2017 will see me revisiting some films that I think need or deserve a fresh take. It will be a series of columns cleverly called, “2017 Re-Watch.”
Without question, Under the Red Hood is one of the most creatively successful Batman films ever. It tops the majority of the live-action Batman films and is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the animated entries.
While there are a number of aspects of the film to like, you really just need to look at the final sequence to understand how this film reached such great heights.
At the end of the film, Jason Todd’s plan for the final confrontation has come together perfectly. He has The Joker tied up. He has Batman in the room. He can finally ask the question he’s been dying to ask:
“But why, why on God’s earth…is [The Joker] still alive?”
When Batman has nothing to offer, Jason goes on to say:
“Ignoring what he’s done in the past. Blindly, stupidly disregarding the entire graveyards he’s filled, the thousands who have suffered, the friends he’s crippled. You know, I thought… I thought I’d be the last person you’d ever let him hurt. If it had been you that he beat to a bloody pulp, if he had taken you from this world, I would’ve done nothing but search the planet for this pathetic pile of evil, death-worshiping garbage and then send him off to hell!”
When Batman pushes back, Jason then breaks down.
“I’m not talking about killing Penguin or Scarecrow or Dent. I’m talking about HIM, just him. And doing it because… because he took me away from you.”
This confrontation combines one of the great moral debates about Batman and one of the most emotional moments in Batman’s film history.
Is Batman being righteous or selfish in his code about not killing The Joker?
It’s a question that has certainly been asked before obviously. The component of that debate though that can sometimes be forgotten is that Batman’s decision to become Batman created The Joker in so many ways (whether directly via The Killing Joke mythology or indirectly like in the Nolan film mythology).
Batman’s fascist tendencies are often positioned as completely justified due to how the state of Gotham is portrayed. If Batman did not decide to take the law into his own hands, it’s made clear that there would be very little hope for the people of Gotham. The city was too far gone to be saved by legitimate methods.
If we accept the idea that Batman only exists because of Gotham, that logic suggests we should also accept that The Joker only exists because of Batman.
Does Batman not then have to take some of the responsibility for The Joker’s actions? In that case, then doesn’t Batman, who has been operating outside the law all this time, have to sacrifice himself for the greater good?
Shouldn’t Batman kill The Joker and then turn himself into the police? It rids the city of the problem his actions created and sends the signal that his fascist actions were truly a temporary measure and not one designed to exist in perpetuity.
While this conversation does not go quite as deep as that in the literall discussion between Jason and Batman, it certainly opens up a very interesting can of worms that Batman stories can sometimes skate past.
Instead of addressing the issue from such a philosophical or ethical point of view, the film instead tackles it from a much more raw emotional level. The way Jason’s voice breaks when he said, “because he took me away from you” just cuts deeper than most Batman stories can even dream of doing.
It is always heart-wrenching to watch that final scene in the film. Batman took in this child and raised him up to be a solider. Then the monster Batman created killed the child.
There is no coming back from that. There is nothing left to repair. It is always absolutely devastating to watch unfold at the end of Red Hood. If you care about Batman, you owe it to yourself to watch this film.