There has to be a ton of pressure on creators like Bruce Timm and his team of film-makers working over at Warner Bros. Animation. Not only do they have to live up to the expectations from fans of the DC Universe with every movie they put out, but there has to be an enormous amount of pressure put on themselves to try and match the quality achieved during their runs on Batman: The Animated Series as well as the various Justice League incarnations. Thankfully, while some of their efforts may not have been up to snuff, such as Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, many of the team’s new contributions to the DCU have been very successful, with films like Green Lantern: First Flight, Wonder Woman and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths able to stand right along with the best animated work produced by this crew.
The good news is that the team’s latest feature, Batman: Under the Red Hood, is another top notch DCU adventure, filled with terrific action and the kind of attention to character we expect from a Bruce Timm production.
A new villain has shown up in Gotham and started a gangland war; factions are now fighting back and forth and the body count is climbing exponentially. Calling himself the Red Hood (the former mantle of the man that would eventually become the Joker) this new kingpin has thrown the streets of Gotham into chaos and implies ties to Batman, putting the Dark Knight into a deep emotional turmoil.
While some of these mysteries may seem a bit obvious when watching the film the fine work done with the animators as well as the film’s voice actors put most problems to rest. It’s usually tough to get used to another voice portraying Batman when Kevin Conroy isn’t voicing Gotham’s champion, but Bruce Greenwood steps up to the plate quite nicely. Greenwood has enough gravitas for the character and is terrific at bringing out the caped crusader’s inner turmoil. Perhaps even tougher are the shoes that John DiMaggio has to fill, as Mark Hamill’s Joker may be the most iconic voice ever to come out of the animated DCU. Thankfully, DiMaggio’s Joker doesn’t try to ape Hamill’s as he’s a heftier and more physical villain in this film than the Joker was on TV, fitting in well with the actor’s deeper voice. To add to that DiMaggio ends up being no slouch when it comes to portraying this level of psychopathic villainy either; it still seems like the Joker but a different take on the character.
Perhaps the weakest voice acting done here is with Jensen Ackles (TV’s Supernatural) as the Red Hood himself. While the character comes off well enough overall, especially when action intensifies, Ackles can’t bring enough tragedy to the Hood’s voice to really make a huge impact dramatically. While the film’s final scenes still work due to Greenwood and DiMaggio, Ackles lags behind against the veterans. Fortunately the cast is still bolstered by stellar work from other supporting characters, including Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing and Jason Isaacs as Ra’s al Ghul. In fact, the movie could have only benefited from more screen time from both of these characters, but we’ll take what we can get.
Where the film doesn’t lack is in its action scenes and humor, as Batman: Under the Red Hood has one fist for fist throwdown after another as well as plenty of sick laughs from DiMaggio’s Joker and other side characters. DC fans should get a kick out of Nightwing and Batman facing off against the deadly android Amazo, and a battle involving a group of hitman ninja cyborgs trying to take down the Red Hood is especially fierce. A lot of laughs come in the form of Harris’ Nightwing, but I also liked the comic flourishes from Wade Williams’ Black Mask, a druglord with a penchant for punching out his own men.
In the end, Batman: Under the Red Hood isn’t perfect, but it’s still an extremely entertaining film and a wonderful addition to any DC Animation library. Better than any other animated Batman film since Mask of the Phantasm, Under the Red Hood is a terrific example of the quality work Bruce Timm and his people are doing in this post-Justice League: Unlimited era, and hopefully a sign of more good works to come. Filled with action, laughs, and a terrific finale, this should please most Batman and comic fans alike.
While I’m sure the Blu-ray edition is even nicer, this DVD special edition has a terrific print, with no real visible flaws. Colors are nice and vivid and the sound quality is also top notch.
First Look: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse – This is a 12-minute preview of the next animated DCU adventure, a follow-up to Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. We get interviews from a lot of talking heads, including Bruce Timm and others from DC comics, including the writer of the original graphic novel, Jeph Loeb. This seems like an exciting follow-up and hopefully ends up being more impressive than Public Enemies was.
DC Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex – Fans of The Spectre short on the previous DC release will enjoy this new short film from the same animation team, this time featuring Jonah Hex. The sad thing is, this 11 minute short ends up being more entertaining than the full length feature that Warner Bros released over the summer. Thomas Jane does some great work as the title character and probably would’ve ended up a better Hex than Josh Brolin.
Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson – this is a terrific featurette on the history of the Robin character, why he came to be, and what it is about him that has really added to the Batman mythos. If you’ve ever wondered why they ever bothered to pair Batman with a partner in the first place, this is a great place to start.
Bruce Timm presents 2 Batman Animated Series Episodes – These are both great episodes from Batman: TAS featuring the origin of the Robin character on the show.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is a terrific addition to any DC fan’s animated library. The movie features terrific action, great characters and voice work and the animation is top notch as usual. To add to that, this disc has a nice print and enough special features to keep you busy for a while. Really, this is worth a rental simply for the Jonah Hex short, but it doesn’t hurt that the main feature is pretty amazing as well.
Warner Home Video presents Batman: Under the Red Hood. Directed by: Brandon Vietti. Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Neil Patrick Harris, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Jason Isaacs, and Wade Williams. Written by: Judd Winick. Running time: 75 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: July 27, 2010.
Robert Sutton feels the most at home when he's watching some movie scumbag getting blown up, punched in the face, or kung fu'd to death, especially in that order. He's a founding writer for the movies section of Insidepulse.com, featured in his weekly column R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema as well as a frequent reviewer of DVDs and Blu-rays. Also, he's a proud Sony fanboy, loves everything Star Wars and Superman related and hopes to someday be taken seriously by his friends and family.