Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood (NO SPOILERS)

"Batman: Under the Red Hood" is the latest of DC Comics' direct-to-video animated features and I think it's one of the better ones to date. Note that it is not appropriate for children at all. The level of violence and bloodshed is once again high.

I didn't read most of the source material, so I can't claim to be an expert on the character or the comics, but for all of the faults of the retroactive continuity that leads to the appearance of the Red Hood, the writer of this movie, Judd Winick, avoids all of it and makes it work well.

The first thing I noticed about the movie is the different styles used to animate Batman and Nightwing. There is a scene where the former Dynamic Duo are pursuing the Red Hood on foot in a style reminiscent of Casino Royale's opening parkour chase. Where Batman tends to take direct routes, Nightwing often takes the lead, bouncing acrobatically from structure to structure. This is a nice attention to detail, since Nightwing is a former circus acrobat. Then, when the Red Hood actually makes his escape, Batman uses his memory of the chase and research to uncover the Hood's identity. That's right, Batman does detective work!! That alone is something to be happy about, but the fun doesn't stop there.

Through a series of flashbacks we learn the history of the Red Hood and his true identity and how it relates to Batman. Without giving it away, it is touching, well done, and emotional. Emotion in a Batman movie is generally limited to rage, so this is a refreshing touch that humanizes a character who for about the last 20 years has desperately lacked humanity.

There are some slick moments and some nice fight scenes, which I have come to expect from the DC direct-to-video movies, but this one had actual story beats that went beyond the typical large-scale earth-shattering superhero events. The interconnectivity of the characters and the concept of family play large roles and that, to me, makes this movie a winner.

Bruce Greenwood does the voice for Batman in this movie, and he's pretty good, though no Kevin Conroy. To be fair, though, I can't imagine why anyone would ever hire anyone but Kevin Conroy to provide the voice of Batman. John DiMaggio does a pretty good Joker, part Mark Hamill and part Heath Ledger (if you can imagine that) but the guy who stole the show for me was Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing. He simply nails the part as the not-so-dark knight.

The special features on this disc include two documentaries, which are so-so, and an animated short featuring Jonah Hex. I'd be willing to bet that this Jonah Hex was 10 times better than the live-action movie. It left out the horse-mounted Gatling guns and the occult and told a straight Western tale that I really enjoyed.

Also included were four episodes of Batman the Animated Series, but they were in standard definition and the picture quality was actually worse that that on the DVDs that I already own.

I recommend this disc!

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