In the case of DC’s animated endeavours, perhaps more than ever when depicting the Batman mythos, fans have come to expect the high level of performance cultivated by the iconic Batman: The Animated Series. Where Batman: Under the Red Hood is concerned it’s the opinion of this comic reader that those expectations are not only matched but surpassed. The story involves the conflict between our ever brooding Dark Knight, voiced by Bruce Greenwood, and the gun-totting Jason Todd AKA Red Hood. Jensen Ackles of Supernatural acclaim lends his acting chops to the vengeance-driven vigilante. Todd was the second Robin who came to a violent end via crowbar and explosion at the Joker’s hands in the late 80s A Death in the Family comic arc.
As an unabashed Red Hood fanboy it was a treat to see Jason receive the spotlight after a history of being ignored and all but erased from the continuity of the animated Batman universe. Ackles’ bitter yet sympathetic portrayal injects the character with the complexity and angst he has become known for since his resurrection in the original Under the Hood arc written by Judd Winick. Alexander Martella and Vincent Martella as a child and teenage Jason respectively deserve praise as well. Winick penned the script for the film and takes liberties with his original material but always stays faithful to the tragic nature of Bruce and Jason’s relationship. We don’t only see the hurt between the grieving father and misguided, angry son but feel it in the delivery from both actors.
Although Kevin Conroy has come to epitomize the “Batman voice”, Greenwood does a serviceable job as the Caped Crusader. He captures the deadpan severity and raw emotion that makes the character so compelling. He finds the balance between low and menacing and portraying the righteous fury that drives the character to do what he does night after night. John DiMaggio, best known as Bender in Futurama, makes a decent attempt at the Clown Prince of Crime. There are certain points where his voice sounds too gravelly for how I imagine Joker (though this may just be my Mark Hamill bias seeping through), but he certainly makes the role his own. The scene where Joker is munching on crisps and asking for water one minute, killing Black Mask’s goons with said glass the next had me chuckling. Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing meshed well with Greenwood, mirroring the chemistry the original Boy Wonder shares with his mentor. It was great to see a more light-hearted and accurate portrayal of Dick Grayson in comparison to the BTAS version: “I’m chatty. It’s a part of my charm.”
I wasn’t a fan of the costume design, though, and felt it could have been more in line with the comics. The decision to have Ra’s Al Ghul mastermind Red Hood’s resurrection instead of his daughter in the source material was a disappointing if understandable choice. The way it was presented stayed true to the duality of Ra’s desire to shed blood for a purpose but not incur unnecessary slaughter. Jason Isaacs’ take on the centuries old assassin leader is enjoyable to watch.
The most touching scene is saved for the finale. It involves a younger Jason dawning the green pixie boots for the first time and exclaiming this is the best day of his life. I challenge you not to tear up just a little after witnessing everything that comes before it. Under the Red Hood as a film and a comic is ultimately the tale of justice, and how far you would go to enforce it. Does justice walk hand in hand with vengeance? Is it ever justified? The question of good and evil, black and white, shades of grey is an ever prevailing question that comes down to perception, which comes down, of course, to the eye of the beholder, etc., etc.
In the eye of this beholder, Under the Red Hood is a Batman story to beat.