In the world of the animated, Marvel and DC have very different plans of attack. Marvel tends to shy away from adaptations and focus on original interpretations (although they do do them) whereas DC, for the most part, has been strictly adaptations, especially with their last couple of movies. To be honest, it’s probably the easier move to make because you already have your storyboards and plot laid out for you. It’s really just a matter of figuring out how to stretch the story out over time. Thus is the case with the adaptation of Judd Winnick’s Under the Hood, now entitled Under the Red Hood.
Featuring Winnick at the helm of the adaptation and impressive voice cast including John DiMaggio (famous for his role as Bender on Futurama) as well as Neil Patrick Harris, the movie seeks to adapt one of the more controversial stories from the DCU to film. Why so controversial? Because it featured the return of one of the classic “dead three” — Jason Todd.
Take a look behind the cut for my opinions of the film.
Out of all the things that he’s ever done, I think this is probably one of my least favorite things Winnick has ever done. I don’t think it was necessarily him and him alone that returned Jason Todd to the DCU, but the way that he did it was never something that really impressed me. It’s clever to a certain respect, but it’s also fairly odd. At least, to me. I never really understood the point of bringing back a Robin and making him into essentially a villain. Todd has been through a gauntlet of writers, all of whom have put their own personal spin on the character allowing him to be both a hero and a villain again, but it all starts here with the Under the Hood storyline.
Of course, when Under the Hood came out, it was in continuity with the DCU, so it was already assumed that every fan of the title had already read the classic story that is required reading for this kind of a tale: A Death in the Family. This story featured one of the classic and oft mentioned Batman moments, as the Joker beat Jason Todd to death in a crowbar. So if we’re making an animated film about one storyline that references another, how do we work with this? Why, we put them together of course!
The film opens in a redesigned version of Jason Todd’s death. Originally, Todd was given up by his mother (who he had just reunited with) in Ethiopia before being beaten and left to die in a warehouse with a time bomb. We basically have the same story here, but it jumps right into the middle of the beating and the setting is switched. Of course, Batman still doesn’t arrive on time, and we are treated with the classic scene of Batman holding the boy in his arms. We then jump to years later and are returned to the days of Black Mask’s occupation in Gotham, with Batman and Nightwing fighting Amazo and being brought into the storyline of Under the Hood. From there it pretty much follows the storyline to the T, although featuring a different ending.
For the most part, I thought that the story maintaining it’s roots worked well. Winnick was the one at the helm of the film’s plot here, so it only stands to reason that he’d effectively rewrite his tale. That’s something that I always hate about adaptations of storylines. When you’re simply reimagining a character, then go nuts with it, but if you have a book that already lays out the plot, there isn’t need to change it. If it worked in the book (assuming you think the originally story worked to begin with) then it’ll work in the movie. While it certainly was an odd choice to adapt this of all storylines, it did offer up an entertaining film. It even kept some of the important moments in the story, especially in regards to how the Red Hood was finally revealed to Batman. While the book featured a more hyperactive timeline, beginning with the end, watching the story “in order” worked just as well, especially when it paid tribute to it’s root.Continued below
There are three things that I do ultimately find odd about it though. There are two elements of the story that stayed in the film that I don’t think worked for a casual audience: the Amazo fight and Black Mask’s appearance in general. Black Mask is definitely a classic Batman villain at this point, especially considering War Games and all that fun stuff with Stephanie Brown, but for the average viewer who likes Batman because he’s Batman, it might seem a bit odd. The reason Amazo was there was because he was being shipped as a weapon to the Black Mask, and in the terms of an ongoing comic book where Batman had been going up the Black Mask for months it felt more natural. Here, we’re kind of thrown the Black Mask element not as a predominant feature, and it is assumed that the audience will understand who he is. To me, this felt a bit off putting despite my Bat-knowledge.
The third thing that I didn’t feel worked too well was the changed ending. Now, obviously the ending will be different, but (and these are pretty hefty spoilers, so if you don’t want to know don’t look) to me, taking away Todd’s moment of beating the Joker with a crowbar and leaving him for dead took away from his villainous return. Todd does get his hits in, but it’s in a different setting here. Obviously the movie isn’t going to take the time to establish that Joker had just been ousted from his position and forced to crawl and hide away in his old carnival from The Killing Joke, but that was my FAVORITE part of the story. To have Black Mask captured and Joker simply defeated after another crime spree was not as effective as the comic’s. Of course, it can definitely be argued that that ending only worked in the comics because of years of storytelling and different writers, but I’m allowed to be a stickler some days.
One thing that I really did like, though, is all the new sequences inserted that elaborate on Todd’s upbringing with Bruce Wayne. I think that, especially in comparison with Hood’s actions, showing a young Todd and allowing Wayne to reflect on where he went wrong was actually quite a sad and moving element of the story. My earlier problem revolved around poor adaptation to larger storylines that the casual viewer might not recognize, but these moments show that Winnick did at least try to bring this part of the story in for an unknown viewer. To most people, Robin is Robin and they probably don’t really care how many there have been. This is why it’s so important to SHOW us that Todd was a young Robin — and quite an innocent young child at that despite his recklessness — helps us empathize with what he ultimately became, and thus this becomes the movies most redeeming aspect. Granted, this made it PAINFULLY obvious that the Red Hood was Todd the whole time whereas the comic was more shocking, this is just something that comes with beginning your movie by killing Robin.
One of my biggest complaints about the last DC Animated film was the voice cast. For Crisis on Two Earths, it was pretty horrible. For this, it’s passable. It really depends on the character. Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing works surprisingly well, and DiMaggio as the Joker works at points too. DiMaggio has the harder role to overcome because his voice is so recognizable and the Joker’s character is as well, but there are moments where DiMaggio really brings out the fear of the character versus the insanity that Hammil usually brings. Bruce Greenwood has a tough time beating Kevin Conroy, but he adapts quite well to the role. However, Wade Williams as Black Mask and Jensen Ackles as the Red Hood are the voices that I couldn’t really get in to. Ackles didn’t seem like the logical progression for the rebirthed character after being voiced by spry young Alex and Vincent Martella, and Williams never quite instilled any fear at all into me as the viewer, especially not in comparison with the dark actions of the comic book counterpart.Continued below
All in all, Under The Red Hood is not a bad film in the slightest. In fact, it’s far more enjoyable than the last entry into DC’s Animated universe. The voice cast does a reasonably good job with their role, and the animation here is pretty fantastic. There are some odd mixes between 2D and 3D, but it’s not often enough to become overly jarring or detrimental. While I do have my problems with the storyline, they’re really just problems that I’ve always had in general with what happened with the character. The amount that I enjoyed this movie actually quite surprised me, and ultimately I do recommend giving this a watch over some of the other DC Animated films. While it’s not quite as good as A New Frontier (which is my favorite), it is definitely as good of an adaptation as Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.