Sunday, April 19, 2015

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood came out in 2010, was directed by Brandon Vietti and stars the voices of Bruce Greenwood (Batman), Jensen Ackles (Red Hood), John DiMaggio (Joker) and Neil Patrick Harris (Nightwing). The story is a retelling of the death and return of Jason Todd, the second Robin. The original story in the comics is very long, complicated, convoluted, and confusing. So how did this movie handle it? Let's find out by adding and taking away points as we (and I mean I) go through the film.

The first point I'll add is for John DiMaggio's portrayal as the Joker. I know that Mark Hamill is the definitive voice of the Joker, but he can't and shouldn't voice him in every single movie. DiMaggio's gruff style was absolutely perfect for the tone of this film and the Joker's character design. This is a Joker with a little meat on his bones — someone who's capable of beating Robin to death with a crowbar and take a pretty mean beating at the end of the movie. I don't think anyone could have done a better job than DiMaggio with this Joker.

I'll then raise the score to a 7 for the simplification of Jason Todd's death. In the comics, this was a long, sprawling stupid tale of Jason searching for his mother. He narrowed it down to three possibilities, all of whom happened to be in the Middle East. And when he finally meets his real mom, it turns out she's working with the Joker, but then the Joker betrays her, and it's a big, long, unnecessarily dumb mess. This movie wisely cut out all that crap, focusing only on the essentials. And not only that, but they did a great job with the death scene itself. It had just the right amount of violence without becoming too gruesome.

Now I have to take away a point for the dialogue during the Amazo fight. Neil Patrick Harris was a great choice as Nightwing, but everything he said here was so, so stupid. When they first see Amazo, Batman explains it has the ability to mimic the powers of super humans, to which Nightwing asks, "What kind of super humans?" What kind of a question is that? What do you think, Nightwing? He also kept reacting to everything Batman did like he'd never worked with him before. But in case there was any confusion, a random thug on the street is able to explain everything: "That's Nightwing ... the first Robin." How does this guy know that?! It's odd that such a strong movie would have one scene filled entirely with forced, unnatural and expositional dialogue.

But I will bring the score back up to a 7 for the great flashback montage of Jason Todd's career as Robin. We got to see all the different costumes, and, more importantly, witness Jason become more and more violent with each passing year. This, like so much of this movie, was simple and effective.

Now I have to go back down a point because of all the out-of-place villains. This is a Batman story, so Joker, Ra's al Ghul, the Black Mask and a Riddler cameo are all welcome and wonderful. Amazo was pushing it, and the cybernetic ninjas went over the edge. What the heck were these things? How did they work? And why did the filmmakers feel the need to include some shiny lasers and lightsaber-esque swordplay? Keep the story grounded and realistic. That's when Batman's at his best.

As I said earlier, one of the great strengths of this film is its simple and effective moments. One particularly subdued, yet impactful moments was Alfred dropping his tray when he learned Jason Todd was alive. They didn't over do it, which is what makes it so great. We're at a 7 again.

And now we're at an 8 for the fantastic scene of Joker killing Black Mask's men. He quietly asks for a drink of water, then suddenly, quickly and efficiently uses that glass to prove that he is the biggest bad there is. Add on top DiMaggio's casual and laughing nature about the whole thing, and you've got a nice little masterpiece of a scene.

The best solution is always the simplest one. When DC wanted to resurrect Jason Todd, they did so in an extremely sloppy way. It involved an alternate version of Superboy punching a hole in the wall of reality. This caused Jason to wake up in his grave, somehow break through the coffin and dig through six feet of dirt. That was stupid. The greatest achievement of this film is that it helped us all forget that. Ra's al Ghul and his Lazarus Pits are already well established and accepted within the Batman universe. Having Ra's revive Jason is perfectly in line with his character and is a much more natural fit as a Batman story. I don't mind stories with alternate realities and whatnot, but those type of stories don't work well with Batman. This version does work, so I'll raise the score another point.

Sadly, this movie doesn't end on a high note. These filmmakers unwisely outdid themselves in earlier action scenes with Amazo and the cybernetic ninjas. So when they got down to the climax between three non-superpowered individuals — Batman, Red Hood and Joker — they had to take things to unrealistic extremes to seem better than what they'd done before. The fighting gets really over-the-top at the end with people being punched through walls and shattering toilets with faces. Try to smash your face into your toilet. No matter how hard you do it, you're not going to shatter that toilet without first shattering your skull. And then to top matters off, we have Batman dodging bullets. They went to great pains to show in slow motion that the gun was fired before Batman even started to move. Superman can do that. The Flash can do that. Batman cannot do that. So I have to regretfully dock this otherwise great movie a final point.

Final score: 8

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