Saturday, September 10, 2022

Stubs - Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) Voices of Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs, Wade Williams Directed by Brandon Vietti. Screenplay by Judd Winick.  Based on Batman: Under the Hood by Judd Winick, Doug Mahnke and characters created by Bob Kane (and Bill Finger). Produced by Bruce Timm and Bobbie Page. Run time 75 minutes. USA Color. Animated, Action, Superheroes.

Batman is a staple of the DC comics, if not the staple. There seems to be no other character to have appeared in so many live-action and animated features. For some reason, the stories seem to work better animated than they do in live-action.  The animated films seem to tell a wider range of Batman stories, while the live-action films seem to be constantly rebooting the story.

Case in point, Batman: Under the Red Hood, which is based on "Batman: Under the Hood" a comic book written by Judd Winick with art by Doug Mahnke, originally published in 2005. The story brings back to life former Robin, Jason Todd, a character first created in 1983 by writer Gerry Conway, and artist Don Newton and killed off in 1988 following a telephone poll that voted for the character to be killed off.

Robin aka Jason Todd falls victim to Joker's brutal wrath.

The film opens with Ra's al Ghul (Jason Isaacs) realizing the mistake he made in hiring the Joker to use him as a distraction while he destroyed Europe's financial districts. In Sarajevo, Bosnia, the Joker (John DiMaggio) brutally assaults the captured Jason Todd (Jensen Ackles), in an abandoned warehouse with a crowbar. Meanwhile, Batman (Bruce Greenwood) races through traffic to reach Jason. While the blows seem to leave Jason near death, after the Joker leaves, he struggles to get to the door only to find it locked. It is then that he discovers a bomb, which explodes and kills him just as Batman arrives.

Red Hood takes over the drug trade in Gotham City.

Fast forward five years and Gotham City’s most prominent drug dealers are assembled by a mysterious vigilante, calling himself Red Hood. He announces to them that he is taking over their trade and for only 40 percent of their profits will offer them protection from both Black Mask and Batman. His only sticking point is that they don’t sell to children. He promises to kill anyone caught doing that.

Later, Batman stops an attempted theft of a shipment belonging to Black Mask, which is the advanced android Amazo. Batman destroys Amazo with the help of Jason's predecessor Nightwing, formerly Dick Grayson (Neil Patrick Harris). Afterward, he discovers the thieves are working for Red Hood who then kills them with a sniper rifle before they can say too much. Batman and Nightwing chase Red Hood, with Batman ditching Nightwing along the way. The chase ends at Ace Chemicals, where an explosion set by Red Hood destroys the facility.

Batman interrogates Joker about what he knows about Red Hood.

Since Joker had one-time used the Red Hood name and attire, Batman and Nightwing go to interrogate him at Arkham Asylum. He denies that he’s involved.

Black Mask wants Red Hood killed.

Meanwhile, Black Mask (Wade Williams) puts a hit on Red Hood for Amazo's destruction.

Former Robin Dick Grayson, now Nightwing, returns to help Batman.

Later, Batman and Nightwing prevent Red Hood from hijacking Black Mask's next weapon shipment. They chase Red Hood to a train station, where he escapes after detonating a bomb, which injures Nightwing.

Batman and Nightwing realize Red Hood is trained and has knowledge of Batman's tactics and gears. A review of audio footage of the chase reveals Red Hood knows Batman's secret identity, as he calls him “Bruce”. He then recalls Jason performing the same maneuvers as Robin and that Jason grew more violent and bloodthirsty as he aged, with Batman having to stop him many times from nearly killing criminals.

The Fearsome Hand of Four try and fail to assassinate Red Hood.

Hired by Black Mask, The Fearsome Hand of Four lure out Red Hood and nearly overpower him until Batman helps incapacitate three of them and Red Hood kills the fourth, horrifying Batman, whose moral code prevents him from going that far. Red Hood explains he is doing what Batman will not: killing criminals who are not afraid.

Red Hood has no qualms about killing criminals.

