Well boys and girls, I hope you have room on your "instant classics" shelf for Batman: Under the Red Hood for this movie is quite possibly one of the best Batman movies of all time. And I've seen them all. Dozens of times.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is the eighth film in the DC Animated Movies collection, written by Judd Winick and directed by Brandon Vietti. B:UtRH tells the tale of a new crime lord known only as the Red Hood. This mysterious figure is taking control of the Gotham Underground by force much to the dismay of Batman. The film is based on the original comic story line Batman: Under the Hood written by Judd Winick.
I'm going to give you the bottom line here before I delve into a full review with SPOILERS. Batman: Under the Red Hood is a fantastic movie. Bruce Timm and his creative team really upped the level of quality for this production, which is saying something considering every one of their movies are fantastic. Everything is spot on from the style, to the action, to the voice acting, to the fluidity of animation. Any Batman should be proud to have this on their shelves. Even if you aren't a "Red Hood" fan.
HEED MY WARNING! I'M GOING INTO DETAIL HERE. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT (!) CONTINUE TO READ LEST YOU WANT TO KNOW ALMOST EVERYTHING!!
::Drinks tea with lemon::
Sorry about that, all that shouting made me sound like Christian Bale. Now, on to a fully detailed, spoiler-ridden review.
Are ya ready kids!?
Batman: Under the Red Hood opens with death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, at the hands of the Joker. Most Batman fans know Jason's history, but if you're unfamiliar click here. Without going into full detail, Judd Winick takes liberties with the death of Jason, spinning it to his own benefit. Fortunately for Mr. Winick, he not only does justice to Jason's demise, but he also improves upon it. The death of Jason in this film is quite violent and heartbreaking considering it's only 5 minutes long.
After the Death in the Family, we skip ahead five years as we're introduced to the rest of the star-studded cast such as Nightwing, Black Mask, Alfred, etc, etc. I'm going to touch on all the voice actors later, so don't fret just yet.
Now, I'm going to SPOIL something right here: The Red Hood is in fact Jason Todd returned from the grave! OH MY GOD I HAD NO IDEA!
Nah, I'm just kidding, I really knew all along. In the original comics storyline, the identity of the Red Hood remained a mystery until the end of the story. Here, we are given clues to know who's under the hood quickly although the audience is more aware than Batman and his allies.
Winick holds true to his original plot, but deletes any mention of Infinite Crisis. This validates the story more for those of us comic fans and casual viewers alike. Winick reworks Jason's return to not only be grounded in the Batman mythos, but far more believable than the likes of Superboy Prime. For the record though, I'm one of "those people" that like Prime. I just don't care for the punch.
As the film progresses, we are treated to some very cool moments. The fight choreography in particular is very well handled. It's the best I've ever seen in a Batman movie. Do note that the movie is in fact quite violent. If any of you are parents, I would recommend waiting on this title for your children until they're a bit older. Lots of blood and lots of bone crunching. Oh, and the mild swearing. Can't forget that.
B:UtRH isn't all action though. This movie is really a character and philosophically driven story. Winick raises some of the "big questions" and we are treated to some answers. And of course, anything that delves into the psychology of Batman is worth a look.
The film at its end is quite heartbreaking. It's the same feeling I get every time I watch Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. If you don't know what I'm talking about, either go out and watch B:MotP or get a soul.
This is just a great looking movie, no other way around it. The animation is very fluid while the camera angles are masterfully placed to keep you in the action. The architecture of Gotham is wonderful. This is a more realistic Gotham than we've seen in the past, borrowing aspects from Nolan's "Chicago" Gotham, but maintaining a life of its own. Oh, and the car and plane: badass.
O.K., I'm a stickler for voice actors. I am so needlessly picky it could drive anyone insane. I think it's almost impossible to top, or even equal some of the actors used on Batman: The Animated Series. So, are you ready for this? Everyone was awesome. And I mean it.
Batman: Bruce Greenwood. Just...wow. If Kevin Conroy didn't exist, Bruce Greenwood would be my Batman. He was just phenomenal. The man could make a room stand still by breathing.
Nightwing: Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing is the one cast member I was a little iffy on which shocked me because I love NPH. He fits Dick Grayson very well, he understands the character, but I could tell he was "putting on" a voice that didn't suit Dick. Be your own judge, but that's just my opinion.
Alfred: Ol' Alfie is a tough one to cast. When you have the voices of Michael Gough, Michael Caine, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in your head, it's very hard to accept another Alfred. However, I was very impressed with Jim Piddock. Very good actor and he gave Alfred all the sass required.
Red Hood: Jensen Ackles just NAILED this part. He found Jason's voice to make him less of a whiner and more of a badass. I really dug what he brought to the table.
Black Mask: Wade Williams as Black Mask is everything a Black Mask fan (like myself) could hope for. He really understands how insane BM is along with how much of dark comedian he can be. I was very happy.
Ra's Al Ghul: O.K., here are a few things about Ra's Al Ghul. 1) It's pronounced RAISH-AL-GHOUL, not RAWZ-AL-GHOUL. This always bothers me anytime I watch Batman Begins no matter how awesome it is. Luckily, B:UtRH got it right. 2) David Warner (BTAS) is ingrained in my head as Ra's Al Ghoul. 3) I LOVE Jason Isaacs. Everything the man does it gold, including pieces outside of The Patriot and Harry Potter. Although, I may be a little biased because he filmed a movie in my town. Now, all that being said, Jason Isaacs NAILED Ra's Al Ghul. My only complaint: he is not in the movie nearly as much as I would like to have seen.
The Joker: John Di Maggio is a hell of a voice actor. I've been a fan of his since the original days of him as Bender on Futurama, but I've followed his career up through Teen Titans (Brother Blood), The Batman (Mugsy/Rhino), and The Spectacular Spider-Man (Hammerhead/Flinto Marko) to name a few. Di Maggio as the Joker? AWESOME. Just as Bruce Greenwood owns Batman, Di Maggio owns Mr. J. He is creepy, sardonic, ruthless, and totally awesome. Di Maggio has it all. What? How does he compare to Mark Hamill you ask? I'll take either. And I mean that.
Overall, Batman: Under the Red Hood is an instant Batman classic, measuring up to the likes of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm or Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker any day of the week. You could even compare it to the live actions films, but I always find that's a little unfair. Animation and live action are two different film animals. Each have pros and cons over each other. But that won't stop me from rating this right up there along the best of the Bat films.
Batman: Under the Red Hood will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on July 27, 2010. You can pre-order your copy here.