You really do have to give Warner Brothers credit for putting together rather fantastic all star casts for Direct to DVD feature films that will never get the same treatment as their theatrical properties. For films that are obviously just there to keep the cash flowing, the Batman titles have been consistently top notch; especially “Under the Red Hood,” a movie that’s slightly flawed, but still very entertaining. I’ve never actually read the mini-series from the comic books, but word of mouth indicates it was all one big build up leading to a massive cop out, so “Under the Red Hood” compiles all of the best moments and brings it together for a ninety minute action flick that involves a brand new quasi-crime boss in the city named the Red Hood. I had about one reason to see this: Jensen Ackles, the star of the best show on television at the moment “Supernatural.”
He voices the title character who also happens to be a lethal vicious assassin and aspiring mob boss taking down the syndicate run by the Black Mask. On the other end, Batman and Nightwing are struggling to figure out who the Red Hood actually is while also trying to put a stop to the Black Mask. As is the norm, the voice work here is immaculate with Ackles possessing the exact amount of menacing and loose cannon heroics that make the Red Hood such a force to be reckoned with. The problem with these movies is that DC is never willing to go beyond an eighty minute run time so the writer is tasked with compiling a massive storyline in to a little under ninety minutes, so the first twenty minutes of “Under the Red Hood” is utterly disorienting and confusing at times. Why is Ra’s regretting working the Joker? How did the Joker catch Jason Todd? Where are they in the beginning?
Nevertheless Winick has to speed through the set up to get us to the actual action making the first half of the film brutally sloppy and so quickly paced that it’s just disorienting at times. I can keep track of really speedy films, but I just had a difficult time catching up, especially as someone who stopped reading DC comics ten years ago. Who is the red hood? Watch the first five minutes and you’ll know it, even if you’ve never read the comics before. Even though Winick and co. go to great lengths to keep the Red Hood an absolute mystery, it becomes insanely obvious who this criminal is and what his intentions are, which makes is incredibly frustrating when Bruce Wayne can’t figure it out before Nightwing and the audience even does. For a film so rife with mystery it does a piss poor job of keeping the audience in suspense many times.
Neil Patrick Harris for his short screen time is pretty damn good as Nightwing, the polar opposite to Batman who doesn’t mind spouting some one liners in the midst of imminent death. And if there’s anyone who can take on the mantle of the Batman when Kevin Conroy steps down, Bruce Greenword is certainly a worthy replacement. Seemingly posing a slight mimic of Conroy while also adding his own personal fury to the character, Batman is about as threatening and complex as ever, especially when faced with the Red Hood, a figure who seems to know all of the Batman’s moves when in the heat of battle which leaves him to unravel a mystery of his own that will lead him to tackle his own personal demons. Judd Winick’s writing is pretty sharp here as he compacts the entire arc of the Red Hood in to a little under ninety minutes, while also adding his own personal flairs to each individual in the process.
Even though the Red Hood is essentially just another variation on the Mask of the Phantasm, his character has enough bravado and speed to warrant immense interest from its audience. Meanwhile the entire point of having Nightwing in the film is to act as a juxtaposition for the failure of Bruce on the part of Jason Todd who is caught, beaten to death, and blown up by the Joker in the first ten minutes of the film, while Dick Grayson is a fairly successful crime fighter with the same ideology Bruce possesses in spite of their overall differences in styles. When the Red Hood is unveiled the twist is pretty obvious, but the confrontation between the mystery man and Batman is pretty damn incredible as they engage in a Master-Mentor throwdown that leads to a battle of words featuring these two aging crime fighters arguing over morality, and the ultimate result of their fight against crime in Gotham. Are any of these men even making a difference? Does anyone really win here? Is Batman someone clinging to a belief structure that is long antiquated?
Does the Red Hood have the right idea or is he just headed down a horrible path? The climax is where the animation department truly shines where the two characters duke it out along the rooftops leading to an impassioned exchange of dialogue and clashing frustration masterfully delivered by Greenwood and Ackles who sound like jaded father and son clashing over their life’s work and the ultimate meaning of their goals momentarily sounding like a Shakespeare play where Greenwood and Ackles just go to town with these heartfelt deliveries of dialogue that are at times mind-blowing to listen to. I had my fears about “Under the Red Hood,” but for its minor flaws, it’s a really entertaining little gem from the DC universe that I’m glad I devoted time to. It’s certainly no “Mask of the Phantasm,” but if you’re looking for an exciting and clever ninety minute fix of the caped crusader and Nightwing fighting another mysterious (if predictable) villain in Gotham, then “Under the Red Hood” will surely do the trick. Especially for fans of “Supernatural” because… you know… Jensen Ackles is bad ass.