Published between February 2005 and March 2006, “Batman: Under the Hood” was a Batman story arc that builds on the events of “Batman: A Death in the Family.” “Death in the Family” resulted in the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. “Under the Hood” occurs years later and returns the former sidekick back to life as an anti-hero who has taken the moniker of “The Red Hood.”
In 2010, Warner Brothers released an animated adaptation of the comic entitled “Batman: Under the Red Hood.” The film starred Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Jensen Ackles as The Red Hood, John DiMaggio as The Joker, and Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing. It was regarded as one of the best Batman films of all time, but what exactly made it so great? CBR’s got some pretty good reasons for you right here.
15. THE DESIGNS
Though it came before animated pieces like “Justice League: Doom” and “Young Justice” — where DC’s animation art department hit some amazing high points — “Under The Red Hood” had a lot of great costume designs. There’s Batman of course, with a classic and simple design — and flashbacks show that he dropped the blueish cape and yellow insignia, symbolic of his darker attitude after Jason’s death. Nightwing also makes an appearance with a never-before-used cropped haircut as well as a simple adaptation of his signature comics look.
Red Hood and The Joker are perhaps the greatest designs in this film. The Joker has his classic purple suit and pale countenance, but his face is a rather unique take on the character. His hair is somewhat long, spiky and slicked back, coming out and back like the twisted clown that he is. Plus, his face actually looks disfigured not just white and with a creepy smile — he looks like something happened to him. The Red Hood himself takes some beats from the comic design, like the leather jacket, red helmet and the like, but brings it all together in a more animation-conscious, slick-looking outfit.
14. THE ANIMATION
Speaking of art, the actual animation of the film is really spot-on. Animation can be a bit of tricky business; there’s budgeting, outsourcing to international studios in some cases, cleanup and the like. As a result, 2D animation has become more rare in favor of the much faster, much cheaper process of 3D animation. Regardless, perhaps a 2D animated piece’s greatest production feat is balancing the budget, and “Under The Red Hood” did it pretty damn well.
The trick is to save the heavy-frame-rate for action scenes or high-emotional beats. This isn’t to say that “Under The Red Hood” cuts corners in any way — in fact, every scene looks beautiful — but it does mean that the action scenes look even better. There are some points during the chase sequences between Batman and Red Hood that are just phenomenal feats of animation, and the opening scenes as well as the final ones have some really intense animation work to go with the deep emotional moments they present.
13. THE AMAZO FIGHT
One of the finer animated moments in the film is Batman and Nightwing’s fight with Amazo, an android created to absorb the abilities of superheroes. The fight features some death-defying acrobatics on Nightwing’s part, as well as a few jokes cracked here and there, plus Batman uses quick thinking and cool gadgetry to finish the fight. Altogether, it’s a cavalcade of classic Bat Family stuff.
The Amazo fight not only looks great animation-wise, it’s also one of these moments where we get to see Batman in his element, or rather, one of his elements. The particular element seen in this fight is when Batman faces a superpowered enemy and proves, in oh so many ways, that he doesn’t need powers of his own to take out a superhuman enemy. It’s creative and fun and also helps to show the great teamwork that Nightwing and Batman have when fighting side by side. There are no words to be exchanged, they know exactly how to back each other up.
Speaking of Nightwing, he’s one of the best things about “Under the Red Hood.” Though his part his relatively small — he only shows up in the first act — he plays a pretty significant role in the film. Plus, he’s voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, and who doesn’t love him? NPH portrays a talkative, funny Nightwing that brings some much needed laughs to the seriousness of the film. As he puts it, “I’m chatty, it’s part of my charm.”
Nightwing first shows up at the shipyard scene where Batman is stopping criminals from smuggling a shipment for Black Mask. The shipment turns out to be Amazo and the aforementioned fight takes place. Also mentioned before, their fight shows off Nightwing and Batman’s teamwork. This is really important because it shows that Dick Grayson was the successful Robin, so to speak. He turned out alright, acting as a foil for Jason Todd, who has become at best, a murdering anti-hero, and at worst, well… dead. Nightwing helps batman investigate the Red Hood and “serves his purpose” — as Batman puts it — after getting injured. Nightwing does more than serve his purpose though, as he also helps to push the theme of sidekicks.
11. RA’S AL GHUL
Another character with a small, but important role in “Red Hood,” is the immortal demon himself, Ra’s Al Ghul, voiced by Jason freaking Issacs. He appears at the beginning of the movie, when Batman is racing to save Jason from the Joker. He mentions that he should have never dealt with a madman, and Jason’s death soon follows.
Later in the film, we learn that Ra’s was responsible for bringing Jason back to life, feeling guilty for how his dealings with the joker led to the boy’s death, which wasn’t his intention. Ra’s had Jason’s body snuck away from Batman and dipped in the Lazarus pits. The effects were less than desirable, as being brought back to life is what may have caused — or at the very least exacerbated — Jason’s newfound murderous ways. Ra’s serves as less of a villain and more of a strong plot point, his contribution to the story being simplified and streamlined from the original “Under the Hood” comic.
