Avid readers of this blog will know that I have a bit of a soft spot for Batman. Not surprising, considering he was the first superhero I was ever exposed to, in the form of the 1989 Tim Burton movie, followed by the animated series.
And on this very blog, I have covered Batman on several occasions, most notably in the form of fan theories.
But I’ve yet to actually discuss a proper Batman movie. Sure, there was Crisis on Two Earths, but I mean a movie centered squarely on the Caped Crusader. So with that in mind, I’d like to talk for a bit about what is actually one of my favorite Batman movies.
Batman: Under the Red Hood.
Obviously, there will be spoilers, so if you plan to watch the movie (which I highly recommend) I suggest you stop reading.
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
The movie covers a new masked vigilante, known as the Red Hood, arriving in Gotham and making waves. His methods are radically different to Batman’s, in that he seizes control of drug trade and, perhaps more importantly, is not shy about killing in the process.
He is not only very well trained, but also knows a lot about Batman, including his secret identity.
It is eventually revealed that the Red Hood is actually Jason Todd, formerly Batmans sidekick Robin. For the past five years, he was believed to be dead, killed at the hands of the Joker. While that is true, he was secretely revived by the ancient Ra’s Al Ghul, using a Lazarus Pit. Now, he has returned to Gotham and has a score to settle not only with the Joker, but with Batman as well.
Of course, to comic book readers, this is all probably old news. Which might explain why the focus of the movie is not really the identity of the Red Hood.
This brings me to the reason I am writing about this movie.
You see, this movie… confuses me. Not in some internal logic way or because the concept is strange.
No, it’s because I really like this movie. Like I said, it’s one of my favourites.
Thing is… I SHOULDN’T like it.
Let me explain. There are two kinds of movies which I generally dislike.
- movies where nothing is accomplished, and
- movies with downer endings.
This movie has both. At the the end, The Joker is back in Arkham, but most likely, he will eventually escape and cause death and mayhem again. Jason is either gone for the time being, but his hatred for Batman has not diminished and he remains a powerful threat, or he died in the explosion. Either way, Batman’s guilt over his failure to help Jason is unchanged.
As Batman himself puts it:
This doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change anything at all.
And he is right. Nothing has really changed from when the movie began, and the last thing we see before the credits is a flashback to a young Jason Todd, ready to head out with Batman for the first time, joyfully declaring:
This is the best day of my life
All this should make this a shoe-in for my least favorite super hero movie.
So, why isn’t it, then? Why do I like it?
I think it’s because it’s an incredibly well written character study, in terms of Batman’s relationship with both Jason Todd and the Joker, both of which are covered in this movie in very interesting ways. I have never read a single batman comic where Jason Todd appears, nor have I seen him appear in any other media, and yet this movie does a great job of giving us an idea of what he was like. Talented, but impulsive. Dedicated, but headstrong.
After the revelation that The Red Hood and Jason Todd are one and the same, Batman is troubled by the guilt over how, because of him, Jason has become a murderous criminal, which is what Batman tried to avoid by recruiting him in the first place.
Jason, meanwhile, has taken the training Batman gave him, and is working to become the kingpin of Gothams criminal world, believing that crime can’t be stopped, only controlled.
Eventually, Jason becomes such a powerful threat that his main rival, Black Mask, is forced to break the Joker out of prison to take him down.
And here is revealed The Red Hoods more immediate plan. To kidnap the Joker and force Batman to make a choice.
See, one of the reasons I like this movie is Jason’s motivation for all of this. Everyone he has killed, all the violence and extortion, it was all so he could make the showdown between him, Batman and the Joker possible.
Like I said, Batman is haunted by his failure to save Jason from the Joker, and during the climax tries to make him understand how sorry he is. Jason, in response, is insulted by the apology, because it means Batman doesn’t even know why Jason is doing any of this. He doesn’t hate Batman for failing to save him. He hates him because despite murdering Jason, the Joker is still alive.
He is angry, because his death apparently meant so little to Batman, who couldn’t bring himself to punish the man responsible, despite the Joker proving, time and time again, that he will never stop. This hearkens back to something Jason mentions earlier, namely that Batman tries to strike fear into criminals, but that strategy is useless against people like the Joker, who are not afraid of him.
In fact, the Joker at one point makes fun of Jason being dead, and when Batman becomes violent, he mockingly asks if Batman is really going to kill him this time, or just put him in hospital for a few months.
Faced with Jason’s accusation, Batman says that what Jason never understood, is that he doesn’t kill because it is hard to cross that line. It’s because it’s so EASY, and if he allows himself to cross that line, he’ll “never come back”.
I personally interpreted that as meaning, once you cross that line, killing becomes so much easier, such a simple solution. After all, Jason himself kills wantonly, and with no remorse whatsoever, because he believes his victims deserve it, to the point of considering “mercy” as only killing one person.
There is a word for someone like that.
They are called villains.
Of course, while there is some merit to what Batman says, and is probably true with other members of his rogues gallery, I’d argue there is another reason when it comes to the Joker.
That reason being: If Batman kills the Joker, the Joker wins.
What makes the Joker so dangerous isn’t his insanity or his sadistic sense of humour. It’s the fact that he considers his own death to be of little consequence, if it means breaking Batman in the process. Killing Batman is good, but doing something so terrible Batman is driven to kill him? That’s MUCH better.
So for all these reasons, the surprising character depth, the conflict, the fascinating look into the relationship between these characters, all of it outweighs the reasons I should dislike the movie.
Of course, it wouldn’t be right to make such a long-winded article, without at least a LITTLE nitpicking, right? So don’t worry. There is actually one thing which bothers me about this movie. It’s actually the same issue I have with the 1989 movie.
To put it simply, in this movie, they define the Jokers origin.
The most popular origin story for the Joker is the one presented in The Killing Joke, how he was a failed standup comedian who lost his wife and unborn child, and was roped into a robbery as part of the Red Hood Gang. During a confrontation with Batman at a chemical plant fell into the chemical cocktail that pushed him over the edge of insanity and turned him into the Clown Prince of Crime.
In this movie, we see that confrontation from Batmans point of view, and they question the Joker on what he knows about the new Red Hood.
However, the thing about the origin story presented in The Killing Joke was that it was given to us by The Joker. And the great genius of it was that he himself admits that “sometimes [he] remembers it one way, sometimes another”. In that one line, they threw a shroud of doubt on the entire thing, because it makes the Joker an unreliable narrator.
And what is especially frustrating about them cementing it as canon here is that really, there’s no good reason for it! It’s just there to justify Batman questioning the Joker, an interrogation which amounts to precisely jack shit!
Sure, it allowed the Joker to give the line about Batman possibly killing him, but really, there MUST have been some other way to allow that, without the high price.
You see, the reason The Joker is so terrifying, is that you don’t know his origin. One day, he seemingly just appeared with his joker venom and razor tipped playing cards and nobody, not even he himself, knows where the fuck he came from!
With that, he becomes a force of nature, of chaos and death, who fills graveyards and cripples young women.
Without it? He’s just a man. And a man can be killed.
And let’s face it…
That’s just not as funny.