Jul 27, 2015

[Movies] Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)

The DC Universe Animated Original Movies have been an interesting little diversion in the direct-to-video market that has been doing pretty well for the company. A lot of times one rather expects them to try going back to the big screen for these animated productions as opposed to limiting them to video, but I guess they don't see a reason to rock the boat just yet. The movies are generally good with some standing out quite exceptionally here and there.

Recent productions have largely focused around the Justice League, particularly the more recent New 52 incarnation of the group. But Justice League: Gods and Monsters represents an interesting diversion since it's one of the rare instances when the movie isn't based on a previously released comic book. If anything the reverse is true here where comics are being mapped out to provide a bit more back story to the cartoon.

This one was pretty violent compared to past efforts, which felt a little surprising for a DC animated feature. But then it sort of fits the vein of the Zack Snyder movies for DC as well, so maybe it's not entirely a bad thing?

Synopsis: Justice League: Gods and Monsters is a 2015 direct-to-video animated feature directed by Sam Liu as part of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line. The screenplay was written by Sam Register and Bruce Timm and is not based on a pre-existing DC Comics work.

In an undetermined alternate universe, we meet a very different Justice League that is a bit more extreme in keeping the peace in the world. Superman here is one Hernan Guerra (Benjamin Bratt), still a Kyptonian orphan but one that had been raised my Mexican immigrant farmers who found him first. He's less likely to be understanding of others and is a bit more withdrawn from humanity versus the Superman we're more familiar with. Batman is Kirk Langstrom (Michael C. Hall), a scientist who is now something like a vampire after an attempt to cure himself of his cancer led to disastrous side effects. Wonder Woman is Bekka (Tamara Taylor), who was originally betrothed to Orion (Josh Keaton) of Apokolips as an effort to cement a peace between the New Gods and Darkseid.

The true mystery of the story begins with a series of mysterious murders of various scientific figures including Dr. Victor Fries (Jim Meskimen) and Ray Palmer (Dee Bradley Baker). The crime scenes seem to indicate individuals of significant abilities were responsible and circumstantial evidence points back at the Justice League. Naturally it's in their best interests to figure out what's going on and stop the murders before they can continue. Their only lead is that the scientists all used to work together for various government projects and the roster includes Kurt's close friend Dr. Will Magnus (C. Thomas Howell), thus also putting him in danger.

It took me a while to fully get into this alternate version of the Justice League since everyone was so distinct. This was more than just tweaks on the original characters but instead meant casting new individuals in the various roles of the more familiar heroes. And seemed like everyone was in slightly different roles including twists like Amanda Waller (Penny Johnson Jerald) as President of the United States.

The level of violence in this movie was a little higher than I had anticipated, but I can't necessarily say this is a bad thing. And while it was still generally safe enough for maybe a PG-13 audience, it was still pretty graphic and even jarring at times. But it also matched the sort of world that they wanted to create for the characters and so it made sense in the long run. After all, this is not the typical Earth that we've grown accustomed to over the years.

That said, there were some great fight sequences in this movie that really made the most of these alternate versions of our heroes. A vampiric Batman can be pretty scary indeed and the aggressive nature of Bekka as Wonder Woman was oddly reminiscent of the time Artemis held the role of Wonder Woman in the primary DC universe - and I mean this in a good way. I don't want to give away the ending, but the way the opponents were generally a good match for their powers made a great difference.

The story is a complex one, and it becomes quite important to really pay attention to what's going on. In past movies, there are times I admit I could coast along a bit since my knowledge of the comic book story sort of carried me through some of the gaps. However this is a completely original story and it was nice to feel genuinely uncertain and more likely surprised at what happens every now and then. It did make for a rather fulfilling viewing experience.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters is a great example how DC can continue to use the animated movie medium as a way to tell brand new stories instead of just adapting existing material. I wouldn't mind revisiting this version of the DC Universe and see what kinds of stories they might develop should they be given the chance. Thus the movie gets 4 surprise use of familiar DC concepts and technologies out of a possible 5.

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