10. THE JOKER
Much like Ra’s, The Joker’s role as a villain is downplayed and he becomes more of a pillar of the three-act tragedy that is Jason Todd’s story. The Joker really isn’t the antagonist in the film, he’s a driving force for Batman and Jason. For Jason, The Joker is not only who brought about his death, he also represents Batman’s “antiquated sense or morality.” He’s the villain that Batman should kill, but doesn’t. However, for Batman, The Joker is the very thing keeping him from being a killer, a test of his principles; a temptation to kill that he must resist.
Veteran voice actor John DiMaggio plays The Joker in “Batman: Under the Red Hood,” and it’s actually a little disheartening that DiMaggio receives very little recognition for his interpretation. Everyone loves Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger’s interpretations, and rightfully so, but DiMaggio should be on the shortlist, too. His Joker is subtle, creepy and unstable. He feels pulled back — not maniacal and hysterical — like his psychosis is bubbling to the surface, overflowing at certain specific moments. It’s a Joker that feels like he is genuinely enjoying the chaos, and it’s all thanks to Dimaggio’s voice work.
9. MULTIPLE VILLAINS
One of the issues that has plagued failed comic book films is overpacking the cast, usually with villains. It doomed “Spider-Man 3” and every future movie that announced it had multiple villains had fans wary. “Batman: Under the Red Hood” managed to balance not one, not two, but four villains, five if you count Amazo. There’s Red Hood of course, The Joker, Black Mask and Ra’s Al Ghul. Heck there was even more in the original comic, including Deathstroke and Mr. Freeze.
As mentioned before, the thing that made so many villains work is that they are not all necessarily antagonists. Yes, historically, they are adversaries of the Bat, but in the film they are story points and agents of plot progression. Red Hood is truly the villain of the story while black mask is the reason for Red Hood’s appearance. The Joker, as we mentioned, is his driving force, and Ra’s is why he is back from the dead. It’s a really neat way to include multiple villains without the cast feeling too overstuffed.
8. CYBORG NINJAS
When the Red Hood starts taking over Black Mask’s territories in his mission to control crime (rather than end it), Black Mask in turn sends multiple hitmen after him. One of the gangs he sends is The Fearsome Hand of Four, a group of cybernetic ninja warriors. Yes, you read that right, cyborg ninjas. The Fearsome Hand of Four is a great fight scene since each cybernetic assassin has their own special attack and thus a different tactic that their opponents must use to take them down.
The two coolest takedowns involve the hulking ninja apparently named Bulk and the laser-vision-weilding member known as Shot. Bulk is taken down when Batman straps a freaking rocket to him and launches him out of the fight completely. Shot is a bit more gruesome as Jason tazes his laser helmet, causing his whole head to explode. The scene is a great fight with some super animation to boo! After all, there is a part where Batman dodges a car thrown at him by jumping through the doors, but also because we see Jason take a hit for Batman, showing he still cares for his former mentor.
7. DETECTIVE WORK
The use of detective work in “Batman: Under the Red Hood” is really well-done, since Batman’s investigations are used for more than just plot progression. The detective scenes also manage to hit some really strong emotional beats. When Batman hears Red Hood call him “Bruce” from filtered audio of his recorded first encounter with him, he is surprised, and it sets up the beginning of his suspicion. Later he uses the blood from a blade left behind from one of the Fearsome Hand of Four to see if it matches Jason.
This part is especially hard-hitting as Alfred witnesses the results of the DNA test, and drops his tray in response. There is nothing more said from Alfred, and nothing more needed. Then, there’s the hardest scene of all, Bruce digging up Jason’s grave. Bruce is to the point, not letting his own emotion hit him as he digs up the resting place of his adopted son. It’s a tragic scene made even more so by the fact that Batman shows no emotion towards any of it, he is broken.
6. BATMAN’S GUILT
One of the many themes that the film handles — which, much like the villains, are balanced perfectly — is the idea of Batman’s guilt. When Dick Grayson quit being Robin and took up the moniker of Nightwing, it was a loss in its own right, but Batman still had Dick Grayson in his life, as well as some optimism. When Jason Todd died, a lot of the light died inside Bruce. There’s a line in the film where Batman says, “It’s a hell of my own making,” when blaming himself for the Red Hood.
He blames himself not only for Jason’s death, both because he wasn’t fast enough, and because he was the one who brought him into the vigilante life in the first place. He is torn, because he first found Jason when he was stealing the hubcaps off of the Batmobile, so he felt he had to take his creativity and turn it into something productive for society. Little did he know that it would lead to Jason’s death, and Batman treats the entire thing as a mission to be completed, showing little emotion so that he doesn’t have to face his guilt.
