8 Oct 2010

Screen Time: BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD

By Matt T

BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John Di Maggio, Neil Patrick Harris
Director: Brandon Vietti
Runtime: 75 mins
Certificate: PG
Release Date (UK): 4 October 2010

DC’s animation wing, lorded over by parent company Warner Brothers, has produced some cracking animated features in a reasonably short space of time, and I’m pleased to say that Batman: Under The Red Hood is more than good enough to join them. From the opening sequence where the second Robin, Jason Todd, is battered with a crowbar by the Joker, the tone is gritty, real and very dark. His resurrection is dealt with in a far more logical manner than seen in the comics (in other words no-one punched the walls of reality!) and the reign of organized terror from the Red Hood is both clever and well rounded, with Batman for once seeming a touch holier than though in places.

The plot stays firmly in the present after the brief flashback of Todd’s demise, but utilizes a ghosting effect to show the memories conflicting Batman as he pursues the Hood. Dick Grayson even turns up in his Nightwing persona, putting this Batman between partners and not exactly appreciative of the help, with only brief appearances by other members of the Bat-family such as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon. The main focus here is Batman’s apparent failure to both train and protect Todd, and his realization that Todd's tenure as Robin was bound to be fraught with tragedy.

The Joker and Black Mask play prominent parts, with the former far closer to his Dark Knight persona of a sociopath with a wicked sense of humour, rather than an out and out psychopath. The Black Mask is used more as a standard mob boss (with no huge explanation of his deformation) being screwed over by just about everyone. Even the Joker is pushed down the pecking order as the conflict between the Red Hood, Batman and Batman’s own tortured soul plays out until the explosive final battle.

One element that does stand out is the action. Even without the eye-catching superheroics of Superman or Green Lantern there’s plenty to drop your jaw at, from a stunning fight between Amazo, Batman and Nightwing to a four-on-two fight between a group of cyber ninjas and Bats, with the Red Hood at his back. It’s the subtle differences between the two, and Batman’s unwillingness to cross the lines the Hood seems to do at every opportunity, that’s so compelling.

Much like the Justice League animated series, many of the vehicles are CGI creations rather than hand drawn, but they don’t look particularly out of place. The animation has a Japanese, manga-esque tinge to it, with crash zooms and stylistically blurred backgrounds while the action is taking place. The sharpness and facial expressions are incredible, especially when the Joker’s devilish grin is on screen. My only slight criticism is of the Red Hood’s visage when revealed, which appears basic and without the same level of detail as the likes of a de-masked Bruce Wayne.

The voice acting is also something to be lauded, as the cast list is impressive from the major roles down to some filler parts, such as X-Men 2’s Kelly Hu (Deathstrike) as the Black Mask’s assistant Ms Li. Jensen Ackles, who is known to pre-pubescent girls as one of the brothers from Supernatural, does sterling work as the Red Hood, adding a surprising amount of humour into a role with the potential to be purely dark and brooding. On that front Burce Greenwood, who most famously starred in Star Trek as the pre-Kirk Captain of the Enterprise, is conflicted and menacing as Batman, managing to handle the depth to Batman’s disappointment in himself without turning it into self pity, while still maintaining the level of menace that’d have criminals fleeing in terror. John Di Maggio as the Joker is less the Clown Prince and more a genuine bastard, and Neil Patrick Harris does well in Nightwing’s marginalized role as Batman’s last surviving sidekick. The score is also very impressive, giving the whole feature a very cinematic feel as opposed to a Saturday morning cartoon on a better budget.

Overall Batman: Under The Red Hood is a superb feature for the older Batman fan, covering a number of comic plots without pushing the important characters too far out of the way, and combining action and storytelling in an impressive fashion. 9/10

6 comments:

Matt C said...

If UK readers are wondering where they can get this from, it appears to be an HMV exclusive (but if you want to the blu-ray it'll have to be an import job).

Anonymous said...

I confess I haven't seen this, but I have to ask... the score of 9/10... are you really, honestly saying that this animated straight to DVD production rates with some of the greatest films ever made in the history of cinema? 9/10? Honestly?

- Rob N

Matt C said...

Not having seen it myself I can't offer my own opinion here, but you can bet I won't have exactly the same response as Other Matt as a piece of art affects everyone differently. There's no stopping anyone claiming it to be one of the greats if they so choose, and others of course can vehemently disagree, and anyway, are we really supposed to judge this from the same standpoint as we judge Citizen Kane and The Godfather?

Also, just because it's a direct-to-DVD animation doesn't make it any less culturally valid than, say, a new Scorsese movie. Isn't that the kind of mentality, viewing certain mediums as inferior, that comics fans have had to put up with for years from book snobs, who look down on sequential art as a lesser form of fiction?

Grading things out of 10 is hardly an exact science anyway, and perhaps it's best viewed as a grade that gives an idea of this flick's quality when compared to similar productions... but I'm putting words in Matt T's mouth here, so I leave the door open for him to justify his scoring! :)

Anonymous said...

Well, the whole point of scoring films out of ten is that if you give a film a score of nine, you are effectively saying it ranks (in your own estimation) with other films you give a nine to. Otherwise the scale is meaningless. Now, if Matt T is giving 'Batman Under the Hood' a score of 9/10 in comparison only with similar animated comic book films, then obviously we're comparing like for like, but I assume (unless we're told otherwise) that the comparison is with film in general. In which case I have to ask, does this straight to DVD animated feature really rank with some of the greatest films Matt T has ever seen? Because that's what the score seems to suggest.

- Rob N

Matt T said...

I based my 9/10 score on the level of expectation I had for the film, the previous output of DC's direct to DVD form this far and the likes of story and animation quality. As it's a standalone review and not a comparison, I'm not putting it up against the likes of Citizen Kane or The Godfather but measuring it by its own achievements in which I think it was deserving of the score. The film is exceptional for an animated feature and went far beyond what I would reasonably expect of such a product. I would put it alongside some of the better animated features I've seen in the last couple of years and certainly rank it among the best of the DC output.

As a journalist of around eight years I'm aware that the percentage, stars or 'out of ten' ranking system is fatally flawed, as it means you can essentially compare any two or more items that fall under the same ranking system. Using the same sentiment I could, for example, compare a pro level DSLR to a low end compact camera, or a black metal album to the latest effort by Kylie. Although this is taking to a rather ridiculous, but nonetheless logical, conclusion, most of us recognise it's fruitless to do so as each is measured on its own merits.

I understand your issues with the scoring Rob, but I believe it's a flaw with the verdict system on the whole rather than my ranking of the DVD. In this case you can by all means take the ranking as a further recommendation to the text, rather than a means of measuring it up against other titles.

Matt C said...

One additional thought: surely if Other Matt considered it one of the greatest movies of all time he'd more than likely give it 10/10, not 9/10?