Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review--Batman: Under the Red Hood


And there are spoilers ahead indeed if you are sensitive to those sorts of things...

I was skeptical.

I suppose that went for many comic book fans when DC Comics decided to bring back Jason Todd. The "Death in the Family" storyline in Batman comics from 1988 was a pivotal moment in my life.  Not only did it get me back into reading comics and get me through studying for the SAT, the death of Robin was a pop culture event.  Bringing him back seemed at first like a cheap stunt, but the new purpose of the Jason Todd character sort of grew on me.

All of that is translated from comics to animated feature in Batman: Under the Red Hood.  In this film, Batman confronts a new vigilante in Gotham City.  This one, calling himself the Red Hood, is far more lethal in his application of justice than Batman.  The Red Hood is systematically squeezing out crime lords while taking control of Gotham's underworld. As anyone who knows the character of Batman can tell you, these methods won't wash in his city.  But when Batman squares off against the Red Hood, old wounds are reopened and an inevitable showdown with the Joker results.

This is not a Batman opus for the kids.  And I am just fine with that.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is brutally violent both physically and emotionally but the story is meant to be such.  It is enjoyable while draining at the same time, if that makes any sense.  I would not have cast Bruce Greenwood as voice talent for Batman despite the fact that is excellent in most every role that he plays.  He does not disappoint as Batman, either.  The depiction of the Joker voiced by John DiMaggio was one that had to grow on me.  He neither sounded nor looked (not exactly anyway, I think there was a Heath Ledger influence mixed in there) like the character as I have come to know him.  That may perhaps be due to the renderings of Mark Hamill and Batman: The Animated Series, but who can say.  By the end of the film however, I found this interpretation of the Joker to have a psychotic charm all his own.  Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing is also not to be missed.

All in all, the story stays faithful to the Red Hood arc in the comics.  One of the few departures comes in the quick recapitulation of the "Death in the Family" storyline where the locale of Ethiopia is switched to Bosnia.  Not really sure what the motivation was there but it's a minor detail.  The story still affords all of the postmodern edginess, grittiness, and whatever else are prerequisites for comics these days. That and a good philosophical discussion over what constitutes good and evil and what form "justice" takes on during extreme circumstances.

Yeah, I'm sure you never saw that part coming.

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