Batman: Under the Red Hood is more entertaining than the viewer will imagine. There is better structure here than in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker with more advanced animation augmented by CGI. Adapting the Batman: Under the Hood comic book storyline (which I have not read yet), Batman: A Death in the Family (which I have read), and the past relationship of the first two Robins into one package was no easy task but was surprisingly pulled off with greater pluses than minuses.
The aforementioned CGI is also seen in picturesque title and credit sequences accompanied by a somber score by Christopher Drake. The capital spent to produce this film is shown in these bookends and in the increased detail of the characters from the animated television series. Batman: Under the Red Hood is not even close to as detailed as high-end Anime e.g. Batman: Gotham Knight, but it is much improved.
The death of Robin – such a recognized comic book figure – was one of the most talked about in the comic book industry when it happened. That is why the presence of Jason Todd (Vincent Martella)’s mother in the pivotal warehouse scene from Batman: A Death in The Family and the lack of other key details but will be surprised at the amount of bloodshed during what is represented and in the rest of the film. A later scene involving potato chips is a perfect example of this. Unfortunately, this may be the closest Batman comic book lovers will ever get to watching even a portion of Batman: A Death of the Family on the big screen.
Mark Hamill was missed performing the voice of The Joker this time around as he had since the original cartoon aired in the early 90’s but John DiMaggio did a more than adequate job. What helped was the quality of his dialogue, surpassing that of the series and the dialogue found in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
The plotline for Batman: Under the Red Hood is compelling, though the dialogue/logic falters here and there: “That’s Nightwing, the first Robin.” How would a common thug know that fact? From the Batman newsletter? Screenwriter Judd Winick had him say that just for the sake of the viewers that were unaware of Batman (Bruce Greenwood)’s history and Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris)’s past relationship with him.
The Joker is as violent as he is in the comic book in Batman: Under the Red Hood, more so than he was in The Dark Knight. In The Dark Knight, his underlying anger peeks through. In Batman: Under the Red Hood, he is just vicious without any hints of his past: “You wanna know how I got these scars?”
Most of The Joker’s dialogue is spot on – if the viewer is familiar with his comic book incarnation – but the addition of the black eye makeup from The Dark Knight was unnecessary. His dark jokes and humor were enough and were a joy to listen to: “It’s going to be a sleep over right? I brought my tooth brush.” or to Batman: “You look good. Been working out? You could probably use some sun. Then again, who am I to judge.”
Dick Grayson / Nightwing is in the film but the movie is not about him, it’s about the Red Hood (Jensen Ackles), his identity, his motivation, and his past. The realizations in this film are surprising to say the least. The viewer may wish to read the source material first then see the film because once they do see the film they are bound to be curious as to how it was possible and how “this person” is still breathing. All is revealed in Batman: Under the Red Hood.
The final confrontation is almost irreverent with the commentary and the jokes by The Joker: “This is turning out even better than I hoped.” Why a gun is turned on the person it eventually is was dubious as was what happens to Red Hood after the end of the confrontation. It’s as ambiguous as what happened to The Joker at the end of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and just as unfulfilling. The Red Hood’s whereabouts are not even mentioned. Having a strong presentation, three good acts, and then that ending was an unsatisfying letdown.
Brandon Vietti’s Batman: Under the Red Hood is a good film undeserving of the lingering questions and open-ended resolution bestowed upon it. Thank goodness for source material.