Running Time: 90 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR
Format: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.77:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Region: 1
MSRP: $24.98

Own It!
Batman: Under the Red Hood Two-Disc Special Edition (2010)

Probably one of the most irksome things about modern comics concerns death. Firstly, the subject was largely verboten in the field for decades, but most modern four-color fantasies seem to have become litanies of murder, so much so that the DC universe should be severely under-populated by this point.

The other side of this problem is: if you’re a major character, it’s not permanent - in all practicality, it can't be permanent. In a pattern established by the semi-legendary Death of Superman, a publisher kills off a character with his own title (or two), leaves him out of the picture for a year or more while the other characters soldier on, then bring the character back through some fantastic sleight of hand. Thus, any further use of the death trope is doomed to skepticism and apathy.

Which is why I approached Batman: Behind the Red Hood with some trepidation; this isn’t one of my favorite Dark Knight arcs, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Gladly, I was pleasantly surprised.

The flick opens with one of the older death stunts: Robin has been captured by the Joker, who spends a fair amount of time beating the Boy Wonder with a crowbar. This is the second Robin, Jason Todd, who was pretty much a victim of George Lazenby Syndrome: he wasn’t Dick Grayson, so everybody hated him. DC even held a phone-in poll, letting the readers decide if Todd would live or die; predictably, the popular vote was a thumbs-down.

So, when somebody called the Red Hood starts taking over the drug trade in Gotham City five years later, and he’s somebody who can beat the Batman at his own
physical game, it’s pretty obvious that the new player is somehow the dead former Robin; the questions after that is how and why and what is Batman going to do about it?

This is probably the most violent DCU movie since Public Enemies, and it doesn’t look like the filmmakers are pushing themselves to earn the PG-13 rating anymore.The fight scenes are well-plotted, exciting, and actually serve a point. Batman and the now-adult Grayson (under the name Nightwing) team up and handily beat the android Amazo, who was designed to take down the entire Justice League. When the two are later stymied by the Red Hood, it is rendered even more extraordinary by this juxtaposition.

The voice acting manages to exceed the expectations of the usual stunt casting; Bruce Greenwood seems to be trying very hard to be Kevin Conroy, Neil Patrick Harris is good as Nightwing, but the real standout is John Di Maggio as The Joker, who doesn’t even try to match Mark Hamill’s looney take on the character, but instead – and rightly – hews closer to Heath Ledger territory while making his interpretation his own. This has been my favorite cartoon Joker in a while.

There’s no real resolution possible for this movie, as the Red Hood character is still out and about in current continuity, so it really does stand as a sort of video equivalent of the actual comic book arc – some great action sequences, a couple of bad guys brought to justice, but many possibilities left open. That’s going to be good enough for some people (myself included), but not for others.

The menu for DCU movies are among my favorites; nicely rendered art, your menu choices, and no spoiler video sequences or looped sound. They do their job and get out of the way. So why, we wonder, are there two menus on Disc Two? The only choice on the first menu is Special Features, and pressing that option brings you to the menu with only three choices. An unnecessary, puzzling added step.

Disc One starts off with ads for Batman, The Brave and the Bold, The Video Game, the toy website Matty, and Smallville. Other trailers under Extra Features are a preview of the next DCU movie, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, and re-runs of other "First Looks" from previous discs - Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Batman: Gotham Knight, and Superman: Doomsday. The section is rounded out with trailers for the Ralph Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings, Legend of the Guardians, and the Jonah Hex Motion Comic.

DC obviously was hoping to capitalize on the (sadly failed) Jonah Hex summer movie, as the bonus animated short presented is - you guessed it - Jonah Hex. The Hex short comes off much better than the Spectre short included in Crisis on Two Earths (and, by all accounts, also better than the movie) - self-contained, based on an actual Hex story, and absolutely true to the character.

Audio commentary tracks on the movie itself have apparently gone into the dust bin of DCU history. Perhaps just as well, as they had begun to be litanies of which animator was in charge of which sequence; it was nice for those people to get a call out for their hard work, but didn't much illuminate the movie-watching experience.

Disc Two has the documentary feature of the set, Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson, with a host of comics professionals and historians - including, perhaps curiously, a chap from Golden Apple Comics in LA - holding forth on the history and development of the sidekick. It seems a bit odd to be concentrating on Grayson when the feature is about Todd, but... oh well. I generally look forward to these, regardless.

The other extra on this second disc is a two-episode arc from Batman: The Animated Series, "Robin's Reckoning", wherein Robin might finally get a crack at the gangster who caused the death of his parents.

Not my favorite of the DCU movies thus far, but a solid evening's entertainment.

Dr. Freex, 9/6/2010