August 11, 2010

Movie Review: Batman Under the Red Hood

Holy awesomeness, Batman! Now this is what animated Batman should be like. I haven't enjoyed me some animated Batman action this much since, well, Batman the Animated Series. The Batman was good, and The Brave and The Bold has it's followers but if they ever make a series like this movie, I would need a change of pants.

Under the Red Hood is exactly like Batman should be. It's real. It's violent. It's edgy. It's dark. It's psychological. It's perfect. The movie follows the death, and subsequent fallout, of Jason Todd, the second Robin. He dies in the first five minutes. That's how the movie opens. With Robin dying. Right from the start, you know this movie isn't fucking around. Flash forward and a mysterious vigilante is terrorizing the gangs of Gotham leaving Bruce to piece things together and stop him. Not having read the comic, it was a bit of a surprise to find out who was under the Red Hood, though now that I think about it, it was probably pretty obvious. In any case, the explanation given for Red Hood's origins kind of upset me, but it's actually a fairly straightforward comic book twist. I won't deny that it wasn't well written, however. It most definitely could have been released theatrically if it was a bit longer, but at 75 minutes there's no filler or dicking around. Everything that happens has a purpose and no precious minute is wasted.

The first thing I noticed when I popped in the Blu-ray was how stunning it looked. It was a real "holy crap" moment within the first second. My dad, who usually dismisses traditional animation, had the same reaction. It's absolutely the best animation I've ever seen period. In fact, it's probably the best picture I've ever seen from anything. I have a problem with HD Blu-ray movies typically because they're so clear that they look fake. I'm not sure if anyone can relate, but the clarity Blu-ray brings makes the the content look fake, like I can tell something is CGI or that it's a set and not a real place. This is obviously not an issue with animation. I've concluded, in fact, that Blu-ray is made for animation.

The second thing I noticed was that the production values were through the roof. Like I said, this is just as good as any theatrical Batman movie (and better than several) and could have been released as such. Again, my dad and I had the same reaction when it came to the music: wow. This movie has a really top quality score. You get your first really good earful during the opening credits, which, to my surprise, were totally not boring. They were extremely well done and Hollywood movie-esque. Likewise with the closing credits.

The acting was also superb. No Kevin Conroy or Mark Hamill here, but don't let that turn you off! Instead, Batman and Joker are played by Bruce Greenwood and John DiMaggio respectively. For those of you who don't recognize these two, Greenwood played Capt. Pike in 2009's Star Trek, and John DiMaggio is an accomplished voice actor probably best known for his role as Bender. Greenwood makes an excellent Dark Knight. In fact, he's really only second to Conroy. DiMaggio, unlike Greenwood, doesn't resemble his previous actor's voice in anyway. In fact, Hamill and DiMaggio couldn't be more different. Sure, his voice has been everywhere and you can't help but hear some Bender or Jake (Adventure Time) in his voice, but he brings something different to the table, and it works in the film. It's not the Joke you're used to when it comes to the DCAU, but this isn't that and in the context of the movie, I think DiMaggio is great. He's definitely got the laugh down. Plus, anything John DiMaggio touches turns to gold. And you better get used to Greenwood because he's voicing Batman in the upcoming Young Justice. Woot. Other actors include Jensen Ackles as Red Hood (who sounds suspiciously like Nolan North), Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing, Jason Isaacs as Ra's al Ghul, and Wade Williams as Black Mask (he's fantastic in this- maybe my favorite part).

Ultimately, it's a spectacularly executed look not only under the Red Hood, but into the mind of Bruce Wayne as he comes to terms with the biggest failure of his life. It's the best 75 minutes you'll have spent in a long time. I suggest the Blu-ray if you have the means- it was the same price as the DVD at Best Buy and well worth it for the mind-blowing quality.

While the movie is great, I can't really say the same for the bonus material. There's two documentaries on Robin (one on Dick Grayson and another on Jason Todd) that are pretty pointless. They're about 20 minutes each but don't tell you much of anything. Alright, but nothing special. There's four episodes of Batman the Animated Series introduced by Bruce Timm (why is everyone named Bruce?) which is nice I guess but it doesn't have much to do with the movie. Also included are trailers for other DC animated films and a look at the upcoming Superman/Batman Apocalypse (haven't seen it). Finally, there's a new animated short starring Jonah Hex which I haven't watched for some reason. I'll check it out and report back. I would have liked to see some sort of behind the scenes features for this movie, the movie itself is totally worth the money.

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