Batman Retrospective Review: Batman Under The Red Hood (SPOILERS)
Welcome back to my retrospective look at the Batman film franchise. I worked on these retrospectives for the live action movies leading up to The Dark Knight Rises and I had so much fun with it I decided to revisit it with the animated features. If you haven't read my other retrospectives I would encourage you to take a look back at them.
Here I revisit my retrospective look at the Batman film franchise with the animated movies, starting with the movie Batman: Under The Red Hood.
Unlike the other retrospective reviews I won't look at these movies in any particular order, just the order I feel like reviewing them. In this case I'm starting with a Batman movie that surprises me with the amount of praise it receives, from the fact that it includes a significant amount of filler to it being based on a storyline with only one truly memorable moment (something that and this movie have in common). This movie is called Batman: Under The Red Hood.
First a brief history of the story that spawned it. It all started after Dick Grayson left Batman's side to pursue his own career as a superhero and a new Robin was introduced in the form of Jason Todd. He was generally hated by the fans for being a radical departure from what Grayson brought to the character so the decision was to kill him off. Not only was this death shocking because of the overly brutal manner that was used and that it affected Batman from that day forth but also because the decision to kill him wasn't because of an editorial choice but a fan poll introduced in the comic before it. That's right, the writers wanted to see if fans hated Jason to the point of wanting him dead and they all said yes (making us all Batman's most hated villains).
After the tragic moment they eventually brought Jason Todd back as a full grown supervillain known as the Red Hood, due to the fact the original Red Hood was the original alias of the Joker who killed him (also because going out as the Raging Fanboy wasn't as awesome). Originally though this Jason Todd was supposed to be an alternate universe version of the character but it was finally decided that this was the real Todd brought back to life like every other characters killed in a comic book. I'm not even sure if the editors liked the fact that Jason Todd was a villain since they made him into an antihero after a few stories.
Now I should mention that I haven't read the comics about Jason Todd. Most of what I know about him is from Wikipedia and this movie. But I do have friends who read them and they said the stories of him as a villain are okay with the most memorable thing being his death. Also I never had high hopes in this story since Bruce Timm felt the need to not include him in the animated series.
As a bit of a spoiler warning for this review I will say that the movie's...okay. It doesn't take advantage of Batman facing a former ally and there were moments that could have been easily removed but it did have some dark moments like the animated series and the action scenes were well done. In fact I considered not reviewing it simply because it was just so average that there wasn't much to say.
What convinced me to review the movie was it's Rotten Tomatoes score of 100%. To put that into perspective it means that it scored higher than any other comic book movie including both The Dark Knight and The Avengers. I know that being a direct-to-DVD movie it has different critics than those movies but my complaint is that it simply doesn't deserve to be ranked as the best Batman movie ever, especially when the competition includes the likes of Mask of The Phantasm. So now it's time to rip this movie a new one in my first linear review. Enjoy.
The movie starts off with Batman racing towards a building where Jason Todd is being beaten by the Joker using a crowbar. This is my favorite part of the film as it feels reminicent of the animated series. I also liked the end of it with Batman holding the body of his dead ally in his arms. My problem with this scene though is that it literally takes every mystery out of the movie. Consider this, anyone watching this movie (whether they read the comics or not) knows that the story is about a strange new villain coming into town with skills similar to Batman's which means either this scene has little to do with the plot or Robin will become the villain. Not to mention their inclusion of Ra's Al Ghul in this scene showing anyone familiar with the character how Jason comes back to life. It wouldn't be a problem except that there are several extended scenes in the movie leading to the climax of the movie where Batman tries to piece together who the villain is (I know he doesn't know that but you could solve that with one small scene and continue with the story).
So after an explosion that somehow kills Robin yet leaves his body in tact, we fast forward years later where Batman does what he does best, taking out criminals in a speeding semi. After that moment of awesomeness we reach the first major fight scene which simultanuously proved to be both awesome and nerd raging. you see it turns out that the crate the criminals were carrying had the villainous AMAZO. For fans who have no idea who AMAZO is he's not in Batman's rogue's gallery but happens to be a Justice League villain. In fact with his first appearance he took out the entire Justice League, including Batman, easily. And you can't justify this by saying Batman's smart enough to take him out because AMAZO was the power to copy the abilities of anyone he encounters including Batman and his intelligence. I know that it's a cheap power but that's why you don't have Batman fight a character he shouldn't be able to defeat on his own in the first fight scene of the movie.
Now the fight scene does also introduce Nightwing who's definitally my favorite character in the movie simply because he's played by Neil Patrick Harris. He's definitally the perfect fit for the character and any movie experience can be improved with a little NPH. In fact in the original script for the movie his Dick Grayson was supposed to die in the beginning but they decided to cut it since a scene involving his will only had him giving Bruce a Gimp mask, a jar with hair in it, and like 30 cans of mace. But I should mention that as awesome he is he doesn't have that big of an impact on the story and could have been cut (but he wasn't because no one says no to NPH).
