By Corey Schroeder
“Under the Red Hood” was originally a storyline from DC Comics involving the return of Batman’s long-dead sidekick, and second Robin, Jason Todd. Todd was beaten to death by The Joker and then blown up in a warehouse. This was one of the few deaths in comic books that actually stuck as DC even had a call-in number that fans could call to vote either yea or nay as to Todd’s death, but editorial finally decided to bring him back JUST as Marvel was exploring their Winter Soldier storyline in which they brought back Captain America’s old World War II sidekick Bucky. Unfortunately for them, Winter Soldier was everything a retcon should be: a storyline that changed history while still respecting it. Jason Todd’s resurrection was a cheap cash-in to a bigger storyline that was quickly glossed over. The movie adaptation, however, was free from editorial constraint and told the story of Jason Todd’s return how it should have been told from the first place: driven by character rather than a plot that was taking place in an entirely different book.
The script is still penned by comic regular Judd Winnick, who does an incredible job telling his own story on his own terms, changing enough of the plot of the comic arc to accommodate a much more grounded and realistic story. Batman is played by Bruce Greenwood rather than animated regular Kevin Conroy, and Greenwood has some incredible shoes to fill. He does so admirably, though Conroy is almost literally irreplaceable and his presence is still missed, even if it is only a little. The real star is Jon DiMaggio, who you might know better as Bender of Futurama or Marcus Fenix from Gears of War, takes Mark Hamill’s place as The Joker and manages to channel that same horrifyingly insane spirit while also carving out his own niche. Neil Patrick Harris rounds out the major players as Nightwing, Batman’s first Robin turned-solo superhero.
The movie sticks fairly close to the plot of the comic arc, but diverges in two major ways: Jason Todd’s return isn’t caused by Superboy-Prime literally punching the walls reality so that two dimensions co-mingle, and Jason Todd’s plot, rather than a simple ploy to lure out the Bat, is motivated by his need to avenge his own death. The movie also touches on the larger themes of the failings of the justice system and whether or not revenge is ever truly justified. But it examines these through Batman’s eyes and from the perspective of what the character perceives as his biggest failing and by doing this, it brings new depth to a character all too often glossed over as “the goddamn Batman.”
The animation is high quality, though not something you’d find in a Miyazaki, or even DreamWorks, film but since it was straight-to-DVD this is understandable. It’s also very high quality compared to everything on American TV, so it’s still very impressive. It certainly recalls the old Batman cartoon’s more serious tone as well as the writing that doesn’t treat it’s audience like it can’t digest anything that isn’t pre-chewed and flavorless.
The biggest flaw of the movie comes at its brevity. At only 75 minutes, it nets you in and holds on tight, but only just long enough for you to want more. Which is when it leaves with nary a note on the nightstand. The characters manage to undergo an arc, at least the Red Hood does, but it feels rushed and forced. This is one of the few cases where the movie could have actually benefited from another half hour or even forty five minutes. We hardly get any of Bruce Wayne and we could use a little more of the Red Hood. Still, the pros outweigh cons and if you want a Batman story that won’t insult your intelligence, you could do a whole helluva lot worse.