Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) directed by Brandon Vietti
I remember every day after school I would watch Batman: The Animated Series where I fell in love with the whole Batman mythology, a crime fighting superhero that used his wits and natural abilities to catch bad guys. And it was a great show too, arguably one of the best cartoon series ever and inarguably the best media representation of Batman in the 1990's, even including Tim Burton's live-action movies. The show was faithful to the source material, presenting a dark (well as dark as you could be for a kid's cartoon show) and mature Batman, something that the live action-films strayed away from. I still throw on an episode every now and then when I'm feeling nostalgic.
The guys over at DC and producer Bruce Timm have kept the animated Batman alive by releasing several full length features over the years to limited but respected fanfare. Such titles include Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman & Mr. Free: SubZero (1998) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003). These films weren't simply extended episodes from the show; they were darker and more complex, almost cinematic. It wouldn't be until comic book movies really took off and especially with Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot that DC Universe Animated Original Movies was created to make high quality direct-to-video film projects. I've seen a bunch of them, mostly mediocre, but the ones that intrigued me the most always featured Batman, whether paired up with Superman or in the Justice League. Batman: Under the Red Hood marks DC Universe Animated Original Movies first full length Batman solo story and it is a winner.
Based on Batman comic book storylines "A Death in the Family" and "Under the Hood", the film is probably the closest I've seen to a true representation of the Batman universe, which is incredibly violent and dark. There are no qualms about showing savage beatings, murder, blood, and violence with guns. And right in the middle is Batman, whose sense of morality would seem like a weakness in such a harsh world, but is actually where he draws his strength from. Under the Red Hood deals a lot with morals, making the tough choice, living with decisions, consequences and regret. Batman is reminded of his biggest failure every day in his bat cave when he sees the Robin outfit in a glass case. It is a memento of his former ward and to serves as a reminder of the fact he was unable to save Jason Todd from being murdered by the Joker.
Five years after the death of Robin, Batman is still fighting crime in Gotham which has been overrun by Black Mask, a Tony Montana wannabe, who controls the crime in the city. However, there is a new face in town, the mysterious Red Hood, who seems intent on bringing Black Mask down and taking over. He isn't some ordinary criminal though. He seems to have an affinity and familiarity with Batman as well, playing a cat and mouse game with both Black Mask and the caped crusader. Batman must figure out a way to stop him and uncover his mystery.
To be clear, this is a straight to home video release, not a big studio production, so the animation is more reminiscent of its animated series roots than of a gorgeous hand drawn Disney picture. The pictures aren't crisp, but they get the job done and the dark muddled look of Gotham City is captured nicely. The action sequences are actually animated quite well. The voice acting is nicely done, though it's weird not having Mark Hamill play Joker's voice. Once he gets the evil laughing going though, you forget all about that and focus on how crazy and evil this clown really is. The script isn't perfect as there are some throwaway lines. Something that I've noticed a lot when watching movies lately is when two people are talking to each other and one person explains something for the audience's benefit rather than for the other person, which is pretty common in telling backstories and an easy way to explain something. In just sounds peculiar when people talk like that, it's as if they're reading from a book or something. Also, despite there being a mystery element in the plot, it is fairly obvious, though it almost seems intentional.
The main selling point to Under the Red Hood isn't the action or even necessarily the plot, but rather the character study it provides. It gives great insight into the minds and morals of both Batman and the Red Hood and the final showdown couldn't have been written better. This movie is a must see for any Batman enthusiast and even if you're not, it's still an intriguing story.