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Batman: Under the Red Hood(2010)
Batman faces his ultimate challenge as the mysterious Red Hood takes Gotham City by firestorm. One part vigilante, one part criminal kingpin, Red Hood begins cleaning up Gotham with the efficiency of Batman, but without following the same ethical code. Killing is an option. And when the Joker falls in the balance between the two, hard truths are revealed and old wounds are reopened.
For more about Batman: Under the Red Hood and the Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray release, see Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 12, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs, Wade Williams
Director: Brandon Vietti
» See full cast & crew
Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray Review
Warner Bros. Animation delivers the goods...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 12, 2010
Regardless of what anyone thinks of the films themselves, it's difficult to deny that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight lifted an ailing franchise off its deathbed. Director Christopher Nolan not only cast a towering shadow over Bat-cinema, he left his patented mark on the superhero genre at large, fundamentally altering the way moviegoers approach and respond to silver-screen caped crusaders. But the seeds of his darkly defined vision were first planted in 1992 by producer Bruce Timm with Batman: The Animated Series, a decidedly engrossing episodic epic of superheroic proportions. Never before had Batman, his allies or his rogues gallery been so fully realized on screen; never beyond the panels of a comicbook had Gotham City's denizens been paid such respect and afforded such care. The successful, award-winning television series even birthed one of the best theatrical Batman films of all time: the oft-overlooked Mask of the Phantasm. However, while Nolan was actively weaving Timm's animated noir into the fabric of his 21st Century, live-action reboot, Warner Bros. Animation had been drifting in the opposite direction for years, slowly diluting the Batman mythos in an effort to make it more accessible to a younger generation. What a difference five years and $1.4 billion makes. Returning to the richly developed characters and arresting storylines of its roots, and referencing the tone and tenor of Begins and Dark Knight, Warner Bros. Animation has finally produced an animated film that stands shoulder to shoulder with Timm's original animated Batman series: Under the Red Hood.
A new threat has emerged in Gotham: the Red Hood (voiced by Supernatural's Jensen Ackles), a masked vigilante willing to do whatever it takes to bring the city's crime lords to their knees. Putting a bullet in anyone who gets in his way, the Hood begins taking over criminal organizations throughout Gotham, and soon sets his sights on the territories controlled by the Black Mask (Prison Break's Wade Williams). Inevitably, his bloody breed of justice attracts the attention of Batman (Star Trek's Bruce Greenwood) and former boy wonder, Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing (a perfectly cast Neil Patrick Harris). Together, Batman and Nightwing work to unravel the identity of the Red Hood, an old alias once used by the Joker (John DiMaggio, licking his lips as if channeling Hannibal Lecter and Big Dan Teague), face off against the Black Mask's assassins, and elicit information from villains like Ra's al Ghul (Jason Isaacs) and the Joker himself. Along the way, Batman also has to deal with his own inner demons, his failure to save friends and protégés like the late Jason Todd (Vincent Martella), his inability to connect with those he doesn't want to risk losing, and the unbearable consequences of allowing a mass murderer like the Joker to live.
Loosely based on writer Judd Winick's own 2005 "Batman" comic arc, "Under the Hood," director Brandon Vietti's Under the Red Hood doesn't emphatically embrace its target audience (longtime comicbook readers who already know all the answers to the tale's riddles) or shamelessly pander to DC newcomers (many of whom couldn't tell Dick Grayson from Jason Todd). Instead, Winick and Vietti pull a trick films like Moon and Shutter Island have employed to great effect: subverting the traditional allure of a mystery by offering revelations early and often, and essentially ejecting any notion of an abrupt Usual Suspects-esque twist. The identity of the Red Hood materializes quickly and naturally. Even those who lack the fanboy-wherewithal to piece together the villain's origin are handed a name and face by the forty-minute mark. The film doesn't offer depth in the form of third-act twists and turns, but in smoldering psychological complexity and captivating thematic resonance. Winick deftly dissects Batman, the Joker and a number of other characters, and manages to tie their independent tragedies and motivations into an labyrinthine web of deep-seated wounds and dissonant philosophies. Batman isn't merely a noble vigilante, he's a father who's failed his sons, an idealist who recognizes the demons within his own soul, and an avenging angel desperate to atone for his sins. The Joker isn't just a raving madman, he's a narcissistic bully, a calculating sycophant, and an unpredictable force of anarchy. I could go on to describe other heroes and villains that surface, but I don't want to risk spoiling the rewards that lie in wait. That's not to suggest Batman alumni will be shocked by anything Winick and Vietti have to offer, just impressed by the sophistication of their pacing, narrative, dialogue and steady-handed resolve.
But Winick and Vietti aren't the only contributors of note. Under the Red Hood is a beaut, and the DC animation team has really outdone itself. Fight scenes are fluid and unflinching, not to mention brilliantly choreographed. Grappling hooks, knives and smoke pellets are brandished in a variation of rock-paper-scissors, and it's thrilling to watch Batman and the Red Hood scramble to outwit one another whenever they cross paths. Through it all, CG is used sparingly but effectively, bowing to the hand-drawn, Timm-inspired ferocity that takes center stage. And then there's Dusty Abell and Jon Suzuki's character designs, and the film's exceptional cast of voice actors. Abell and Suzuki inject sensibility and simplicity into Batman's cape and cowl, paint the Joker as a physically imposing high-class hyena, lend quirky resignation to Nightwing's angular physique, and make Robin into a tragically, at-times disturbingly young victim of ego and circumstance. At the same time, Greenwood unearths torment and pain in Batman's haunted register (giving fan-favorite Bat-voice Kevin Conroy a run for his money). DiMaggio drives the Joker in an unexpected vocal direction -- injecting a deep, southern gentlemen growl into his words and an unhinged crackle in his laugh -- but his porcelain-skinned killer is all the more threatening for it, and calls to mind Heath Ledger's schizophrenic intonations. Harris matches Nightwing's amusing demeanor with a self-effacing bob-and-weave routine that earns genuine laughs and provides a nice contrast to the brooding melancholy that permeates the film. Elsewhere, Ackles brings pathos and bravura to the Red Hood, Williams culls '30s gangster cinema for Black Mask, Martella stamps a young Jason Todd with brash fragility (in just a few brief flashback scenes), and Jason Isaacs makes the most of his five-minute turn as Ra's al Ghul.
