Friday, July 30, 2010

Batman: Under The Red Hood - 4.5/5

"I'm going to need something to wear...and a very big truck. I'll need some guys. Not these guys because, well, they're kind of dead. (Laughs)" --The Joker.

Despite my overwhelming admiration and love for the concept and stories of the Batman universe, none of the cartoons have quite lived up to the 90s Animated Series and the few feature length flicks it produced including the highlight "Mask Of The Phantasm". Even the anime inspired series of more serious shorts "Gotham Knight" was rather hit or miss. Thusly, when "Batman: Under The Red Hood" was to be released, I was willing to wait a bit. Then the praises started to gather weight. So I had to check out this latest cartoon (but still adult oriented) Batman feature film myself. To say its one of the best Batman cartoons yet crafted only hits on part of it. This is one of the best Batman films...period.

"Under The Red Hood" takes place further down the time line in the Batman universe. The original Robin has grown up to become his own crime fighter Nightwing. Even Robin's replacement Todd, has been dead five years at the hands of The Joker. Yet Batman still plugs along, taking down baddies and undermining the work of crime syndicate boss Black Mask and the madness of his all time nemesis The Joker. This time though, a new criminal has entered the Gotham area. His name is Red Hood, a moniker stolen from a previous alias of The Joker. He seems to be rounding up the criminals of Gotham and using them to rid the city of the larger ones. He seems to be on Batman's side but doesn't use the same morals. Now Batman has to uncover who's under the Red Hood before he starts a massive turf war with Batman caught in the middle.

What this animated film does that no other animated Batman film did is balance the comic book look (with its bright colors and intense over the top action) and the adult moral themes and dark streaks that have become popular for superhero stories in the last 10 years. Its a balance that rivals that of "Mask Of The Phantasm", although definitely bringing out more of the darkness and adult themes and less of the child friendly language and stories. The comparisons can run rampant to that of the previous animated high mark over and over again in themes of how the past affects the present, Batman's moral stances and inability to leave the persona behind, and even how the Joker always ends up somehow being at the center. Its a brilliant story telling process that takes everything that makes Batman one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) super hero of all time and rolls it into an hour and fifteen minutes of pure fun and thought provoking depth.

The animation is top notch, the story telling rivals that of an actual film in its time jumps and unique flair of the director, and even the voice acting is damn solid. Really my only complaint about "Under The Red Hood" is the fact that Mark Hamill wasn't The Joker, but John DiMaggio did a spectacular job too. The film even cleverly builds backing story about Nightwing and the events that lead to this story for those whom don't follow the Batman comic universe regularly without seeming too much like exposition.

"Under The Red Hood" is simply put, one of the best feature length works about Batman that I have ever laid my hands on and perhaps one of the most unique without trying so hard. If you are a fan of the comics or just love a good action/superhero story than this is a must see. Now if only we could see more of these out there. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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