The biggest strength of DC is their comic book stories. The original tales which launched their most popular heroes and made them so loved is exactly the source material they should be using for their cinematic output and Under the Red Hood is a perfect example. It takes at least two stories which are well-known and popular in the Batman comics and remakes them, crafting them for the feature-length treatments and delivering a successful Batman movie.
It isn’t an easy task either. Like any good comic book story, the original tales are steeped in previous influences from a vast history of the characters involved. It would mean that the filmmakers would be forced to simplify and create a story which stands-alone, outside of a larger “continuity.”
Not that this means the tale loses it’s complexities when translated. There is a raft of characters and at least three different story-threads involved in the 70 minute movie. It is a film which includes appearances from Ra’s Al-Ghul, Black Mask, The Riddler and of course, The Joker. In fact, as always, The Joker is the best of the characters, being as dangerous and funny as always.
This isn’t his story though. This is the tale of the previously unseen Jason Todd (although the live-action Universe is hinting at his presence). It is a story which has a lot of background but Under the Red Hood manages to tell this through a mix of exposition and well-constructed flashbacks. Moments like Batman revisiting “crime ally” see history and the present mix in an effective use of memories.
It isn’t just Jason Todd who makes the transition to the screen. Nightwing is used too. Although a character in the TV shows like Teen Titans, it is good to see him used in an animated feature film too and it helps develop the story of both The Robins and Jason Todd.
It isn’t just the story which is taken well from the comics. The darker tone of the tale is utilised too. Considering it is an animated adventure for Batman, this is one of the more mature comic books. The film opens with a brutal murder by The Joker and although it is animated, you can’t help but wince at the violence, as well as grimace as The Joker relents with the put-downs and jokes while he does it.
Transferring a comic book story does have it’s issues, particularly when you are tasked with mixing two different tales together. Unlike straight, almost panel-to-screen adaptations like Year One or The Killing Joke, Under the Red Hood has to fill the gaps with action sequences and other story elements and when the movie deviates from the original story, it begins to lag. There are moments which feel like filler and don’t add enough to the overall plot to warrant their inclusion.
This is soon forgotten when the film reaches it climax and the mystery of The Red Hood is properly discovered. The scenes when Red Hood, Batman and The Joker are at a stand-still are clever and well-written, with a satisfactory conclusion which (unfortunately) will probably never be picked-up further.
Overall, Under the Red Hood is a perfect example of how to transfer Batman stories and lesser-known character to the big screen. It takes at least two major storylines from the comics and makes the transition successfully, offering a story complex enough to be engaging but not so much it loses it’s appeal. Some filler aside, a very good Batman story which is worth looking out for.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)