Batman: Under the Red Hood
Director: Brandon Vietti
Writer: Judd Winick
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs
If you’ve been a geek for any length of time, you’ve likely encountered your Scott and Jean — a comic book topic that makes you so angry that you can’t discuss it without going completely off. I’m not talking casual disdain, but full, frightening-the-children rage. As someone who was deeply affected by Batman: A Death in the Family when it was originally published, I’d long considered Jason Todd’s return from the grave to be my Scott and Jean. Especially since said return has often amounted to little more than violent douchery. (Big spoilers ahead.)
While I eventually reached a sort of Zen acceptance about Jason’s resurrection, I had no intention of watching, let alone enjoying, the animated film adaptation of Judd Winick’s Batman: Under the Red Hood. My husband ordered it On Demand, and after a long day, I simply didn’t have the will to get off the couch. The bottom line: Jason’s presence remains problematic in a bigger sense, but it works surprisingly well in a self-contained story. And despite the inherent cheapness of bringing characters back from the dead, Under the Red Hood has some truly gripping moments that evoke the raw sadness of A Death in the Family.
Nothing annoys Bruce Wayne like a fellow vigilante, particularly one who has no problem capping criminals. So when a nouveau Red Hood shows up in Gotham City and starts blowing shit up, Bruce and Dick Grayson (still Nightwing in this context) go after him. Even if you’re not familiar with the Judd Winick-penned comics the movie is based on, it doesn’t take much to figure out Mr. Hood’s identity. After all, the story is punctuated with flashbacks of Bruce and Jason’s time together as Batman and Robin, including the latter’s sickening death at the Joker’s hand. That scene alone is worthy of a PG-13 rating, so make no mistake: Under the Red Hood is not appropriate for small or sensitive children.
Speaking of the Joker, John DiMaggio’s voice work as the cackling menace to society is excellent. His delivery is alternately ha-ha funny and ha-ha-now-he’s-freaking-me-out creepy. Bruce Greenwood is a solid Batman, and you can never go wrong with Neil Patrick Harris, who gives voice to Nightwing. Jensen Ackles is fine, if not memorable, as Jason Todd. The animation is well executed, and it’s more fluid than some of the earlier DC direct-to-DVD offerings.
Under the Red Hood is sure to rekindle the conversation about Batman’s no-killing code, particularly where the Joker is concerned. As the Red Hood himself puts it, we’re not talking about Penguin or Harvey Dent (Two-Face), but a serial, gleeful murderer who beat an adolescent to death and put Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair. Seriously; go back and look at those panels of the Joker clubbing Jason with a crowbar and tell me that guy doesn’t deserve far worse than a presidential suite at Arkham. (Gee, maybe THIS is my Scott and Jean.) I get Bruce’s concern about tumbling into the abyss, but somehow, I think he’d be OK. And this being DC, it’d only be a matter of time before the Joker came back to life!
My non-geek spouse, who completely dug this movie, had the advantage of being able to view it without the continuity baggage. We both agreed that the final scene is real heart-tugger, but it also reminded me of what an awkward position Jason Todd now occupies within the DC Universe. Considering all he’s been through — including the readers’ decision to off him in the first place — I can’t help but think he deserves more than a gold Crazy Medal.