It’s officially here and it’s unbelievable. By the time this review has been published it has been exactly one year since I started the Axia Film Society and posted my first review, and in that time and including this film I have reviewed a total of 40 Movies. This is one big achievement for me as I was concerned we wouldn’t get past the first year, or even make it past Christmas 2014 and it would be another case of, ‘well, it’s a nice thought, we have tried it and it didn’t work out’! On the contrary, it’s taken a life of its own, people are doing their own reviews, posting their own content to our web site and from what I have heard, people are enjoying reading these reviews. It feels like it was well worth sitting through every bad film that I had to review and was worth every piece of stress that I felt in trying to make sure a film gets out in time. It also amazes me, again, one year on that I still haven’t failed to get a film out on time! But enough of my self congratulations, because it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Gail and Carly who ensure that these reviews get out on time as well as Dr Buchan who very graciously takes time out of her day to help with spelling and grammar checking, which I am not the best at!! Also I have to thank our I.T. guy Dream who gets these reviews up for me on the site and couldn’t do it without any of them.
I also can’t think of a better film to review for the one year anniversary. I started this whole thing by reviewing two comic related movies, so what could be better than reviewing another one and the promise that I made last year, to review all of the DC Animated movies that came out this year and believe me, this is the one I was most looking forward to. Mainly because of the team behind it. We have Bruce Timm developing the story and Alan Burnett writing the screenplay, the team behind Batman the animated series, one of my favourite cartoons and probably the animated series that defined my generation, are coming back together to work on a brand new alternative DC Universe that it will have complete control over. This is the kind of thing that should get people excited, and with good reason. These guys know the characters of DC Universe and know how the get the most out of them, but how will they do when they have to develop their own world and still make it recognisable to DC fans?
The plot of Justice League Gods and Monsters takes place in an alternate DC Universe often referred to in comic fan circles as Else Worlds, with brand new versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. The Justice League, made up of Hernan Guerra aka Superman (played by Benjamin Bratt), Kirk Langstrom aka Batman (played by Michael C Hall) and Bekka of New Genesis aka Wonder Woman (played by Tamara Taylor) are coming under fire in the press for their drastic and sometimes fatal methods of dealing with criminals. This all comes to a head when a group of metal men start murdering eminent scientists behind a project called ‘Fair Play’ and use methods similar to the Justice League in order to frame them and of course because the DC Universe is run by complete idiots, the President Waller (played by Penny Johnson Jerald) orders Steve Trevor (played by Tahmoh Penikett) to take them down. But Batman’s investigation leads him to a cover up that may involve Lex Luthor (played by Jason Isaacs) and may be something closer to home. Now before we get too deep into the plot it does help to mention that Bruce Timm really has been trying to expand this Universe even prior to releasing this film. He released three short films on machinima.com to give us an idea of what these versions of the characters are going to be like and I will try and leave copies of the short animations at the bottom of the review, if not links to them. There is also a collection of comics that vary in the amount you need to collect. If you want the hard copies of each, you are going to need to purchase 3 issues of the Justice League comics, but if you want to purchase them digitally, like I did, you are going to need to purchase 9 issues of the comic, it’s very strange! Similarly the comics that deal with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman’s back stories and origins in this universe are released as one shots if you buy them in hard copy, but if you are going to buy them on the digital service you are gonna need to purchase 3 comics! Luckily to purchase them digitally they are dirt cheap so price is not an issue. I would actually recommend getting the comics because it does give you a bit of extra back story that the film doesn’t have time to really get out, and it does help expand these characters in a lot of ways. I would particularly recommend it for Superman who really gets the least amount of explanation of his character and his back story in the film overall, however, purchasing the comics is not essential to understand the film. There is no major plot points in the comics that the film harkens back to. The comics simply give a bit of extra meat to the characters back story and show the Justice League’s first mission and how they formed in this Universe.
