Thursday, August 12, 2010

BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD

The latest direct-to-disc DC Comics animated feature, BATMAN: UNDER THE MASK (2010) takes a storyline from the comics that I thought was pretty horrible, and dramatizes it with some remarkably slick animation and a talented voice cast, and somehow manages to actually make a pretty good movie out it.

A new, dangerous criminal has surfaced in Gotham City. Decked out in black leather and a crimson mask, he goes by the sobriquet of the Red Hood - a name once used by the arch-fiend known as the Joker - and is quickly taking over the city's underworld, much to the dismay of both the Batman and local crimeboss Black Mask. As the violence in the streets escalates, it's finally revealed that the Red Hood is really the caped crusader's former kid sidekick, Jason Todd - the second Robin - who had been brutally murdered by the Joker several years before. How has Todd returned from the grave? And what is his ultimate agenda?

As I said above, I'm not a fan of the Jason Todd character, nor of his returning from the dead. But, the screenplay by Judd Winick improves on the comics version -which he also wrote - in a number of significant ways, resulting in a surprisingly solid, stand-alone Batman adventure with some genuine emotional heft. The direction by Brandon Vetti and exceptional action animation help, too, along with a well-cast group of voice actors who play their iconic roles with conviction. Bruce Greenwood (STAR TREK '09) makes a fine Batman, while veteran voice actor John DiMaggio (FUTURAMA) gives us a truly terrifying Joker, that evokes Heath Ledger's interpretation of the role, but doesn't imitate it.

Accompanying the feature is a DC SHOWCASE: JONAH HEX short, scripted by Joe Lansdale and starring the voices of Thomas Jane (THE PUNISHER, GIVE 'EM HELL MALONE) and Linda Hamilton (THE TERMINATOR). At an all-too-brief 12 minutes, this grim little Western tale delivers everything that the box office bomb, live-action HEX feature should have, but didn't. It's great.

Warner's 2-disc special edition of BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD sports a lovely, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Supplemental features on disc one include a fluffy promo for the upcoming SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE disc and recycled promos for three other DC animated features. Disc two includes the documentary, ROBIN - THE STORY OF DICK GRAYSON, and the two-part BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES episode, "Robin's Reckoning."

For fans of the DC animated films and/or the caped crusader, BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD, is a surprisingly good Dark Knight melodrama, with some great action sequences and a story that seems to work better as a film than it did in the funnybooks. Recommended.

BUY: Batman: Under the Red Hood (Two-Disc Special Edition)