Batman: Under the Red Hood is a 2010 direct-to-video animated superhero thriller film directed by Brandon Vetti and written by Judd Winnick. It is an amalgamation of two interrelated Batman storylines: 1988’s A Death in the Family and 2005’s Under the Red Hood. The film stars Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, and Neil Patrick Harris.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is a part of the continuing DC Universe Animated Original Movies, the premise of which is to create animated superhero films based off adaptations of well-liked or famous DC superhero storylines and release them on home video. This idea likely originated with the theatrically released 1993 animated neo-noir mystery superhero film Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm. Directed by legendary Batman auter Bruce Timm, the PG-13 Phantasm recieved critical acclaim from both critics and audiences for its wonderful animation style as well as the combination of elements from Timm’s magnum opus, the legendary cult classic children’s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series, and much darker, more mature themes.
Phantasm proved that animation wasn’t meant exclusively for children, and was actually a viable option for general storytelling as well. I would not be suprised if Mask of the Phantasm had something to do with the early popularization of Japanese anime in the Western world. The film has been called by many one of the best Batman stories ever told and is widely considered an amazing film in it’s own right, let alone the superhero genre.
Since its official inception in 2007, there have been 26 feature films and 5 short films released under the DC Original Animated Movie banner, with future releases planned at least up until the year 2020. With the exception of two, all films have recieved a PG-13 rating and are known for including violence and strong language. They vary in quality, with some being mediocre and some being outright great films. Being a huge superhero nerd, I have seen most of these films, and Under the Red Hood is the second best one behind The Dark Knight Returns.
In the late 1980’s, DC Comics decided the Batman Family needed some fresh new faces, and forced the creative team at the time to oust Dick Grayson as Robin and make a new character to be the new Robin. Dick Grayson always had a problem living in the shadow of Batman, and Bruce Wayne’s former ward, after a dispute, retires the mantle of Robin, leaves Wayne Manor, and begins operating independently as the superhero Nightwing. Though still an independent operator, Dick often helps his mentor and father figure, and will do any favor that may be asked of him, and to this day remains an extremely prominent figure in the ongoing Batman lore.
In order to fill the hole filled by Dick’s absence as Robin, Jason Todd was introduced. Todd was a homeless teenage street urchin taken in by Bruce Wayne after he was caught attempting to boost the Batmobile. Jason Todd was the opposite of Dick Grayson. Jason was extremely arrogant, rude, overconfident, and a sarcastic loudmouth. With A Death in the Family, the penultimate issue of the storyline was a cliffhanger wherein the fate of Todd hung in the balence.A telephone contest was held and readers were able to choose wether Jason would live or die. With the following issue, Todd was killed, and the final panels, nowadays somewhat famous in comic book lore, showed Batman clutching the boy’s charred, lifeless body.
1988 was a time period in which comic books were beginning to move away from the original tones established in the 1930’s and 40’s. Comic books started out for children, it was an era commonly called the Golden Age (1938-50). The time period in which this story was published was known as the Modern Age (1985-present), wherein comic books started to become graphically violent and started to deal with mature themes such as rape, torture, and sexual assault, jettisoning the campier elements that began in the Golden Age and were streamlined in the Silver Age (1956-1970). Following the Silver Age was the Bronze Age (1970-1985). The Bronze Age was a transitional period for comic books, in which the cheesier and campier elements of comics still remained, but thematically the stories began to get darker and more mature. Mavel Comics’ legendary 1973 storyline The Night Gwen Stacy Died, which ended in the tragic deaths of Spider-Man‘s longtime girlfriend Gwen Stacy and his nemisis Green Goblin by Spidey’s own hands, is considered a defining moment in comic book history. (It was previously thought unthinkable to kill off a main character, and up until that point, Gwen Stacy and characters like her were considered entirely untouchable.) The death of Gwen Stacy is the event that marked the end of the Silver Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age. Likewise, although the Modern Age of Comics is considered to have begun in 1985 with Dave Gibbons’ 1986 Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, the death of Jason Todd is an event that signaled that this new age was definitely here to stay, and not simply confined to one or two unique, one-off stories.
The effects of the death of Jason Todd can even be felt in the new DC Extended Universe.
Years later in 2005, Jason Todd was resurrected by immortal terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul. Ra’s has always had respect for Batman, considering him an equal. Ra’s is the leader of a mysterious group known as the League of Assassins. He has lived for over 600 years due to the Lazurus Pit, which rejuvinates youth and can save the dead or dying, but drives those who use it mad. Ra’s, who wishes to live in a world of perfect evironmental balence by way of wiping out most of humanity, has come into contact with Batman several times and is one of his most venerated and respected foes. Ra’s has intellect and fighting capabilities exceeding that of Batman, and despite them being enemies, the two have developed a fondness and mutual respect for each other over their many years of conflict.Ra’s hired the Joker to throw Batman and Robin off his scent; the death of Jason was an unintended consequence that greieved Ra’s. Ra’s stopped battling with Batman out of respect for his loss, and attempted to ressurect Jason. He is reborn, yet insane, and reappears as the crime boss the Red Hood.
Jason’s plan is a complex scheme to force crime boss Black Mask to break the Joker out of prison to kill him.
This leads to an emotional climax between father and son about how Batman refuses to kill the Joker after everything he’s done.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is a brilliant story which examines Batman’s greatest failute. Jason, though different than Dick in every way, was brimming with potential. With his death, Batman failed. Batman lost a soldier, a colleague, and a friend, and it haunts him to this very day. Winnick, who also wrote the original 2005 storyline, does an excellent job of showing exactly how much Jason Todd’s death affected him. He refuses to draw anyone else into his life, for fear that what happened to Jason will happen to someone else. Even the former Robin, Dick Grayson, is essentially sidelined by Batman for pretty much his entire time on screen.
This film is animated excellently. The movements are fluid and the emotions of the characters shine through. The fight scenes are very well drawn and intense.
The real highlight here is Jensen Ackles’ voice acting. Ackles, star of the CW series Supernatural, is an excellent voice actor, and the emotion he puts into the character of Red Hood says that he was quite invested in the role. Though the action of this film is very good, the highlight for me came near the end of the film where Batman and Jason, in the midst of a brutal fight, verbally argue over the morals of killing Joker as vengence for the death of Jason. It is a truly emotionally charged moment and, for me, the best scene in the film. Bruce Greenwood does an admirable job portraying Batman, and Jason Issacs as Ra’s Al Ghul was awesome, and I find Wade Williams’ as Black Mask hilarious, for some reason. John DiMaggio is a disappointment as the Joker. The veteran voice actor unwisely attempts to immitate the character as portrayed by Mark Hamill and just doesn’t do it right. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill will forever be the definitive Batman/Joker pairing, and attempting to emulate either will just end in complete failure.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is a faithful and well-crafted adaptation of two stories that changed the landscape of Batman mythos as they were known, backed by almost flawless voice acting and a perfect animation style. Going back and watching this has me even more excited for the one-night theatrical release of the upcoming R-rated, Bruce Timm-directed adaptation of The Killing Joke on the 25th!