The plot of the film is actually pretty good. This is by far the best plot of the last 3 DC Animated movies, especially in terms of character and story development, which both are very good in this version. I might be a bit annoyed that DC comics are constantly trying to re-invent their characters rather than just tell great stories with them, but when it comes to an Else World situation, I really admire the levels you can take the normal ideas of a character and really twist them about. There has been some pretty good ones in the past, particular comics like Superman Red Sun by Kick-Ass and Kingsman creator Mark Millar that Imagines a scenario of Superman’s ship crashing in the Soviet Union and Superman being raised Russian and Batman and Dracula Red Rain which imagines Batman becoming a vampire and fighting Dracula which was good enough to spawn 2 sequels, both of which I would really recommend reading. But this is one of the most drastic of all and I really have admired the level of re-invention that Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett give to these characters. Bruce Timm said in an interview that he was inspired by the reinventions of golden age comic characters in the silver age such as Green Lantern going from being Alan Scott to Hal Jordan or The Flash going from being Jay Garrick to Barry Allen and wondered how he would do that to the DC trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman who remained unchanged at that time. A lot of people may have looked at the trailers for this film and thought these would be complete betrayals. But they are not. They have simply taken the basic ideas and really twisted them round, thus giving us a much more morally ambiguous Justice League. This Justice League has absolutely no problems killing the criminals and while usually against this in Superhero fiction, as I believe that if the Superheroes’ are killing the criminals it doesn’t make them any better than the criminals. In this case I think it does actually aid the film as it gives an added level of debate to the characters ethical nature, especially considering Justice League are actually doing some good and the world is much safer as a result of their actions. But Bruce and Alan were quick to show that their actions aren’t without consequence. The film kind of goes through an idea of how much security you are willing to give up in order to feel safe. I feel if they had taken it just one step further it might have made something interesting, but I also feel if they had taken it any further if would have taken away from some of the character development, and believe me there is some pretty decent character developments in this one. I’m not going to say great, because a couple of the characters don’t really develop too much by the end of the film But this story at least feels a lot more personal than say ‘Justice League Throne of Atlantis’ or ‘Batman vs Robin’ both of which I reviewed earlier this year.
This film does have a very large cast but luckily none of them are left to waste. Everyone kind of gets at least some time to really show off their shots and it feels like a complete story by the end as a result. The only character that I feel is slightly under-used, ironically is Superman who really gets a very interesting back story in the prequel comic but doesn’t really gain that much in this film, especially considering that in this Universe Superman crashed in Mexico and was raised as a migrant, thus taking the allegory of Superman being the intergalactic immigrant to a whole new level and I would have liked to have seen it being played out even further. We hardly see anything of his earth parents in this film and we virtually don’t see anything of his sister, despite the fact that she was a large part of his character development in the comic. When his is on screen though, he is really good, if anything he is probably the most menacing of the three you are never quite sure if he is going to flip his switch and turn completely against humanity. He has an excellent line later on in the film where people ask him whether he wants to save the world or rule it and goes on to say “after today it’s going to be hard to tell the difference”, it’s very simple, yet lines like that completely get his character down perfectly and assures us that we are looking at a completely different version of Superman. Lois Lane is given a larger role in this film and to be honest she had a lot more respect and is given a lot more to do than DC has been doing in recent memory and is played excellently by Paget Brewster. The new Wonder Woman is given an excellent back story involving the war between new genesis and apocalypse and it gets a decent pay off by the end of the movie. There is very little mentioned about her time on Earth when she first appeared in the 60’s, but that’s what you should really be reading the comic for! This one at least explains what she was doing before the comic takes place and I found her character to be potentially interesting even if she isn’t really given much to do outside of her back story. Her new powers are pretty cool as well, especially the teleportation use of the boom tube which become a bit of a plot point later on in the film. You get a sense of while there is a strength there, there is also a vulnerability to her, which is seen perfectly in a scene where she is sparring with Steve Trevor. While the film does do a very good balancing act this is mainly a Batman story and this new version of Batman, Kirk Langstrom who you may remember as being the villain Manbat in the regular DC continuity and he does get a very interesting back story, the most development overall and it largely revolves around his character development especially in the conclusion of the film. In this Universe Batman is a Vampire who, affected by his experimental treatment when he was younger in order to save his life from a terminal illness and the film really plays as a piece of redemption for this Universe’s Batman and despite the fact that this Batman is completely lethal there is at least something of the Bruce Wayne version of the character still in this adaptation, mainly the good detective skills which lead him to solve the mystery and figure out who the villain is and I loved his relationship with his friends Will Magnus and wife Tina (played by C. Thomas Howell and Grey Griffen) who really helped keep the emotional crutch of Batman in this story. Speaking of which, the villain is a pretty decent plot twist that most people won’t see coming but there are at least some clues left which will warrant repeat viewings and the villain’s plan, while a bit rushed does at least deliver a very thrilling climax. Despite the fact that this film has a short running time I would say that this one feels very personal on a lot of levels. There are some genuinely heartbreaking moments in this film for a couple of the side characters which I will not spoil for people who haven’t seen this. It feels more like DC really cared about these characters and telling a good story with bringing this film out, which is something I feel has been really lacking from their animation studio in recent memory, which with their previous films feels more like they were designed to sell the new 52 and their more recent comics rather than tell the stories of their more iconic classic stories. That’s not to say the film’s plot is perfect, the short running time does mean a lot of the comic characters back stories do feel kind of rushed and the climax also feels very rushed. This Universe feels like it never quite takes on a life of its own and I think it would have been helped by a few more subtle moments, that’s not to say it doesn’t have a few and references to characters like Ray Palmer and Victor Fries really pay off in that sense, like a good Else World should. I also think anyone coming into this film expecting a traditional Justice League Movie will be sorely disappointed. This is especially the case, not just because the characters want to use lethal force in this film, but I wasn’t kidding when I said these are quite different versions of these characters and I reckon some fans might have an issue with them sharing the same Superhero names as Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana of Themyscira .
