Batman, one of the most popular and well known characters of all time, has headlined and starred in several full length animated movies within the last two decades. “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” is probably the best out of all of them, but “Batman: Under the Red Hood” comes in at a close second.
Based on the graphic novel, “A Death in the Family,” “Under the Red Hood” immediately opens with the scene of Jason Todd’s death at the hands of the Joker. For those who still think animations are only for little kids are very much mistaken. The scene is gruesome and brutal as we see the Joker beat Jason– who took over Robin’s mantle post-Dick Grayson—with a crowbar. Jason is still alive, but severely injured. Joker leaves behind a bomb while Jason desperately tries to get up and out to safety before it goes off.
By the time he finally gets there, Batman is too late to save Robin and watches as the building explodes with his protégé still in it. This is all important background to the story which really begins five years after these events.
Joker is back in Arkham Asylum, Dick Grayson is now Nightwing, and Batman is still doing what he does best: cleaning up Gotham City’s streets. Everything is as it should be until a red masked figure shows up and begins taking over the criminal underworld. The difference is that the mysterious Red Hood is also taking out criminals and cleaning up the city, albeit in a more violent way than Batman.
If you’ve seen several movies, you figure out relatively quickly that the Red Hood is, in fact, Jason Todd. The mystery is how he’s alive and why is he doing what he’s doing?
The setup is fantastic and each scene leads to more mystery. What’s nice about “Under the Red Hood” though, is that with all the bread crumbs that are laid out, there is an exceptionally well done payoff in the very end. Does it answer every question? Yes, it certainly does. However, after all is said and done and the showdown is over, it also poses another question: what happens now?
Bruce Greenwood voices Batman for the first time and does a pretty good job. Growing up with “Batman: The Animated Series,” many are used to the voice talents of Kevin Conroy, but Greenwood fills in his shoes nicely. He ping pongs between Batman, crime fighter and protector of Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne, tormented and aggrieved mentor.
Jensen Ackles breathes life into Red Hood. This is Ackles’ first voice acting job and he wonderfully balances Red Hood, the new crime menace, and Jason Todd, the forever troubled young man seeking vengeance. The final showdown between him, Batman, and the Joker is especially poignant and fantastically executed in visuals and in voice.
John DiMaggio isn’t Mark Hamill, but there’ll be no comparisons here. DiMaggio does have a certain knack for nailing the Joker’s voice. He balances the insanity of the Joker with just the right amount of underlying menace. DiMaggio’s Joker is creepy and funny at the same time. You almost feel guilty for laughing at a being that is so sadistic. For a character who has long been voiced by Hamill, the man who originally brought the Joker’s high pitched and crazy laugh to animated life, DiMaggio measures up as a good substitute.
Neil Patrick Harris has a limited amount of screen time, but the actor uses it wisely. He brings the wise cracks to Nightwing’s character as easily as he does Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother.” However, all the lines he delivers are not jokes, and Harris proves he can be serious as well.
While “Under the Red Hood” has enough action scenes to please viewers, the heart of the story is an emotional one. It revolves around Batman’s family and the feelings of loss, guilt, and grief. It’s a great setup which includes memorable and popular characters Ra’s Al Ghul, the Joker, and fan favorite and former Batman sidekick, Nightwing.
Each layer that is peeled back reveals more of the story, why and how it happened and what Red Hood really wants. It’s fast paced, intelligently written, and ten times better than any Batman/Superman movies that have been released in the last decade. If you’re looking for a riveting animated feature with action and a gripping story, then “Batman: Under the Red Hood” is worth your time and attention. And if you’re a longtime Batman fan, this is one to add to your collection.