Thoughts: In 75 minutes, Under The Red Hood packs more action, more emotional resonance, more characters and more everything than any of the live-action films. Animation be damned, THIS is my favourite Batman film so far.
A new player has surfaced in Gotham City, and he seems to be taking down criminals with astounding speed and ferocity. He has adopted one of the Joker's old persona, known only as the Red Hood. The only problem with this new vigilante, is that he has no qualms with dispensing the harshest of judgements upon even the lowest level of criminal. Batman springs into action, as does master crime boss Black Mask, but both can't even seem to keep up with this immensely talented individual. As the body count rises on both sides, how far will Batman and Black Mask go to take down this mysterious new anti-hero, and just who exactly is this Red Hood? And more importantly, what will the truth mean for Batman?
Boasting an incredible roster of talent behind the mic, and culling from 3 separate but equally strong Batman comic tales; Under The Red Hood could have collapsed under the weight of expectation. But lo and behold, here I am extolling the virtues of all involved. Not only do the actors bring genuine weight to each and every character, but the story is one that maintains pace and interest for even those with the most basic of knowledge in the Batman universe. The material is handled expertly; parcels of information are released both during the quiet moments, and in the midst of some of the most impressively animated fights I have ever seen. And despite all this, there is a very human element that ribbons through the whole production; one that lays bare some of Batman's most human failings, and allows us an insight into his troubled psyche, and what makes him the man he is, flaws and all.
And the animation is superb, the kind that we come to expect from a proper DC in-house theatrical film. It has an almost anime-esque vibe to it, though not quite as much as the extra short film Jonah Hex provided on the blu-ray disc, though I'll get to that later. The character designs seem to carry weight, with Batman and Red Hood towering and compact respectively, but still impressively muscular. The Joker plays heavily story-wise, but is used rather peripherally, allowing Black Mask to spread his wings as the main crime boss of Gotham City. It's a nice change of pace and a breath of fresh air, offering us the chance to witness some rather unique methods employed by both the goodies and the baddies.
And back to the voice talent. Bruce Greenwood proves once agains that he's one of the best choices for Batman, and Jensen Ackles (Dean in Supernatural) gives Red Hood a very unique voice that is a bit jarring at first, but becomes quite fitting as the film continues. John DiMaggio (numerous The Simpsons voices, Bender from Futurama! You can really hear it too.) offers up a really different take on Joker; sure, the usual manic traits are there, but the character is approached quite differently, looking and sounding like a resigned, almost Death Of A Salesman/dishevelled James Stewart type of persona. Don't get me wrong, he's still a crazed lunatic, but the character version is really pretty interesting. You also have side players that are no less important, with Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs, Gary Cole, Kelly Hu and Wade Williams all throwing their hats into the ring.
Altogether, there is nothing better I could have asked for than Under The Red Hood to get that sour taste of The Dark Knight Rises from me. Definitely one to rewatch in the future.