This is also not an animated film for young children. This film has a 15 certificate for a reason and it can get really violent in parts. Not as bad as last years Batman Assault on Arkham, but still. This has now become to be standard in DC animated films. If you liked previous DC Animated movies this is one for your collection. Sam Liu in the directors chair along with Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett have really developed an excellent story here with lots of very interesting nuances, cool characters and an excellent plot, which has all been sorely missed from DC Animated films in recent memory. It’s not perfect by any means and I am not sure it’s going to hold its own against some of the DC Animated films of the past as much. I still would rather put on films like Batman Under The Red Hood, Superman Vs The Elite, Superman/Batman Public Enemies, Wonder Woman or Green Lantern First Flight, but with all that being said I would definitely put this in the ranks of the really good films. I would also love to see this Universe expanded upon in some form, especially considering we haven’t had this Universe’s version of characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and many other DC characters which I think would benefit from it going further. There is no sequel planned at this point, but I would welcome one if not a comic series to expand upon it because I really think there is a story to tell here. Anyone with a passing curiosity for the plot based on the trailer that appeared on my website all the way back to 21 August, I would argue, check it out on that basis. You really don’t need to be a comic fan for this one because they start the story from scratch.
The performances in this film were really good. I really think the DC Animated films are severely under-rated for how good the actors are, especially considering that most of the time actors are hired who are not exactly well versed in voice acting. Benjamin Bratt probably delivers one of the best performances I have seen him do in a long while. He does an especially sinister turn with his version of Superman, he really can sell the role, even though I still can’t really believe it’s him, considering I’m most aware of him playing the role of detective Ray Curtis in Law and Order and anyone who is aware of that, plus his time playing comedies will probably have to do a double take to realise it’s him, and I think a poorly cast actor could have potentially destroyed this hispanic Superman before he’d even started. He does, however, give off the impression that this Superman may have the best intentions in the world and might still keep you guessing what his true morality is. Michael C Hall takes on the role of Kirk Langstrom aka Batman in this Universe, who many will recognise as playing Dexter and believe me if your liked him in that series you will love him in this, he is absolutely brilliant at playing Batman in this film and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could come back to play a Batman based on the regular DC continuity version of the characte. He could possibly sell me on being a good Bruce Wayne. Tamara Taylor, whose previous credits include playing the teacher in Serenity, yet another firefly actor appearing in a DC Animation Movie, does an excellent job dealing with this new Wonder Woman. She doesn’t actually sound that different to previous actors who have played the role, especially Susan Eisenberg. Again I believe she could definitely play a Wonder Woman in the regular DC Universe and would be good in the role and I really admire the effort she put into this. Another cast member that stood out for me was Paget Brewster playing the role of Lois Lane and I really admire her for doing Lois Lane well considering how badly the character has been treated in recent memory. Other performances that I really enjoyed was Kirk Langstrom’s friends Will Magnus and Tina played by C Thomas Howell and Grey Griffin who deliver excellent performances for their relatively small roles. Penny Johnson Jerald may be good as President Waller despite the fact that she isn’t given enough to do, and I really think she does a decent job but I wouldn’t put her up there as one of the great actresses to play the role. Thankfully she does the role a lot better than Cynthia Addai-Robinson in Arrow. The rest of the cast do excellent jobs and it would take a long time to point all of them out. For me the stand out performance in this film is Jason Isaacs as Lex Luthor, not surprising given the guys excellent range in voice acting as well as giving some absolutely amazing performances including playing Lucius Mallfoy in Harry Potter films and for anyone who is a fan of Avatar The Last Airbender playing General Zhao and his Lex Luthor is absolutely excellent. He still has the ego maniacal nature of the main character,but you feel like this one is more in on the right. If anything they kind of play a role that Superman and him are a lot more alike in this Universe than they are in the regular DC Universe and Jason Isaacs and Benjamin Bratt pull this off really well. Overall as usual with a DC Movie it has an excellent cast and they really are what makes the film and if DC want to pull this off with Cinematic Universe, they are going to have to remember this when casting their major and minor roles.
