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Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

by on 2011/05/07


Under the Red Hood
is difficult to discuss without revealing plot details. Its entire premise plays like one big twist. Although the central conceit was obvious to me, despite my coming to it cold, I’ll avoid any spoilers and err on the side of vagueness and critique.

Batman faces competition from a newer vigilante, the mysterious Red Hood of the title. You might expect Bats’ gratitude for the help, except the newcomer differs in using deadly force. As a killer, however self-righteous, he must be stopped.

The Dark Knight detective probes possible connections, with a rogue’s gallery including Amazo, the Black Mask, the Joker, Ra’s al Ghul, and the Riddler. Former sidekick Dick Grayson, now soloing as Nightwing, wants to help. However, feeling responsible for the death of Grayson’s successor, Batman tries to roust him from the case.

My immediate complaint — perhaps no more than my own pet peeve — is the overall style, which doesn’t look like the one depicted on its cover. While that image is nearly a photo-real painting, not dissimilar to the appearance of Extremis, the feature itself is comparatively rough, even primitive.

Further dissatisfaction came with the visual barrage. Early on I knew I wasn’t wild about the style. Objects, especially faces, resemble abused plasticine. The animation doesn’t seem to have decided whether it wants to be the stylish Animated Series or the shoestring Super Friends. It splits the difference to its detriment.

Its intentions may have been good, with cool fight scenes and interesting moves, yet every positive step is subverted by shortfalls. Figures on foot move too much for the slow pace they maintain. Cars move like hovercraft, floating around ungrounded.

The common culprit throughout is an uneven pacing. At one point, I began to question whether I had missed some satirical intent. A character attempts a dramatic exit using a smoke bomb. He throws it down with a flourish and, as we watch and wait, the combative parties likewise stand around as the area fills with smoke. When sufficiently obscured, the shadowed escapee lamely creeps away.

Story-wise I had my issues too, with the structure and trimmings alike. Perhaps most critically, there are too many villains squeezed into a tale of such brevity. I’ve mentioned Amazo, the Black Mask, the Joker, Ra’s al Ghul, and the Riddler, as well as the Red Hood, and each “name brand” villain’s assistants and low-level thugs.

Furthermore, the flashbacks really didn’t work for me. Coming off a recent film noir jag, I’m accustomed to better by now. The flashback-as-explanation and speechifying here is insulting. Surely something less pedantic could have been done than to have various flunkies describing the evolution of Robin into Nightwing as an unnatural part of their on-the-job conversation.

But while I have complaints with the script, I have few with its readers, a mostly excellent effort by the likes of Bruce Greenwood (2009‘s Star Trek) as Batman, Jensen Ackles (Smallville) as the Red Hood, and Neil Patrick Harris (Harold and Kumar) as Nightwing. A variety of familiar names fill out the ranks, including Gary Cole (Office Space), Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise), Dwight Schultz (The A-Team), Fred Tatascioire (Dragonlance), Bruce Timm (Crisis on Two Earths), and Wade Williams, apparently channeling Michael Madsen as Black Mask

My single painful complaint is about the actor behind the Joker. “Painful” because I know and love him best as Bender on Futurama. Though I won’t blame John DiMaggio for being spoiled by Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger, in no way is he a figure of menace or psychosis. I’d rather take his casting to task. DiMaggio was the wrong choice. Some people sound threatening when they’re acting funny. He doesn’t; his funny actually is funny.

Enough said.

In summary, Batman: Under the Red Hood is a brief, mixed-bag production of an unusual story. Its concept has promise, but winds up inconsistently, predictably, and counts for nothing much. As suggested by Owlman’s Crisis speech — “It doesn’t matter” —  in the end, any bold moves are reset.

In fact, as I write these words, I wonder why I’m giving it a third star. I didn’t regret the experience, I suppose. I was suitably distracted, if not utterly enthralled . . . like Under the Red Hood itself, the very definition of faint praise.

* * *

Rated PG13

76 minutes

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  1. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010) « Geek vs Goth

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