Batman: Under the Red Hood is DC Comics latest Direct-to-DVD movie, be warned this DVD is a hard PG-13 (as in not for the little ones). Under the Red Hood opens with the Joker (John Di Maggio) beating a young Robin/Jason Todd (Vincent Martella) to death with a crow bar in Eastern Europe, while Batman (Bruce Greenwood) valiantly tries to get there in time to save his young sidekick. This opening is intense; everything from animation to score reiterates the tension and gravity of the situation.

One of the things I liked best about Under the Red Hood is how the creative team seemed to really understand the significance of this particular story. There are great callbacks to DC Comics classics, A Death in the Family and The Killing Joke, to satisfy even the most ardent fanboy. Most important they keep everything important to this story from the comic books in the DVD.

So that is how the movie opens, no let’s discuss the voice talent. Overall the voice casting was really, REALLY good. John Di Maggio as the Joker was excellent, and not a hint of Bender from Futurama, his voice had a low almost growl and his laugh was creepy, insane and spot on. Bruce Greenwood has the right amount of ‘gruff’ in his voice, but I will always compare animated Batman voice work to Kevin Conroy, the gold standard for the voice of the Dark Knight. Greenwood just does not bring fear to the hearts and minds of Gotham’s criminal element.  Neil Patrick Harris lends his voice as Dick Grayson/Nightwing, and while the tone and characterization is right, there is just something a bit off in the voice of Nightwing. On a Nightwing note, he looks fantastic! They got every aspect of him correct, from the uniform to the grace and athleticism, there is just too much of NPH in the delivery. Wade Williams (Prison Break) is the voice of Black Mask, to be honest it is the voice I hear in my head when reading the Batman comics, great casting choice. Finally, the Red Hood… he is voice by Jensen Ackles. I don’t really care what other reviewers have to say; this is the best performance on this DVD. Ackles embraces his inner Dean Winchester and is a bad ass with the right amount of psychotic, arrogance and sadness; with out the growl of his Supernatural character.

This is the first time outside of the Animated Series it feels like Gotham is really brought to life, complete with the gothic architecture and GCPD dirigible patrolling the sky. All of the characters look pretty much like they should, with the exception of Black Mask. Take Peter Greene’s character in ‘The Mask’ and instead of green paint the mask black, and you have Under the Red Hood’s Black Mask. He did not look at all terrifying, so Williams should be given a lot of credit for bringing the character to life with his vocal performance.

The story stays very close to the source material from the pages of the Batman comic books; there are some changes with good reason. DC Comics have yet to establish Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis in the Direct to DVD DC Universe, so the changes are used to more the plot forward while staying understandable.

I had a couple of issues with the movie overall. One, Batman was way to chatty with the criminals, taking the time to explain the android Amazo to a group of tied up thugs. Bringing me to my second concern, the same low level thugs knew exactly who Nightwing was and that he was the original Robin. It is one thing for the Joker to know this, since he in fact killed the second Robin, but to have three schumcks off the street knowing this was just pandering.

 

So aside from my minor, and probably nitpicky complaints, it really enjoyed this movie. What I found most enjoyable was the return of the original Dynamic Duo (Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson), their relationship, skills and teamwork was captured beautifully. They were in constant sync with each other and were animated in the way Bob Kane envisioned their original pairing as Batman and Robin. Oh, and lest I forget to mention the wonder, wonderful “toys” the Batman employs through out the movie. The best of which are the new and improved Batwing jet/hovercraft/awesome and the total retro/throwback Batmobile, a mash up of the 1930’s comics, the Animated Series and Tim Burton’s Batman. I was left quoting Jack Nicholson… “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”

Even if you aren’t familiar with some of the characters in the movie you don’t have to worry about being lost or not understanding the story, DC and Warner Bros. do a great job making sure everything is explained in the 75 minute runtime so you won’t have to rush off to Google and look things up, before during and after. I’m going to say this is a definite Buy, so when it comes out on July 27, 2010 head out to your local DVD/Blu-Ray retailer and pick it up.

Movie Grade:            A
Special Features:     B (the Jonah Hex short is tainted from the awful feature film)
Overall Grade:          A-

Brian Tudor

Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Jensen Ackles as Red Hood (voice)
Neil Patrick Harris as Dick Grayson / Nightwing (voice)
Jason Isaacs as Ra’s al Ghul (voice)
Bruce Greenwood as Bruce Wayne / Batman (voice)
John Di Maggio as The Joker (voice) (as John DiMaggio)
Vincent Martella as Teen Jason Todd / Robin (voice)
Wade Williams as Black Mask (voice)
Jim Piddock as Alfred Pennyworth (voice)
Alexander Martella as Young Jason Todd / Robin (voice)

Special Features:
DC Showcase Presents Jonah Hex
Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson – Explore the Origin and Evolution of the Character over the Years
First Look: Superman/Batman Apocalypse
Explore 3 Other DC Universe Original Animated Movies

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.78:1)
Dolby Surround 5.1 Sound
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: 75 Minutes

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