Batman analyzes a blood sample of Red Hood drawn from the battle and it matches Jason's. Bruce Wayne and Alfred (Jim Piddock) excavate Jason’s burial place and discover Jason's corpse is fake.

Afterward, Batman flies to Europe to confront Ra's al Ghul and demands to know the truth. Ra's explains that he felt responsible for Jason's death and, as a peace offering, he swapped Jason's body for a fake and revived him in the Lazarus Pit, which has recuperative powers. Following his resurrection, Ra discovered Jason was driven insane and escaped.

Black Mask makes a mistake by freeing Joker from Arkham Asylum.

After he survives an assassination attempt by Red Hood, Black Mask sets the Joker free and tasks him with killing Red Hood. In the process, all but one of Black Mask’s cohorts are killed by Joker. The only one spared Ms. Li (Kelly Hu), Black Mask’s assistant. But Joker isn’t through turning the tables on his benefactor, taking Black Mask and the other drug dealers hostage with plans to set them on fire.

It is then that Red Hood appears and reveals that his real target all along has been Joker. While Batman frees the hostages, Red Hood takes Joker hostage. With Joker bound, Red Hood takes revenge by beating him with a crowbar.

Later, Batman confronts Red Hood, who removed his helmet, confirming he’s Jason. Their fight ends up in the same dilapidated building where Jason is holding the Joker and ends up with Jason holding Batman at gunpoint. Though he has forgiven Batman for not saving him, Jason is upset that Joker is still alive after killing him. He tells Batman that he would have killed him if the situation was reversed.

Batman admits he has thought constantly about torturing and killing the Joker but will not, fearing he will not stop if he kills even once. Jason tosses Batman a gun and gives him an ultimatum—he will execute the Joker unless Batman shoots him. Batman refuses and drops the gun, causing Jason to shoot at him. Batman throws a Batarang, which jams Jason's pistol. When Jason pulls the trigger again, the gun is destroyed and his right-hand gets mangled. Defeated, Jason sets off a time bomb. Batman subdues the Joker before attempting to save Jason. But before he can, the bomb explodes; Batman and the Joker survive but Jason is gone.

Batman returns Joker to Arkham Asylum and Black Mask is arrested for his involvement in the Joker's escape.

At the Batcave, Alfred offers to remove the glass case display of Jason's Robin costume after everything that has happened, but Bruce refuses, claiming it doesn't change anything. A final flashback shows Jason's first day as Robin (Alexander Martella­), which he declares is the best day of his life.

There is a certain poignancy to Batman: Under the Red Hood that live-action Batman films have never, so far, achieved. While Batman has been a tough and somewhat aloof taskmaster, he is the only father that Jason has really known. They have a strong though estranged relationship and as Red Hood, Jason is trying to do what Batman cannot, killing criminals rather than just putting them in jail or Arkham where they inevitably escape and the situation repeats ad infinitum. And while they might not agree on how to take care of Joker, there is more to their relationship than just Batman and former Robin, there is a father and son between Bruce and Jason. Again, something the live-action films have failed to create.

The voice acting is good all around. While Mark Hamill has almost made a career voice the well-known villain, John DiMaggio is more than an adequate substitute here. DiMaggio, perhaps best known as Jake the Dog on Adventure Time, shows his vocal versatility with Joker. Likewise, Bruce Greenwood would not be my first choice to play Batman he does a convincing job with a role he would repeat in Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018) and Batman: Death in the Family (2020), which would reunite him and DiMaggio in what is considered a spiritual sequel. Also included in that voice cast is Vincent Martella who voiced the teenage Jason in Under the Red Hood.

The animation is good as well, keeping in line with the standards of other releases. It may not have the originality of say Batman Ninja (2018) but that is not really needed here. As usual, it is highly stylized which goes well with the subject matter.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is a very good direct-to-video film and more enjoyable than about half of the live-action takes on the Caped Crusader. I can’t say that you really get a complete insight to the character but you do get to at least peek behind the mask and see the deeper character there than just a billionaire vigilante.

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