Batman: Under the Red Hood, 2010.
Directed by Brandon Vietti.
Featuring the voice talents of Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John Di Maggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs, Wade Williams, Kelly Hu and Gary Cole.
A new villain emerges to wreak havoc with the criminal element of Gotham City, forcing Batman to confront his haunted past.
[Warning... here be spoilers]
Released here in the UK at the back end of last year, Batman: Under the Red Hood is the second standalone Batman adventure to feature in Warner Bros.' series of DC Universe Animated Original Movies, following the somewhat disappointing anthology piece Batman: Gotham Knight (2008). Taking inspiration from notable comic-book storylines A Death in the Family and Under the Red Hood, the film received some great reviews off the back of its North American release, even going so far as to dethrone Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero as the highest-rated direct-to-video Batman release on Rotten Tomatoes (where it still holds a 100% approval rating), so it's fair to say that I was eagerly anticipating a return to form from the Caped Crusader's latest animated escapade.
Batman: Under the Red Hood begins with the recreation of a classic scene familiar to long-time fans of the Bat, as arch-nemesis The Joker bludgeons a helpless Robin / Jason Todd with a crowbar before leaving him to die in Batman's arms. Fast-forward five years and new crime lord appears in Gotham City, a brutal vigilante going under the guise of the Red Hood who, unlike Batman, has no moral code to protect the city's drug dealers, pimps and lowlifes from his lethal brand of justice. Of course the likes of Black Mask isn't going to sit by and watch his empire crumble, so as a last resort he breaks The Joker out of Arkham and tasks him with eliminating the Red Hood. Meanwhile Batman - who is still wracked with guilt over his failure to protect the second Boy Wonder - senses something familiar about his latest adversary and soon discovers from Ra's al Ghul that Jason has been brought back from the dead and now has his sights set firmly on revenge against The Joker.
For a direct-to-video movie Batman: Under the Red Hood reeks of quality throughout; Bruce Timm of Batman: The Animated Series fame produces, ensuring slick animation that come across as an updated version of TAS' stylish visuals, while Under the Red Hood comic-book scribe Judd Winick handles screenwriting responsibilities. In terms of voice talent, the producers have assembled a strong cast that includes Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek) as Bruce Wayne / Batman, Neil Patrick Harris (Starship Troopers) as Dick Grayson / Nightwing, Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) as the Red Hood and Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1) as Ra's al Ghul. Now, while he's no Kevin Conroy, Greenwood is certainly more than capable in the lead role and indeed the only weak link in the cast for me was John Di Maggio (Futurama) as The Joker, with his interpretation paling into insignificance next to Mark Hamill's Clown Prince of Crime.
Unlike recent animated television offerings such as The Batman and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Under the Red Hood opts explore the darker thematic elements of the character and delivers a fairly adult-orientated narrative, which should be obvious given its source material. Things get a little violent at times with a number of on-screen deaths, although blood is overlooked for the majority of proceedings (particularly The Joker's beat-down of Robin) and there is plenty of humour courtesy of Nightwing and Black Mask, making it appropriate for Bat-fans young and old. I'd have to disagree that it's the best animated Batman movie - in my opinion that honour remains with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm - but it's still a solid adventure that should help to kill time until the release of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises.
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