Batman: Under the Red Hood (US - BD)
Our Marcus dons a red hood and watches the latest DC Universe Blu-ray
When the mysterious Red Hood (Jenson Ackles) arrives in Gotham and starts signing up drug lords and gang members, Batman (Bruce Greenwood) steps in to find out what the real story is behind Gotham’s newest villain. However this time the new foe might have a personal connection to Batman and its one that has haunted the Dark Knight as one of his careers big failures.
Straight off the bat (pun intended) Under the Red Hood brings the darkness. I mean it’s not every animated Batman project that opens with the brutal beating of a Robin by the Joker, followed by killing the boy wonder in an explosion and Batman suffering a death in the family. Having the story kick off here is an inspired and thoroughly effective way to bring the emotional strength of this dark event to life on screen and following it with great opening credit sequence with a fine score by Christopher Drake, this new DC Universe animated project is off with a bang... or is that BOOM!?
The greatness continues with a real pace. The characters are introduced one after the other, with a lengthy bit of screen time from one of my favourites, Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris), which is better late than never and a very nineties comic book looking Batman being his brooding awesome self (Man, Bruce Timm and Co really know how to nail our caped crusader don’t they). Also John DiMaggio has a fine turn as the Joker blending the usual Mark Hamill craziness with a bit of Heath Ledger and really offering up a realistically modern depiction of the clown prince of crime.
The story itself is a good one and I’ll go into more detail on that in the spoiler section below, but to keep this part short and sweet I’ll say that this was probably my favourite of the entire run of the DC Universe animated projects (it's certainly the best of the Batman outings). The story is handled with a real sense of adult drama, the animation is top notch, the mood is consistent and the respect shown for a this hugely important part of the Batman history is felt in every frame.
And now for a more spoilery look: Spoiler: X As all you Bat-fans already know, the Red Hood is Jason Todd, the Robin that Batman failed to save and for me, bringing him back from the dead was always a crock of shit. Now I know this sounds wildly contradictory to my feelings above, but even though I love the idea of Batman facing his failure and concede that the general premise of a rogue Robin is a dramatic arc that works wonders in comic books, I can’t help but feel that him being dead trumps the idea of bringing him back. Especially in regards to how this failure affected Batman after it happened.
I love the idea that Jason Todd would become his own man, and I really do love how this story handles his ultimate goal of getting Batman, the Joker and himself in a room for big confrontation, but I really do feel that stories like this are best left in ‘what ifs” or more specifically Elseworld stories. Jason Todd died and it was devastating. Bringing him back feels like a cop out to genuine comic book event (much akin to the whole shoddy write off of Parallax in Green Lantern). It doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of this movie (though I have to admit seeing him back in the comics really does annoy me) and I really do think this is the DC Universe animation team working on all cylinders with their story telling but that doesn’t mean I have to like the fact. Next you’ll tell me that Peter Parker isn’t married to MJ anymore and is living the life of a big city hipster....wait? What now? .
Cue my gushing admiration of 2D HD. Once again Warner Bros. knocks up a cracking transfer and elements of it are probably the DC Universe’s finest one yet. With a darker palette, a clean image and a crisp sharpness, there’s close to nothing to complain about.
Well, close-ish. There is a bit of an issue with banding. Especially in backgrounds and the big bars of progression in colour as we move from dark to light shades makes the single colour backgrounds look like fences as opposed to the mood setters they are supposed to be.
Outside of that distraction everything else is top notch. The animation isn’t on par with big blockbuster Disney flicks (well at least not in finish. The actual motion of the characters is pretty incredible) and the fairly crude CGI animation for some of the vehicle scenes only just about fit into the style of the rest of the movie but generally I’d consider this another great transfer with a few unfortunate/unavoidable issues.
Welcome back DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 to DC Animation. This track really has some oomph, especially in the bass department. The score, the action, Batman’s voice, all thunder away making for a much more dynamic affair.
The sound effects work wonders too, gun blasts, falling shells, lightsaber sounding blades, the Bat-wing chipping through the rear speakers, everything feels a whole lot more movie-rific (that’s a word right?) than the last Infinite Earths release.
Oh and I briefly mentioned the score before but it really does sound great here. Christopher Drake really did Batman justice here and added a whole lot of emotion to the overall adventure.
Okay, Marcus geek out time. I love the Robins. I know people generally bad mouth Robin as a partner to Batman but I couldn’t disagree more, especially when at least two of them are among the best characters in the entire DC comics’ roster. So consider me chuffed when we get a featurette dedicated to a couple of them.
‘Robin: Story of Dick Grayson’ (24:13 SD) focuses on the history of the first Robin, who later became Nightwing. It’s detailed and more in the same enjoyable DC featurette style from previous releases, and while it doesn’t go into where Dick is now (in the cape and cowl) it’s a great look at a great character.
‘Robin’s Requiem: The Tale of Jason Todd’ (20:58 SD) takes a closer look at the fallen Robin and how and why he died in the eighties. Again it’s a good look at the character and presents the reasons for his story arc.
Bruce Timm selects four more Batman Animated Series episodes—Robin’s Reckoning Parts 1 & 2, Mad Love and The Laughing Fish (all running at the usual twenty one odd minutes) and the inclusion of the Harley episode ‘Mad Love’ was a great reason to have a re-watch.
‘First Look at Batman/Superman Apocalypse’ (12:12 SD) is the usual preview and offers up the odd sketches hint of what’s to come and gives us an insight on the characters who will be showing up.
Last up is the latest DC Showcase short and this time it’s Jonah Hex (11:53 SD). As with DC's previous release, The Spectre, the animation here is top notch and closer to titles like Blood: The Last Vampire than the main feature on the disc. It’s short and sweet but Tom Jane does a cracking job voicing Jonah and the story offers a glimpse into the character with a nice pace and a great sense of mood.
DC Universe provides one of its best releases so far (even if it does deal in a story I don’t agree with). The disc looks pretty great despite the banding issues and the sound is an enjoyable step up. Once again the features are a great watch (though they do seem to be getting shorter with every release) and with Supergirl rolling up in the next one, the wait once again begins for the next release.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 27th July 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: X2 Robin Featurettes, Four bonus episodes from Batman The Animated, Next Upcoming DCU Sneak Peak, DC Showcase: Jonah Hex – animated short
Easter Egg: No
Director: Brandon Vietti
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Neil Patrick Harris, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation and Drama
Length: 75 minutes
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