Batman: Under the Red Hood (BRH) is not for kids. And depending on how much brutality, immolation and murder one is willing to endure for a narrative, it may not be for some non-kids either. Our one sentence synopsis will be less of a downer than this direct-release feature.
After watching the second Robin Jason Todd being mercilessly beaten to near death with a crowbar and then blown up we years later follow Batman’s efforts in Gotham City to hunt down a mysterious brutal crime figure called the Red Hood who is as fast and nimble as himself and his old pal Dick Grayson (the first Robin) who decided to drop into town and help out his old mentor in the guise of Nightwing so that all involved in this sad saga can get bludgeoned, blown up or shot as the Red Hood and Joker vie for the title of “most psycho”.
If you are a hardcore comic fan who wants to see a video retelling of Jason Todd returning as the Red Hood, this release may be for you. If you are looking for a fun Batman adventure, this is not it. Nor was it a bold look into the tragic soul of the Batman that was Mask of the Phantasm. At least it was good to see Batman, always darkened of late, fighting for his vow of not killing criminal scum.
The action scenes are well done. The fights feature interesting characters, moves and a new portable rocket thruster bat-gadget. The vehicular action scenes are equally well done including one featuring a computer generated Batwing. The pace of the whole one hour and fifteen minute feature never really lags.
The voice work was very good. This was not one of those experimental new-voice experiments DC and Andrea Romano have been putting out lately as exemplified in in Justice League New Frontier. Greenwood is apparently the future of the Batman voice, and he does a good job along with the supporting cast.
Artistically the feature was also commendable. It had a lot of style starting from the credits onward. Now style is not in short supply of late when it comes to these direct-release features -and it is not always pleasing. However in this case it was not overplayed and welcome. Although you will notice the only bright spots in this feature’s perpetual night were explosions.
Did BRH take misguided liberties with the characters? No. The depictions of everyone from Alfred to the Joker were accurate and fair. They were just, for the most part not fun. It is not a fun story. There is a lot of bad guy brutality, and little comeuppance.
A heartening spot was the inclusion of Nightwing. This more mature portrayal of Dick Grayson is something we greatly appreciated. We were tired of the perpetually angry, “I left Gotham to be my own man” attitude. Here Nightwing shows his deep respect for the father figure in his life and even Bats offers a “Thank you”.
Additionally the banter between Nightwing and Batman while they fight villains is the most entertaining of the entire movie. It is delivered snappily, in character, and is the only spark of wry humor. The Nightwing/Batman relationship has been so often depicted as strained. Appreciatively here it was perhaps the only significant, active source of warmth.
There are a lot of seminal comic book stories we would like to see worked up into a feature. This was not the list topper. BRH appeals to a more narrow fanbase than most animated outings. Enjoy it… if that is you.