In 2005 when former Real World star and comic author Judd Winick brought Jason Todd back to life with his massive Under The Hood story arc, he launched a debate that still rages today. Was bringing back Jason Todd a good idea? Returning to the scene of that crime, Winick reinvents his original story with Batman: Under The Red Hood, the new film from DC Animation. [Editor's note: read our interview with Judd Winick!]
This is a darker offering from DC than we’ve seen in the past both in tone and action. There’s blood here, people get set on fire, there are lots of fights as well as the opening sequence featuring the brutal death of Jason Todd. For anybody looking for the animated version of Death In The Family this ain’t it. Winick changes the story of Jason Todd’s death substantially to fit into his story’s framework, as well as streamlining his own Red Hood story.
There are several things that work for Under The Red Hood and a few things that don’t. Its obvious DC was taking a new direction with this movie and that involved risks. One of the risks was tone and the other was how streamlined Winick made the script. Huge chunks of the original story are missing here, but it works. For me, the Red Hood comic series got incredibly convoluted so watching it as a straight story focusing just on the core characters brought out a punch that the original comic lacked.
What Winick removes in layers he makes up for with content. The slimmer version of the story allows us to focus on Batman and Jason Todd, their story, and how that plays out. Winick also adds so nice flashback moments of Jason Todd’s start as the Boy Wonder plus he weaves in constant action. Things are moving at a break neck speed here, never letting up
The dark tone works for Batman: Under The Red Hood by pushing the reality. This is a rough story about a boy killed, brought back to life and driven on an insane quest for vengeance. It’s also about failure, abandonment and what it means to be Batman. Winick’s violent script would not have worked if the animation, direction and tone of the film weren’t the same way. The violence is very real and DC allows it to happen. They also allow the story to stay dark throughout, even giving us a resolution with no real ending.
Casting wise Andrea Romano once again whacks it out of the ballpark. This woman has been casting voices for so long and has casted for DC for so long that she just knows what works. For instance, casting Star Trek’s Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), as Batman was perfect, he is Batman, at least for this film. I’m a huge fan of Kevin Conroy’s Batman voice but Greenwood works here. There’s something about the timbre of his voice, the authoritative nature that works for this story. Greenwood is also very frugal with his words, allowing Batman’s silence to speak volumes.
I was very impressed with Jensen Eckles (Dean Winchester from Supernatural) as Jason Todd/Red Hood. Eckles gives Jason Todd a real sense of being unhinged but also very lost. I believed him when he was pissed and felt for him when he finally breaks down. I also thought Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing was an inspired choice, though I wish Nightwing had more to do in the story. He largely felt like window dressing.
What didn’t work here were the two main bad guys for Under The Red Hood, which hurt the power of the film. Across the board, the new way The Joker is done is a complete bust. It may be the worst interpretation of the clown price of crime since Jack Nicholson made him look like your nutty Uncle Benny just out on parole. Animation wise, The Joker looks like a bad cross between the animated series and the character Jenner from Secret Of Nimh. I kept waiting for him to say “Nimh is coming”. If you don’t believe me, after you watch it, Google Jenner.
The other problem was casting John DiMaggio as the voice. I’m sorry, but the guy who plays Bender in Futurama is the wrong choice to be The Joker. DiMaggio just can’t perform this voice correctly. The Joker is shrill, high pitched, like a maniac about to erupt. DiMaggio plays him with the same masculine throatiness of Bender and it sounds silly.
The Black Mask, one of my favorite villains of all time, is also off the mark here. I don’t know why but he’s portrayed in the film as some kind of cross between Scarface and Tony Sopranos. Actor Wade Williams gives him this cliché “mafia guy” voice and it sucks. None of the terror or insanity is here; instead the Black Mask comes across like some mob jerkwad in a mask. It doesn’t work at all, in fact every time he’s on screen Under The Red Hood becomes hard to watch.
The extras on the two disc version are pretty sweet, especially the Jonah Hex short. The story is total Hex. He blows into town, kills some folks, kidnaps a girl and leaves her in a cave full of corpses. Don’t worry: she totally deserves it. Though I didn’t like the Japanese style animation it was awesome to hear Thomas Jane as Jonah Hex because he should’ve been Hex in the live action movie. This short proves how successful a Jonah Hex movie could have been with the right tone, actors and direction.
Outside of that there’s a great documentary on the next DC Animated movie Superman/Batman: Apocalypse as well as long but interesting look back at the history of Dick Grayson, the original Robin. You also get a batch of trailers and two Batman: The Animated Series episodes.
For all the issues, I still recommend Batman: Under The Red Hood not just because it’s a good film but also because DC took some real risks. Sure The Joker falls flat but at least they were broadening the idea of him. DC is constantly trying to up the ante with their movies and they’ve done it this time. Batman: Under The Red Hood is probably the best-animated film DC has put out, save for New Frontier, and continues to show how their animated film world is progressing with each new movie.