Batman: Under the Red Hood, a Retro DVD Review

red hoodYes I know, this is old. The animated film was released in 2010, but sometimes I don’t get around to watching things right away. Actually, I’m repurposing an old review I wrote for another blog. Time to let it out for a breath of fresh air.

This review is loaded with spoilers, so if you haven’t seen this video yet and you want to preserve the mystery, don’t read any further. You’ve been warned.

OK, it was fabulous, and I don’t give out compliments lightly. The suspense in this tale had even me twisting in my seat. I was actually nervous about how it all would come out. Go figure.

Several major pieces of Batman comic book history are adapted for this story.

First, Jason Todd, the second Robin, being killed by the Joker. That happens right at the beginning and is the set up for everything else. Jason is beaten to a pulp with a crowbar, left for dead, and then, before Batman could get there, the place blows sky-high. No fake death. Batman gets to the site of the explosion less than a minute later and picks Jason’s broken body out of the rubble. He’s dead. No faking it.

Second, we have the “Red Hood” origin of the Joker. There are a number of different twists on Joker’s origin, but one of them…one that I hate, is that the Joker was a petty crook trying to reform. He was married (the back story wasn’t in the film, but I thought I should fill you in) and his wife was pregnant. His “honest” work wasn’t going so well and some of his old pals convinced him to help pull off a heist. The catch is that he had to dress in some stupid looking red mask and cape, pretending to be a crime lord or something.

Naturally Batman shows up. It’s in a chemical plant. The “Red Hood” tries to tell Batman that he didn’t want to do wrong. It goes bad. “Hoodie” slips and falls into a vat of chemicals. The Joker is born.

Oh, the entire movie starts with Ra’s al Ghul. Yeah. Thousands of miles away from Bosnia, which is where Jason buys it, Ra’s knows somehow that Joker is beating Robin to death and, get this, that Batman will be too late to stop it. The film never explains how Ra’s knows that but it does explain that Ra’s hired the Joker…but not to kill Jason.

OK, that’s out of the way.

Five years after Jason’s death, a crime lord named Black Mask has taken over all of Gotham’s mobs. Unfortunately, he’s just Captain America’s Red Skull with a black paint job and a bad temper. Nothing really special. I was disappointed.

The interesting part is when a guy in an adaptation of the Red Hood outfit (without cape, thankfully) takes over the mobs with the promise to protect the gangs from the Black Mask and Batman. He cuts himself into Gotham’s drug profits but with one odd demand, “Sell drugs to kids and you’re dead.” He means it.

It was immediately apparent that the new Red Hood was Jason (although it takes Batman a little longer to figure out). Even with Nightwing’s help, the Red Hood is always one step ahead of Batman. He knows all of Batman’s moves. He can counter all of Batman’s toys. The clues are all there. Jason wants Bruce to figure it out. At one point (and Bruce has to analyze the voice recording of their encounter to hear it), the Red Hood…Jason, even calls Batman, “Bruce”.

The mystery isn’t really why Jason would kill. Bruce knew right from the day he recruited Jason that he was both gifted and dangerous. Part of turning Jason into Robin was to control him, to keep him from going “dark”. It almost worked until he died. Yeah, he really was dead. I’m getting to that.

Red Hood uses guns and explosives. He doesn’t have a problem with killing. He does what he thinks Batman is afraid to do and he thinks that while it’s impossible to get rid of crime, it can be controlled. In some ways, Jason walks a finer line than Bruce, few morals and no inhibition about killing, but he’s not in it for the profit or even the thrill. He has a plan.

The mystery is how Jason really came back from the dead and ultimately what he wants with his new life. The first was hard to figure out because I never thought Ra’s would go that far. The second was a bit of misdirection.

Batman wasn’t the only one who felt guilty for Jason’s death. Ra’s hired Joker to distract Batman while Ra’s was working elsewhere. He never thought Joker would kidnap and kill Robin while Batman was chasing him in Bosnia. After Bruce left the country, Ra’s took Jason’s dead body from the morgue and transported him to a Lazarus pit (Ra’s replaces the body with a very convincing replica..and Bruce is too guilty to look at the body a second time). Oh crap. It worked. That green slime really can bring someone back from the dead. It can also drive them crazy, as it always threatens to do with Ra’s.

It would be easy to say that Jason stayed crazy, but he didn’t. He escaped Ra’s al Ghul’s compound and managed to make his way back into Gotham. Funded by drug profits, Jason decided to become a better Batman than Batman. Now that the mystery of how a dead guy comes back to life has been solved, what about the next mystery: what does Jason really want?

To kill the Joker? He almost does. To kill Batman for failing to save him? It looks that way. But looks can be deceiving. I won’t tell you the details. Watch the DVD and find out for yourself. I absolutely promise it will be worth it.

Stuff I liked:

I liked the various flashback scenes when Bruce recalls Jason first becoming Robin and even when they first met in “crime alley”, when he caught a 10 or 12-year-old Jason trying to steal the hub caps off of the Batmobile. Batman is Batman. Hard as nails, but inside, he really loved that kid. It humanizes Bruce and yet lets him keep the darkness and pain of being Batman.

I liked Alfred, probably because he’s always Alfred. He’s part of what anchors Batman and keeps him Bruce. He’s the guy who gets to tell Batman stuff no one else would dare. He knows all there is about Bruce and he can be trusted. He’s the closest thing Bruce has to a father (it never happens in the film, but if Jason really wanted to get to Bruce, all he’d have to do is mess with Alfred..fortunately Jason doesn’t take it that far).

Stuff I didn’t like:

I could get past Bruce Greenwood doing the voice work as Bruce/Batman. I certainly think that Kevin Conroy is *the* voice of Batman, but Greenwood (and I like Greenwood as an actor…a lot) wasn’t half bad. I really hated John Di Maggio as the Joker, though. He sounded just like any other thug, especially in the beginning of the film when he was killing Robin. He communicated nothing of the dangerous insanity that Mark Hamill brings to the role. He was just mean and sarcastic.

That is until Di Maggio laughed. It’s creepy, which it should be. Di Maggio redeems himself somewhat as the film progresses, especially when Black Mask springs him from Arkham and hires him to kill the Red Hood. The sequence of Joker going from broken prisoner to multiple-murderer in just a matter of seconds was brilliant.

I still think Hamill was better.

There was a scene where three out of four assassins trying to take Red Hood/Jason out were using variations on one and two-bladed light sabres. Oh c’mon, we’ve all seen Star Wars. Can’t you be more creative? The action, suspense, and danger held up, but it took the edge off the scene just having light sabres there.

Conclusion:

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010). I was impressed. Very impressed. Very few flaws, at least that I noticed on a first viewing. Lots of little homage pieces to other films and the comic books. Very little Jim Gordon, which there wasn’t time for in the story (too bad). Frankly, I loved it. If you’re a Batman fan, or maybe even if you’re not, you’ll love it too.

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