Batman Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Under the Red Hood

So, here at No But Listen, just like every other toxic workplace, we like to have fun. So, for April Fool’s Day, we’ve decided to get a little goofy with it and swap out cinematic universe retrospective series, just for an article. Kevin is taking on the Gerard Butler Cinematic Universe (it’s a doozy), and I’m strong-arming my way into his excellent Batman series.

Now, I am in no way as well-versed a Batman scholar as my delicious co-writer, but I have watched all of these movies with him as part of this retrospective, and availed myself of his brilliant cinematic retrospective (which you should, too, if you haven’t already!), so bear with me here: I am about to share some completely unsolicited, but hopefully not completely wrong, Batman opinions.

I first saw Under the Red Hood back in 2017, right at the height of the Batfleck era, in the doldrums of serious, gritty, boring, killer Batman with more jowls than he knew what to do with. And God, what a damn revelation this film was in comparison – the 2010 adaptation of the Under the Hood run of comics (written by Judd Winick, who also wrote the movie) has so much of what I think makes Batman such an interesting character, so much of what had been stripped from his character at the time I happened to see it.

Because the big conflict at the centre of Batman, of course, is his willingness to kill. It is, to me a fundamental part of his moral code, and what separates him (even tenuously and debatably) from the villains he takes on. Taking that conflict away from the Batfleck adaptations rendered them pretty damn boring to me, but Under the Red Hood puts it at the front and centre of this story in a way I find fascinating.

I love the way director Brandon Vietti unfolds this story, with Red Hood and the memories of Jason haunting Bruce and Batman to push him to some sort of decision over what he will do with the murderous Joker. It’s beautifully executed (excuse the pun), dripping with noir-ish cityscapes and late-night brooding sessions, and Red Hood makes for a compelling mystery and antagonist all wrapped up into one. Jensen Ackles does a killer job voicing Jason Todd in this adaptation, bringing out that hurt and anger and really driving home the pain of Bruce’s loss.

And the question he poses is a brilliant moral quandry for the Caped Crusader- after the Joker apparently kills Jason Todd’s Robin, why won’t Batman take revenge against his long-time nemesis? I love a Batman story that doesn’t offer easy answers, that blurs the lines between the right choice and the wrong one in the way that so many of the noir films that influence it also do. The final conclusion – that Batman can’t start killing in revenge, because he doesn’t know if he’d ever be able to stop – is pitch-perfect to the character, restraint sprung from the fear of a complete loss of it. It’s a complex, challenging, and rich storyline, a character-driven plot that really lets us get into both Jason Todd and Bruce Wayne in a fascinating way.

And it’s also a chance for the redemption of the serious cinematic Robin. Robin, in live-action versions of Batman, hasn’t exactly had a good run so far, but the various Robins and the Bat-Family at large are some of my favourite parts of these stories; there’s an inherent question of the morality of involving children in Batman’s crusade against crime, and the danger that puts them in. But, at the same time, Bruce’s emotional distance and lack of his own family makes his craving for pseudo-family of his own totally understandable and even something you find yourself wanting for him. It’s such a rich vein to tap into, and I love the fact that Under the Red Hood goes some way to redeeming cinematic Robin with a grittier, darker take on his existence and what it means within the Batman universe.

Under the Red Hood is a brilliant entry into the Batman cinematic canon, and it’ll always stand out to me as a Batman movie that served as a reminder as to the depth and potential of this world, even if contemporary movies weren’t exactly tapping into that in the way I wanted.

If you enjoyed this article, please check out the rest of our Batman retrospective right here. You can also take a look at our other cinematic universe retrospectives, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Jurassic Park movies! And, as ever, if you enjoyed this and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting us on Ko-Fi

(header image via Common Sense Media)

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