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So I finally got myself a PS3 and have moved into the world of Blu-ray…sort of. I still need a nice HD TV, but that’s coming. So this won’t be a review of how the Blu-ray quality of the picture held up, though even on the screen I watched it on it was absolutely beautiful. My friend just kept repeating “the animation is sick!” So yeah even without the TV it was gorgeous. Oh and the sound was great too. My other friend that was there was stunned right away by the clarity of sound. So that was cool too. And now that I’ve gotten that out of the way on to what you really came here to find out: was it any good?
The answer is a resounding HELL YEAH!!!! I have been a fan of all of the DC animated films, and this is by far the best in my opinion. Though the line started off a little wobbly they have matured into some truly fun and well done films. I still say each one should be at least 15 minutes longer but they have started to make up for that a little with the DC Showcase shorts, but more on that in a bit.
First Some quick background for the uninformed aka non-geeks. Everyone knows who Batman is. Most know who Robin is as well. A lot may not know however that there have been several Robins, three that are well known and either loved or hated. Dick Grayson was the first Robin, and grew into his own heroic mantle as Nightwing (recently taking on the mantle of the bat himself), while Jason Todd was the second Robin who was headstrong and less loved. Then there was Tim Drake, the third and arguably the best Robin, as he took the title from being just a sidekick to being his own solo hero, as well as following in Dick’s footsteps and leading the Teen Titans. Still with me? Good. Now in 1988 Jason Todd had become unloved by fans to the point where DC allowed fans to vote on the fate of Todd at the end of the “A Death in The Family” story arc. Fans voted him dead.
And that’s exactly where this movie starts, with the death of Jason Todd at the hands (or crowbar and bomb) of the Joker. Judd Winnick who wrote the “Under The Hood” arc that this film is based on struck gold with this. He not only faithfully adapted the story but improved it by streamlining it of all the crazy subplots and the “Crisis” event tie-in. And what a story it is!!! It’s gripping, emotional, and action packed. I mean seriously ACTION PACKED! There’s barely a lull in the film before you’re off to the next chase or fight. The choreography for the fights is amazing too. But it’s the story that propels these insane action scenes and it just keeps getting better as the film progresses.
Five years after the death of Robin, there’s a new vigilante taking on the criminal element in Gotham called the Red Hood. He’s using the name of the Joker’s first criminal identity and taking on all the crime lords in the city, especially Black Mask, and he isn’t afraid to shed a little, or a lot of blood. This naturally catches Batman’s attention, and the chase is on. I really don’t want to say too much more about the plot because if you’re not a comic book person, the person under the hood as it were is still a mystery, though not much of one due to obvious clues but still, it’s a mystery all the same.
The animation is slick and very well done. The Batman model looks like an updated version of the one seen in DC’s last release “Justice League: Crisis on two Earths,” and is well detailed, as are all the other characters. Kudos to DC for finally using Nightwing’s comic uniform instead of the silly bird insignia they have been using (though the “Teen Titans” and “The Batman” versions were cool), and for crafting a Joker that truly looks sinister.
And we can’t talk about an animated flick without mentioning the voice cast. Wow! That’s all I have to say. First of all Bruce Greenwood voicing Batman was rather good. I am one of the few that have been okay with most of the iterations of the character as I though each voice fit with that version of the character, but for this dark and brooding story and world, I felt that Greenwood captured it perfectly. Kevin Conroy, who has voiced Bats for almost 20 years in animation is the iconic voice, and he would’ve been great, but Greenwood did an exceptional job. Neil Patrick Harris was spot on as Nightwing, he got the character’s chatty personality as well as his detective upbringing down. Wade Williams was interesting as Black Mask. The character first appeared in animated form on “The Batman” voiced by James Remar and was cold and calculating, never really losing his cool. This version is very cold when calm, but violently over the top when he’s angered and I liked it.
But the voice I loved most was John Di Maggio as The Joker. You know Di Maggio as Bender from “Futurama,” and here he’s absolutely fantastic. A bit more deep voiced and gravely than I was used to, his humor is dry and he’s constantly cracking himself up. But that dry delivery is amplified by the psychotic and sadistic things he says. Just wait til you see the final confrontation between Batman, Joker, and Red Hood.
This movie was amazing, but the total package is made better by the DC Showcase short “Jonah Hex.” Thomas Jane (who wanted to play the part in the live-action film) voices Hex and he is awesome. Just like the last Showcase short “The Spectre,” Hex completely embodies the genre it attempts to capture. It is 100% a western in the vein of “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and other Eastwood classics. From the setting to the music it has a true western feel, and none of the cheesiness that was in the live-action film. This is what the film should have been. Rounding out the voice cast are Michael Rooker, Linda Hamilton and Michelle Trachtenberg.
Other special features included are two documentaries about the two Robins featured in the film, Dick Grayson and Jason Todd. There’s a first look at the upcoming “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” based on the “Supergirl From Krypton” arc, some trailers, and of course Bruce Timm’s picks from past cartoon series, this time all from “Batman: The Animated series,” with a personal favorite of mine being “Robin’s Reckoning” telling Dick Grayson’s origin. Don’t look for any updated picture quality with these though. They’re just as they are on the DVD.
All in all a good buy for anyone who is a fan of Batman or of just good action.
Brandon Vietti (director) / Judd Winick (screenplay)
CAST: Bruce Greenwood … Batman / Bruce Wayne (voice)
Jensen Ackles … Red Hood / Jason Todd (voice)
John Di Maggio … The Joker (voice)
Neil Patrick Harris … Nightwing (voice)
Jason Isaacs … Ra’s al Ghul (voice)
Wade Williams … Black Mask (voice)