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Blu-Ray Review: Fans of ‘The Dark Knight’ Should Check Out ‘Batman: Under the Red Hood’

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CHICAGO – With easily the darkest subject matter and most intense level of violence to date in the DC Universe series of PG-13 animated film, “Batman: Under the Red Hood” is far from your typical Saturday morning cartoon. This is morally complex material much closed to “The Dark Knight” than “Batman & Robin,” and it’s a smash success for the franchise, resulting in easily the best installment in years.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0

Like Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” “Batman: Under the Red Hood” is about the boundaries of being a superhero when faced with a villain who appears to have none. Just as was done in “The Dark Knight,” the question of whether or not it’s okay to kill a few innocents to get a truly despicable guilty soul comes up again in a riveting story, arguably the best in the history of the DC Universe films. In one of the most interesting scenes in the entire DC Universe franchise, Batman is asked directly why he’s never simply killed The Joker. The answer is a fascinating one and incredibly well-written. Without giving anything away, The Joker’s quip that Batman always finds a way to win and yet everyone still loses is a brilliantly insightful one into the moral difficulty of being Bruce Wayne’s alter ego.

Batman: Under the Red Hood was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27th, 2010
Batman: Under the Red Hood was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27th, 2010
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Based on a the DC comic book plotlines “Under the Hood” and “A Death in the Family” and written by the great Judd Winick (who some of you may remember from “The Real World” but comic readers will know as one of the more interesting writers of the last several years), “Batman: Under the Red Hood” opens with the brutal murder of Robin aka Jason Todd. The Joker (John DiMaggio of “Futurama”) beats him with a crowbar and then blows him up moments before Batman (Bruce Greenwood of “Dinner For Schmucks”) arrives.

Batman: Under the Red Hood was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27th, 2010
Batman: Under the Red Hood was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27th, 2010
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Five years later, a new villain appears on the scene in the guise of the Red Hood (Jensen Ackles of “Supernatural”). Not unlike the version of The Joker in “The Dark Knight,” Red Hood is ruling the city of Gotham through intimidation of its criminals. He introduces himself by tossing a duffel bag filled with the heads of their lieutenants on a meeting room table. Of course, Red Hood has a much bigger plan for vengeance in mind, one that draws the Joker back in along with cameos by Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris) and Ra’s al Ghul (Jason Isaacs).

“Batman: Under the Red Hood” is a spectacular action film. The fight scenes — and there are many considering the film’s too-short 75-minute running time — are incredibly well-conceived, staged, and executed. A final battle and the ensuing confrontation between Batman and Red Hood is possibly the best individual scene in this entire DC Universe series in terms of direction, writing, and overall technical execution.

The voice cast for “Under the Red Hood” will be a new one for fans of this series with the traditional Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker having been replaced by Bruce Greenwood and the man who voices Bender, respectively. The irascible robot on “Futurama” always had a bit of a dark sense of humor not unlike The Joker and Greenwood has the right gravity but I have to admit to missing the original voice actors. And while I love Ackles on “Supernatural,” he doesn’t have the right wounded quality for this character. He sounds too clever and too tough. Harris is typically great and Isaacs is fantastic, but both are minor players in this story. This is one of the rare installments in which the writing and animation is stronger than the voice cast. It’s not that anyone is distractingly bad, just not quite as perfect as previous incarnations of these characters. And the fact that Conroy returns as Batman in the upcoming “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” makes the “guest turn” by Greenwood a little more off-putting.

Batman: Under the Red Hood was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27th, 2010
Batman: Under the Red Hood was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27th, 2010
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Despite minor quibbles about the voice work, “Batman: Under the Red Hood” is tough, complicated, and remarkably well-made material. It flies by in the blink of an eye with a breakneck pace and incredibly well-designed action sequences. Fans of the characters and even those who may have given up on the DC Universe films after a few lackluster installments shouldn’t miss it. It’s one of the best Blu-ray releases of the season for comic book fans and even those who don’t yet know the tragic story of the man under the red hood.

It helps the film that Warner Brothers has treated it lavishly with a great Blu-ray special edition with perfect HD video and some notable special features. Most interesting is a 12-minute short version of “Jonah Hex” that’s vastly superior to the Josh Brolin film and makes one wonder why they didn’t extend it to a feature length DC Universe installment of its own. With voice work by Thomas Jane, Linda Hamilton, James Marsden, and more, let’s hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of “Jonah Hex.”

Other special features include informative historical featurettes — “Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson” and “Robin’s Requiem: The Tale of Jason Todd” — four episodes from “Batman Animated Series” shows that focus on Robin and were hand-picked by the great Bruce Timm, a 12-minute, detailed first look at the upcoming “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse,” and other various previews. It’s a notable collection for a very notable straight-to-Blu-ray film.

‘Batman: Under the Red Hood’ features voice work by Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, John DiMaggio, and Jason Isaacs. It was written by Judd Winick and directed by Brandon Vietti. It will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on July 27th, 2010 and is rated PG-13. It runs 75 minutes.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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