5. A LONG-CAREER BATMAN
Though “Batman: Year One” is another great animated Batman film, it was an origin story, and Batman works better as an “in his stride” sort of hero; or rather, we enjoy him more when he’s been crimefighting for years and knows what he’s doing. “Batman: Under the Red Hood” establishes a long-career Batman, being at it for at least 15 years. This is part of why Batman’s guilt is portrayed so well. This Batman is experienced, gruff and grumpy, not bothering with anything that isn’t “the mission.”
Bruce Greenwood portrays all of this brilliantly, giving a much more pulled back, subtle Batman. He’s still gruff and grumpy, thats for sure, but he feels… focused, like theres nothing else besides ending crime, like he doesn’t even want to talk if he doesnt have to, like he’s been at this too long. This is perhaps best seen by the fact that Bruce Wayne never makes an appearance. Sure, Batman takes off the cowl at times, but he acts like Batman the entire time, with no public appearances made as his alter ego whatsoever. He is always Batman, always working.
4. GREAT WRITING
There’s really a lot to say about this film’s writing, too much even. The smartest thing the film did was simplify the plot presented in the comics. There are a lot more players in the comics: more villains, appearance by Justice League members, another Gotham vigilante, and a lot of twists and turns. Both the comic and the film were written by Judd Winick, so the process of adaptation went a lot smoother than most, as he knew what to cut out and what to rearrange.
There’s also a lot of great mirroring done in the film. There is, of course, Nightwing and Jason, the two sidekicks who walked different paths. There’s also the beginning and the end of the film, both of which depict Batman being unable to save Jason. The beginning is taken from “A Death in the Family,” in which Batman races to a warehouse to save Jason from The Joker, but doesn’t make it in time. This is mirrored by the end where Batman can’t save Jason, not because he is too slow — quite the opposite — but because Jason can’t or rather doesn’t want to be saved. Just a few examples of the film’s brilliant writing.
3. JASON’S FLASHBACKS
There are a few flashbacks in “Under the Red Hood” that are taken from the comic and used to show Jason’s descent into darkness. The flashbacks go back to Jason’s time as Robin and lay the seeds for his future criminal career. The first flashback used isn’t actually taken from “Under the Hood,” but is instead a scene taken from “A Death in the Family,” the scene where Joker beats the snot out of Robin with a Crowbar. This of course sets up The Joker as the driving force for Red Hood’s actions in the future.
One of the more powerful flashbacks is when a teenage Jason takes his crimefighting a little too far and breaks a man’s collarbone, which Batman scolds him for. Jason responds by saying that, as a drug-dealing pimp, the guy deserved it. It’s the first sign we see of Jason forming his own opinions on crimefighting. One of the flashbacks isn’t a complete one, it’s grafted onto another scene. When Red Hood lures batman down an alley, memories of meeting Jason appear as apparitions around him. The two met when Jason was stealing the hubcaps from the Batmobile, foreshadowing his “bad seed” nature.
2. THE RED HOOD
Speaking of Jason, his character, and thus the character of Red Hood, is one of the best things about the film. The Red Hood is voiced by “Supernatural” actor Jensen Ackles as an adult, with other actors portraying Jason as a child and teenager. To put it bluntly, the Red Hood is a cool character. There’s no two ways about it, even when we don’t know that he’s Batman’s former sidekick, there’s an instant attraction to his character. He’s a cool anti-hero with a great look who takes out the bad guys on his own terms.
Jason’s lines are also some of the best in the film, with Ackles delivering everything with a determined, grave portrayal. Most of the lines are taken from the comic, which makes sense since they have the same writer, but hearing them spoken makes them hit harder. There’s the line that Jason tells Batman after killing one of the assassins, “You can’t stop crime, that’s what you never understood, I’m controlling it.” It’s biting — we want to be on his side and are pretty convinced by it, and that’s not the only scene where that happens.
1. THE FINAL CONFRONTATION
When Batman comes face-to-face with Jason, the movie hits its climactic stride. This confrontation between Batman, Jason, and The Joker is hands-down the most powerful scene in any Batman movie. Jason puts it simply, saying, “Bruce I forgive you for not saving me. But why, why on God’s earth, is he still alive” as he presents The Joker tied up in a closet. The line is taken from the comic and it just hits, there’s not another way to describe it.
Jason continues, telling Bruce that he should kill Joker “because he took me from you” and asking him if it’s “too hard” to kill him. Batman says it would be “too damned easy” and that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about killing the Joker, but it’s a slippery slope and he doesn’t want to descend into that darkness. Jason follows up by forcing Batman at gunpoint to kill the Joker. Batman of course finds a way to keep him alive, but loses track of Jason in the ensuing explosion. The scene brings everything to a solid end, and hits you right in the heart with nothing but a simple question from Jason.
What do you think? Was “Under The Red Hood” the best, or is there a better animated Batman flick? Let us know in the comments!