Winick and Vietti's vision isn't flawless -- Nightwing inexplicably disappears late in the second act, fifth-string DC minion Amazo makes a fun but distracting appearance and, while the story didn't strike me as rushed or overcrowded, an extra ten minutes would have gone a long way in such an action-oriented flick -- but it is riveting. Easily the best DC animated film to date (yes, even better than Mask of the Phantasm), Under the Red Hood outclasses First Flight and its recent Timm-produced brethren, and injects an entry into the animated Batman canon that's almost as intriguing, compelling and enthralling as Nolan's franchise saviors. Will everyone love it as much as I did? Probably not. But those who give Hood a chance to wriggle into their brains and under their skin will be glad they did.
Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sadly, Under the Red Hood is stifled a bit by a scattershot 1080p/VC-1 transfer that doesn't quite live up to its full potential. As fierce and striking as its animation is, as impeccable as Abell and Suzuki's character designs may be, as vibrant and razor-sharp as its high definition presentation proves to be, a host of technical issues undermine the filmmakers' efforts. Moderate to severe banding frequently afflicts light sources, rooftops and stormy Gotham skies; faint artifacts disrupt pools of blood and the Red Hood's mask (among other things); minor aliasing, pixelation and mosquito noise haunts some of the film's finer lineart; and other compression anomalies skitter into view. Be that as it may, all is not lost. Colors are undeniably bold and beautiful, and blacks often look as if they've been lifted from a freshly inked comic. The animators' linework remains crisp and stable (without any overzealous edge enhancement), and clarity is both consistent and revealing. Viewers with smaller displays may even wonder how someone could criticize Warner's encode. But compared to the BD releases of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Wonder Woman, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Green Lantern: First Flight (the last of which features a near-perfect presentation), Batman: Under the Red Hood falls short.
Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner's bombastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is an entirely different matter. Fierce, nimble and explosive, it's as hard-hitting as Batman and as aggressive as the Red Hood himself. The voice actors' dialogue is intelligible and well-prioritized throughout, settling naturally overtop of the film's oft-times rambunctious soundscape. Effects are polished and potent, infusing gunfire with hearty cak cak caks and Batman's gadgets with finely tuned micro-mechanics. Better still, the LFE channel earns a hefty paycheck (and a chest-thumping third-act bonus to boot), and dynamics are both punchy and tactful. If anything, the rear speakers aren't as energetic as I expected, offering second-rate ambience whenever conversations dominate the stage. However, as evidenced by other DC Animation productions, the likely culprit is low-budget, two-dimensional sound design, not some mysterious deficiency in the track itself. That's not to say the soundfield doesn't have its moments. Whenever Batman, Nightwing or the Red Hood take on any one of Winick's presorted baddies, every channel effectively embraces the whirlwind action that unfolds, enveloping listeners in the hand-to-hand heat of battle. The experience is still a bit shallow, especially by Hollywood standards -- fight scenes focus on two contenders at a time, even when six combatants square off -- but again, the mix is exceedingly faithful, perhaps to a fault. All things considered, Under the Red Hood sounds fantastic, and handily bests the audio tracks minted for DC's other animated releases.
Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Batman: Under the Red Hood arrives with a fairly decent supplemental package, but its content is largely hit (a Jonah Hex DC Showcase animated short and two extensive Robin documentaries) or miss (a hollow Superman/Batman Apocalypse preview and a standard definition smattering of Bruce Timm-selected bonus episodes).
Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I expected an anticlimactic, melodramatic dud. I expected eye-rolling fan service, superficial villains and simplistic heroes. I expected... something else entirely. Batman: Under the Red Hood isn't just the best DC animated release to date, it's one of the finest Batman stories on the home video market, animated or otherwise. It isn't perfect -- of all the cameos to employ, Amazo? -- but I have similar quibbles with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, two films I absolutely adore. (For the record: Katie Holmes' pantomimed reaction to Crane's fear toxin and Nicky Katt's ceaselessly chatty SWAT driver.) Impressive animation and character designs, exceptional voice acting, a strong story, sharp dialogue, genuine thrills, psychological depth, fast-paced action, mature themes, a magnificent third act... it's all here, primed for your enjoyment. Warner's Blu-ray release isn't going to draw the same high praise -- while it boasts a strong DTS-HD Master Audio track, it's hindered by a problematic video transfer and a limited supplemental package -- but it's still well worth the price of admission. Whether you already know what secrets lie in wait or have no idea what Winick has in store, be sure to pick up Under the Red Hood. It's that rare, direct-to-video, animated superhero flick that doesn't disappoint.
Batman: Under the Red Hood: Other Editions
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Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray, News and Updates
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As I write today's post, I can't help but see the similarities between the cover of today's Blu-ray release of Clash of the Titans and a scene from the beginning of Transformers. That might explain why this action-packed remake failed to provoke the same level ...
• Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray Announced - April 29, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced Batman: Under the Red Hood for release on Blu-ray on July 27. In this direct-to-video animated feature, Batman must face the challenge of vigilante/criminal Red Hood, begins cleaning up Gotham with the efficiency of Batman, but without ...
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