Now the design, animation and action sequences. I am going to start off with the designs of the characters considering this is a new DC Universe, and to be honest, I really do like the designs. Batman is the one who is kept the closest but they do slightly re-design things to give him his Vampiric nature in this Universe. Wonder Woman may look different but I still see hints of her old costume in some of the designs, plus a few hints of some of her costume changes throughout the years seem to have played a part in this. The most drastic design choice is Superman, who has been given a sort of a long Matrix coat and a blue military style outfit with and S on the belt rather than the chest. I kind of like this redesign, with the character bordering between a hero and a dictator. Most of the other characters stay in tack with the exception of Lois Lane having a shorter hair cut and Lex Luthor now resembling this Universe’s version of Stephen Hawking, which is a design choice I kind of like. Now as for the action sequences themselves, as usual for a DC animated film, they are excellent. Because this is animation rather than live action you can take a lot of risks with these action scenes without having to risk actors health in the name of a good scene. It all flows brilliantly, the martial arts look excellent and the scenes work well off the new powers. Batman keeps most of his gadgets intact but he has also got his vampire speed, flight and of course the ability to drain the victims of their blood, which is only used a couple of times in the film. I think if it had been over used any more it would have taken away from the heroic and conflicted nature of the character. Wonder Woman similarly has a sword like she does in the regular continuity with no lasso of truth, instead this time she has a mother box in her sword, (don’t ask, if you are not aware of the DC Universe, it’s a very long story, talk to a comic fan, he would be happy to spend an hour or so explaining it,) but basically Wonder Woman can teleport in this Universe and despite the fact in the short animation they had Boom tubes for her to use this, I don’t feel they used it enough in this film, even though it does become a plot point later on down the line. The fight scenes do go perfectly well, especially considering the metal men that go after the Justice League, have perfect copies of Superman whose powers stay completely intact, Batman and Wonder Woman’s power set and as a result they can match them blow for blow and fell like a genuine threat for this new Justice League and they really sell that fact, especially in the later scenes when they can actually combine their powers to be a real match for them. The action scenes also really benefit from the excellent direction and it knows how to change between camera. There are a lot of live action films who could pay attention to this and take note from it, I even think Marvel are starting to take some note of it with Cinematic Universe movies because I thought a couple of shots in this film really resemble a lot of what we have been seeing in recent memory. It’s not perfect, however, because there is actually surprisingly little of them but I think this was a necessary sacrifice to get enough of the plot out there and I am glad that was in place because when they are on screen, they do not disappoint. The scenes also help visually convey how much more lethal these versions of these characters are in just subtle actions, for example the way Superman uses his heat vision is a lot more brutal than what the regular Superman would have done. the animation is also top notch and reflects some of Bruce Timm’s excellent animation style and I was getting serious flashbacks to the Justice League animated series. I can’t obviously go into too much detail about a lot of this film as it only runs for 76 minutes and to go on too much would spoil the film completely and I really don’t want to spoil as I would like to urge people to go out and buy this movie as I really enjoyed it.
Justice League Gods and Monsters isn’t for everyone and I feel a few people may be turned off by it and it is not one for your children, but if you are a DC fan I would actually argue that this is a really cool re-invention of some of these characters and Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett are really on form, working well with Director Sam Liu. I enjoyed the central performances, particularly Benjamin Bratt, Michael C Hall and Jason Isaacs and it has absolutely terrific action sequences and a plot which was short and probably not as developed as I would have liked, at least feels decent and complete and has a lovely personal nature to it which I think has really been missing from DC Animated films. Unfortunately if you only have access to a DVD player, you are going to have to buy this digitally, it’s only available in the UK on Blu Ray but it is available for digital download on I Tunes. If you are willing to give this new Universe a chance, please by all means, give this film a watch. I would also recommend checking out the comics and the animated shorts which I am going to leave at the bottom of the page.
What were your thoughts on Justice League Gods and Monsters? Does this new Universe have hope or is it down on arrival? I would love to hear everyones thoughts on this film and also your answers to my question this week, which is:
“Which of the 2016 DC Animated Movies are you most looking forward to?”
Yes, DC is going to be continuing the DC Animated Movies, despite the fact my prediction was that Gods and Monsters may be the final one from the studio, fortunately it isn’t and we have got a lot to look forward to next year. Batman Bad Blood will continue the Batman stable of films, where Batman Versus Robin left off. Justice League Vs Titans looks like it will continue in that field, and we are finally getting an animated version of Batman The Killing Joke and apparently Mark Hamill is willing to return to play the Joker again. Give us your thoughts because I am not certain I can review all 3 of next years DC animated films so I would love to know which one to give priority to.
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Please return on 11th September where I will be posting my review of the biopic of Rap group N.W.A “Straight Outta Compton”
Thanks for following me for the last year and here’s to another successful year to come.
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