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Insults bring about turmoil.
Injuries cause blood to boil.
Sin and sufferings embitter,
Making spite a heavy hitter.
Malice merits some requital;
Are not victims so entitled?

Vengeance is a worthy cause
For those who follow their own laws.
And when reprisals hit their mark,
The soul falls further into dark.
Revenge does what justice intends,
But when it starts, it never ends.

MPAA rating: PG-13

I love animation, whether it be Disney, Pixar, anime, or any number of cartoons on television, so I’ve never thought of myself as prejudiced against animated media. (Would that be called an animationist?) My VC is of that mind, considering animation to be, if not inferior, then at least less effective than live action, and we’ve had some strong disagreements on that front. However, I’m split over the various DC animated films that have been released direct-to-DVD over the last decade.

While they all seem to attract excellent voice casts and usually critical appreciation, I can’t help but feel they are second-tier animations. Why else would they be released direct to DVD? The few I’ve seen have been good, but even acclaimed ones like the two-part The Dark Knight Returns seem to fall short of greatness because, well, they’re animated. No, now I feel guilty for even saying that. It’s not that they’re animated; it’s that the animation seems less of an effort and causes me to lower my expectations, even though The Dark Knight Returns is undoubtedly better than, say, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

All this debate is to provide context since I’ve now seen an animated DC film that does stand toe-to-toe with its live-action cousins. Batman: Under the Red Hood holds to the much darker trend in the DC animated universe, evident right from the beginning, where the Joker (John DiMaggio) mercilessly beats the second Robin/Jason Todd with a crowbar and Batman (Bruce Greenwood) arrives too late to save his sidekick. Jump ahead five years to Gotham City, in which a new vigilante called the Red Hood (Jensen Ackles) keeps criminals in line by becoming a feared crime boss himself. As Batman investigates this lethally skilled foe, his past confronts him in ways he never expected.

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Deserving of its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, Under the Red Hood would have been fantastic enough with its explosive action sequences, but the triple confrontations between Batman, the Joker, and the Red Hood cut right to the heart of Batman’s morality. He and the Red Hood agree that criminals must be kept in line, yet their methods are diametrically opposed, with killing as the great line that Batman refuses to cross, for reasons rarely so compellingly delivered. Their final faceoff provides both tragedy and food for thought, an epic clash of moralities backed by the dark madness of the Joker. This version of the Joker is memorably malicious and unpredictable, and even if DiMaggio still sounds a little like his Adventure Time and Futurama characters, he once again proves how playing the Joker brings out the best in an actor, even a voice actor (except Jared Leto, that is).

Watching Under the Red Hood, I was tempted to throw it into the good-not-great category, but animated or not, it’s a mature and outstanding Batman movie. I wish the ending wasn’t so ambiguous, but this film gives me hope that perhaps other DC cartoons will be better than I’ve given them credit for.

Best line: (Red Hood, about killing the Joker) “What? What, your moral code just won’t allow for that? It’s too hard to cross that line?”
(Batman) “No. God Almighty, no. It’d be too damned easy. All I’ve ever wanted to do is kill him. A day doesn’t go by I don’t think about subjecting him to every horrendous torture he’s dealt out to others, and then end him.”
(Joker) “Awwww, so you do think about me.”
(Batman) “But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place, I’ll never come back.”


Rank: List-Worthy


© 2016 S.G. Liput
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