Sunday, August 29, 2010

DVD Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood

Despite the new cast, Under the Red Hood, in many ways feels like it's part of the 90's animated series.  It isn't, of course: the continuity explored is more or less the same as the comic's, though the story plays out differently than when it appeared in print.  But the art and design echo the series, down to the interplay between fire and shadow and the cut of Batman's cowl.

The story, our readers are no doubt aware, deals with the death and resurrection of Jason Todd, the second Robin.  If by some happenstance you were not aware of this, do not fault us: we've spoiled nothing.  Unlike the comics, no effort was made to construct the story as a mystery.  Aware their audience knew the "twist" going in, the filmmakers dropped it.  The movie doesn't dangle the identity of the Hood for any appreciable amount of time or treat it like a revelation.

Instead, the story focuses on the psychology of those involved.  And that is why it works.

Under the Red Hood reminds us of Mask of the Phantasm.  It's carefully constructed and eloquently delivered.  It's not epic: the characters are waging war for their souls, not to save Gotham or stop an alien invasion.  It's dark without being gratuitous; dramatic without being sappy.

And, most importantly, they've delivered a fantastic version of the Joker.  Connoisseurs of the character will detect similarities with Ledger's version, along with echoes of the Joker in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. 

This is a more calculating version of the character than those usually presented.  He's sadistic and psychotic, but nowhere near as random than, say, the Joker who generally appeared in the animated series.  He's a far cry from the Joker we'd have imagined, and yet there are no fewer than three scenes we'd include on a top 20 list of our favorite Joker moments in film or TV.

The voice acting is solid, though it's hard not to miss the cast of the animated series.  As all things do, Under the Hood has its flaws, the most notable of which being its portrayal of Nightwing.  While they certainly give him some great scenes, he's in far too little of the movie.  And, when he does appear, he comes off as a sidekick, not a hero in his own right.

In terms of quality, Under the Hood falls just short of New Frontier, but it comes extremely close.  It's now available on Netflix, and we strongly suggest seeing it.

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