This is probably a good place to talk about the voice acting. Bruce Greenwood does a rather impressive job as Batman to a calibur similar to Kevin Conroy. Jensen Ackles also does a good job as Red Hood and I'm surprised that he doesn't get more work. I also liked Jason Isaacs as Ra's Al Ghul but his role is pretty wasted. But there's also the Joker played by John DiMaggio which I just didn't like. With all the memorable Jokers out there like Ledger and Hamill his performance just doesn't stick out, which it should. The rest of the cast is okay but not too impacting on the story.
After taking on AMAZO (which seems way too easy considering he was using Superman's powers and Batman took him out with a bomb), Red Hood comes in and takes out the criminals. It turns out he's been taking over the drug rings in the city and taking out the competition, promising anyone who joins him protection in exchange for a cut of the profits and the assurance they won't sell to kids. After a few encounters with the Red Hood, Nightwing is taken out of the movie thanks to an injury and Batman discovers he's really Jason Todd (though that's not the end of his research on the subject that we will see).
Naturally with all that the Red Hood's doing of course he's being hunted by the powerful criminals of Gotham. So they send the Fearsome Hand of Four. If you don't know who they are that's because they don't appear in the comic books and only exist in this film (as far as all my research told me. If I'm wrong please correct me). These guys stick out like a sore thumb with their light saber weapns and Iron Man armor. The thing is I wish they were replaced by members of the League of Assassins. It would make sense with Ra's trying to fix his mistake and would have had an excuse for him to be involved in the plot outside of being Mr. Deus ex machina. Not only that but it leads to the most needlessly disturbing Batman moment since Penguin bit a dude's nose off in Batman Returns. In this scene Red Hood shocks one of the villain's eye visor which somehow causes a chain reaction which blows the guy's brains out (which causes the entire world to shout WTF while changing their underwear afterwards).
So after calming down any children you had with you when watching this Batman movie the film continues with Batman trying to convince Red Hood to quit what he's doing. It turns out that he's trying to emulate Batman only approaching it in a way that he kills those who aren't afraid. This seems like an ethical debate that Batman would go through but it amounts to one line that I'll get into later.
After a few more scenes of Batman still trying to be absolutely super duper sure that the Red Hood is really Jason Todd he finally decides to get answers we don't already have by traveling to see Ra's and find out exactly why he used his Lazarus Pit on Jason. It turns out he hired the Joker to cause a distraction for Batman while he committed another crime but naturally it ended with the death of Robin. Feeling guilt over inadvertantly killing a teenaged boy, he attempts to bring Jason back which lead to the natural outcome of him becoming crazy. While I understand him trying to be an honorable man and repay the loss, it makes no sense for Ra's to use a known psychopath at all. He's supposed to be smarter than that.
So now that Batman learns this he travels back to Gotham and learns that Red Hood kidnapped the Joker and forces him into one final fight. After the big "reveal" that Jason Todd really was the Red Hood, the fight begins. I'll admit that the fight here is incredibly well done. In fact this is up to the quality of fights in The Avengers with how well done it is. But that doesn't change the fact of one line Batman gives during the fight where he comments his distaste at Red Hood's process. He claims Red Hood is wrong because he opperates through "intimidation and murder". Murder I understand but why does Batman, a character who chose the identity of a bat to instill fear in the hearts of criminals, have an issue with another vigilante using intimidation. He's well known for holding criminals over tall buildings in order to get information. Talk about hypocritical.
So after a great fight scene we move to Jason's apartment where we see the Joker. Jason leaves a choice for Batman that either he kills Joker to avenge his death or he will do it (that's right, our big climax and the only life on the line is the Joker). Batman then starts walking off because he's about as unsatisfied with the climax as I am when Jason pulls the gun on him. Batman does a bullet dodge then tosses a batarang at Jason and to save some time Jason sets off an explosion in the apartment. Somehow both Batman and the Joker survive with the implication that Jason lived and ran away (leading evidence to my theory that people in the DC universe are immune to explosions) and our film ends with a flashback of the "good old days".
Again this movie is simply okay. While I enjoyed the action and the story had potential, any ethical debate it tried to make was largely ignored and there are several characters introduced that could have either been dropped or replaced with a stock character changing nothing. If you think the plot has potential then check out Mask of the Phantasm. It has a similar plot but it has a nicer pace, a genuine mystery with the villain, and the added benefit of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy.
Thanks for reading. Please check out my other retrospectives as they come out. See you later.
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