You know the story, it’s been 20 years in the making. If you’ve been reading DC Comics over the last five years, you know the outcome. But how does it translate to an animated movie?
Title: BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD
Director: Brandon Vietti
Writer: Judd Winick
Bruce Wayne: Bruce Greenwood
Red Hood: Jensen Ackles
The Joker: John DiMaggio
Nightwing: Neil Patrick Harris
Ra’s al Ghul: Jason Isaacs
Black Mask: Wade Williams
THE STORY 20 YEARS IN THE MAKING
When fans were given the chance to call the 800 number and determine the fate of bratty Jason Todd, no one guessed it would have such a big effect across the DC Universe. Years later I don’t think anyone knew a Superboy Prime Punch would undo all of what came before. It seems impossible to take all the events of the last 20 years, and condense them into a 75 minute movie, yet Judd Winick makes it work. In fact, he makes it work so well, and seem so logical, that any indication of universal forces coming into play, or the Hush storyline ever happening, would only serve to tear down the entire movie.
In the comics, there was some mystery regarding the Red Hood’s identity until it was finally revealed. Here, it’s clear from the start where the story is going and who the mystery man is. What does make this watchable and enjoyable is seeing how Winick works the characters in order to tell a story about failed relationships and revenge. Winick tells a powerful story on this front, and injects just enough humor in the violence to keep it light.
Some might be surprised that Tim Drake doesn’t appear in this movie at all, but when dealing with so much character history, adding another Robin to the mix would only serve to confuse the viewer. I much prefer this being a Batman/Nightwing team up story rather than an entire Bat-family event.
One of the bigger disappointments was in the way Black Mask was presented in the film. He actually comes across as someone wearing a black mask (as he was originally depicted years ago), instead of the psychopathic burn victim he became. It’s a minor thing in terms of the story, but one that kind of stood out as a potential problem for viewers.
One of the biggest questions everyone has been asking me since people found out I had an early preview copy is, “How does the film handle Jason Todd getting beat with a crowbar?” It is there, it’s how the movie opens, but if you are coming into this movie hoping to see what really happens when someone gets hit in the face, you’re going to be really disappointed. The moments the Joker actually strikes Jason are handled off screen or as a shadow on the wall. When we do see his face, it barely looks like there is a scratch. Sure there are a few trickles of blood, but no bruising, not cuts to the face, and when Jason smiles, there are no teeth missing. The only way you can really tell that Robin has taken a beating is because his domino mask is torn.
The rest of the movie follows the same tone – you don’t get to see decapitated heads, those that do get shot or injured seem to do it in a very 1980s G.I. Joe sort of way. There’s no blood when someone takes a bullet to the chest, and even a jagged piece of glass to the throat yields no mess whatsoever. The most violent moment is when the Red Hood shoots a Molotov Cocktail out of someone’s hand and he lights up like a roman candle. With Batman being the biggest powerhouse in terms of recognition and money making potential, Warner Bros. was wise to tone down the violence as much as they did, but I’m still surprised it received a PG-13 rating.
Even though the film features a group of actors new to the DC animated universe, they all do a very good job. It takes a little getting used to hearing John DiMaggio doing the voice of The Joker, but it is kind of offset by the fact that he is presented a little bigger – some might say husky-sized – in the film. Likewise, Bruce Greenwood’s depiction of Batman takes a little getting used to, but his voice is deep enough and he adds just enough gravel to make it convincing in the end.
While I generally like the overall presentation, the animation is probably the weakest part of this entire movie. While the @D elements work really well, and the character animation is fine, the 3D elements stand out like a sore thumb. It’s almost as if they took the worst parts of 3D from the early days of the 90s and slapped them in the movie. I’m not opposed to 3D, I made my living on it for years, but when it is tossed into a movie with a cheap looking animation shader added on, it looks like someone was cutting corners.
The other thing that bothered me to no end was the over use of tracking and dolly shots. It’s almost as if it was a mandate from above that a majority of the film needed to include them to make the film more real in the eyes of the viewer. Moving cameras are used to add to the visual storytelling, not detract from it, but sadly, that is exactly what happened here.
If you watch this film on a large HD screen that has 240Hz filter built in, you’ll need to dumb down the picture quite a bit for the film to look good as all compositing and problematic 3D really show on a fine tuned set.
BOTTOM LINE: WORTH IT
As much as I disliked most of the animation, I actually found the movie to be very enjoyable. While the story is predictable, it is well put together, and if viewers want to see how an adaptation of a huge story arc can be done right, this is a good example of it. Anytime Batman shows up in animated form, he will always have to live up to the Batman: Animated Series. With Batman: Under the Red Hood, Warner Bros. and DC have done a nice job living up to that legacy and the movie is worth checking out, earning 3.5 out of 5 Stars.