By Malice Intended of Planet Ill

A change of major proportions is sweeping through Gotham’s underworld. A shady figure known as The Red Hood (Jensen Ackles) has decided to unite and organize the city’s various dealers under his rule. His violent campaign threatens the livelihood of the Black Mask, Gotham’s first true crime boss in decades.

Black Mask eventually enlists the help of the Joker (John Dimaggio) to maintain his rule. Batman (Bruce Greenwood) immediately springs into action to prevent the war that will surely result. While hot on the Red Hood’s trail, Batman realizes that he may be linked to him in a most unexpected and tragic way.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is the eighth straight to DVD feature from the DC Animated Universe. It adapts two well known storylines from the comics: the controversial “Death in the Family” and the more recent “Under the Hood”. These two story arcs are combined into grim narrative that will definitely satisfy those who prefer the darkest possible iteration of the character.

The visual palette of Batman: Under the Red Hood stays true to the aesthetic established in earlier Bruce Timm productions. Gotham city is almost never seen in daylight, and the mood is very reminiscent of the classic Warner Brothers gangster films of the 30’s. The villains inhabit secret meeting places, while Batman patrols the rooftops, ledges and alley ways. It is not a total facsimile of Batman: The Animated Series, but it is shrouded in a similar mood.

Fight scenes are always a centerpiece of DC Animated Universe productions, and Batman: Under The Red Hood is no exception. Director Brandon Vietti ups the ante in terms of brutality, offering fight scenes that will have viewers wincing in pain as Batman inflicts serious injury on his opponents. The level of ferocity is enhanced by the quick cuts and unusual angles. Though occasionally bloody, none of it is truly gruesome and is done in the style of adventure serial.

The story wallows in the darkest of themes and emotions, offering a Batman that is perpetually grim and racked with guilt; carrying his past sins like baggage. It also takes a decidedly less light hearted view of Batman’s partnerships with those who have fought alongside him as Robin. The concept of child endangerment is never spelled out in the dialogue, but it lurks just beneath the surface. The villains go to greater lengths than we are used to seeing in American animation, administering severe beatings among other acts of terrorism.

Anyone who voices the caped crusader will be standing in the shadow of Kevin Conroy due to his legendary work on Batman: The Animated series. Perhaps realizing this, Bruce Greenwood opts to get in the good graces of fans by imitating Conroy’s vocal inflections. His decision is a good one, and helps to maintain a continuity of sorts with past DCAU productions. Neil Patrick Harris is somewhat inconsequential as Nightwing. John Dimaggio leaves a lasting impression with relatively little screen time. His characterization of the Joker owes much to Heath Ledger.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is the most intense DC Animated original movie yet. It’s every bit as dark and unrelenting as its recent live action counterparts. Those who enjoyed both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight will feel right at home here. It’s the perfect combination of substance and style, showing that animation is just as viable a form of storytelling as any other medium. 4.25 out of 5

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