whether or not you were familiar with the original Death in the Family storyline, that cold opening pretty much made it clear that Jason was the Red Hood. The original comic left that a mystery, so in contrast, it replaced that mystery with emotionality in the movie. That decompression allowed the story to move a bit more fluidly within the 75 minute timeframe, and managed to hit the major beats that the comic was pressing.

     

    I will still hold the comic’s art in higher regard. I loved the animated fighting sequences, but Mankhe’s art is fantastic. The movie took shortcuts with the use of CG which really stuck out like a sore thumb, whereas I don’t remember a rushed page in Mankhe’s art (though its great to compare the fight with Amazo on both the movie and the book).

     

    Great, great movie and still the best of all these that have been put out by DC… and LOVE the Jonah Hex story!

  56. Great film, that you can not watch on your iPod.  I bought the Blu Ray and really liked it wanted to watch it again for my trip tomorrow and it turns out the digital copy included is a Windows only format.  Just thoguht I would give folks a heads up.

  57. Def agree w/ Paul, its the best DC Universe dvd movie yet!  And check out the preview for Supes/Bats: Apocolypse!  That looks to be just as good..  These movies are definitely getting better and better.  If this keeps up, All Star Superman should be a classic!!!!!