I had an idea for a Batman movie featuring a villain who only kills criminals, or convinces criminals to eliminate each other. This was honestly how I thought the last of the Nolan trilogy would go down. Someone who "cleans up" Gotham by doing whatever Batman wouldn't do. It would ask whether or not everyone is worth saving.
I thought it was a mildly clever idea. Turns out I wasn't the only one who thought so. "Batman: Under The Red Hood" tackles this concept. It is a chilling and effective thriller, a story about the repercussions of guilt.
Superficially, it shows just how far those straight-to-DVD animated movies have come along. I'm actually a little surprised this wasn't shown in theatres. The acting, the animation and the music and sound-design achieve a standard comparable to the recent live-action films. And some of the fight choreography and cinematography is better than in any shaky-cam action film. It's this generation's "Mask of the Phantasm".
Bruce Greenwood and Neil Patrick Harris are Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Under the guise of Batman and Nightwing, they're trying to uncover a plot involving an up-and-coming villain usurping the drug-trade in Gotham. "Red Hood" (Jensen Ackles) is killing gang members and muscling in on the territory controlled by "Black Mask"(Wade Williams)... And yet, "crime is down".
Red Hood has a score to settle. But the red herrings presented in this film may create confusion in those who aren't already intimately familiar with the Batman universe. It seems the only way to get the joke is if you already know the punchline.
In case there was any doubt, the story cuts back to the days of Bruce Wayne training and raising two of his "Robins". It may surprise younger or unfamiliar viewers that there has been more than one. Under Wayne's discipline, Dick Grayson became Nightwing, an accomplished superhero in his own right. But there's only so much a mentor can do for an unstable pupil.
|Via Scott Thill, Wired.com|
Regardless, Judd Winick(who also wrote the "Red Hood" story in the comics) wrote this with a careful hand. Casual viewers may not feel they need Wikipedia to guide them, but it certainly helps. And anyone will understand why the pivotal scene, featuring three characters in a crappy apartment carries with it such weight. There is no mistaking the decades of pain and bitterness that have led up to this moment. There is almost no vestigial line or moment, as two men argue the morality of killing an incurably evil person. This scene asks questions any decent fan of the material has wondered.
I must confess I was put off by John DiMaggio as the Joker the first time I heard him. But the longer the movie played out, the more I realized he was right for this story. He says something at the tail-end of the film in his own perfect way that, for me, proves why "Batman" is our last great noir story.
All images used ©DC Comics, Warner Bros.