Warner Bros. (2012), Warner Home Video (February 28, 2012), 1 Blu-ray + 1 DVD, 77 mins, 16:9 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $24.98
The Justice League faces an assortment of their nemeses, led by Vandal Savage. This time, the villains may have the upper hand, as they have access to Batman’s own contingency plans to defeat the heroes. The greatest challenge of all in this mission may be for the Leaguers to determine whether Batman should even still be a teammate; but first, they have to defeat the Legion Of Doom.
The Sweatbox Review:
When writer Mark Waid took over scripting on the JLA comic book several years ago, he sounded very excited in interviews, as he had hit on two great ideas. First of all, that Batman, being an excellent strategist and having a cool intellect, would naturally have files on how to defeat his Justice League colleagues just in case they ever came under outside control; AND that these files would be very dangerous if they fell into the wrong hands. Secondly, he had discovered a villain that was a perfect adversary for the League, yet he had never gone up against them. Waid seemed exceedingly pleased with himself that he would now be the first to place the JLA up against an individual who could be a supreme adversary. That villain was international environmental terrorist and crusader Ra’s al Ghul, who previously had been restricted to many dandy challenges from Batman.
For the movie Justice League: Doom, the folks at Warner Bros. decided to keep the basic premise, but to use a different villain. In fact, they threw in several villains. For the movie, the Justice League would go up against immortal Vandal Savage and his band of supervillain recruits, reminiscent of such organizations as the Injustice League of the comics, or the Legion Of Doom from the Challenge Of The Super Friends TV show (and later the final season of Justice League: Unlimited). They also changed most of the Justice League cast, for that matter. Flash and Green Lantern revert back to being Barry Allen and Hal Jordan (since Wally West and Kyle Raynor have faded from the comics spotlight in the past year), and Aquaman and Plastic Man are removed completely. Instead, Cyborg is brought in as the newest League ally, mirroring his recent ascent in the comics.
So, that’s all just trivia. What’s more important is how the film rates. After a great credit sequence utilizing Batman’s computer files, It starts out well enough, with the League taking on the Royal Flush Gang, who typically appear in DC comics or animation as cannon fodder. That doesn’t change much here, but they do put up a good fight this time while giving the audience a chance to see the League in action and determine who is behind the masks. Aside from providing an introduction to the JLA, the sequence also serves as a set-up to get Mirror Master into the Batmobile, and from there he finds himself in the Batcave, stealing Batman’s computer files.
These files contain those contingency plans that Batman made to defeat his own teammates, and these then find themselves in the hands of Mirror Master’s boss, Vandal Savage. Savage has brought together adversaries of all the active Justice Leaguers, including Metallo, Bane, Cheetah, Star Sapphire, and… a green guy with a barely pronounceable name, whom will only be recognized by anyone who read the John Ostrander Martian Manhunter comic years ago. Therein lies an issue with this movie: Too many characters, with too little explanation of who they are. It’s not that it gets confusing, it just gets in the way of getting to know too many of the colourful folks on display. That was the beauty of the original comic book story Tower Of Babel, which had a single villain and therefore could more easily avoid the issue of giving characters short shrift. Still, I understand the desire to make the movie “bigger,” though I personally would have opted for “Better.”
Fortunately, the Leaguers do get to exhibit their own personalities fairly well, from Barry Allen’s wizened CSI cop, to Hal Jordan’s cocky remarks. Oh, there’s no character development, but at least there is characterization. And, there is also relationship development, which comes courtesy of Savage’s attacks on the League and the aftermath of same. In the comic, Waid came up with a few clever ways that individual Leaguers could be specifically attacked, and the writer here has come up with some alternatives, though they aren’t all winners. Setting the Martian Manhunter on fire is a good idea, but simply throwing Batman into the ground seems folly at best. (Bane knows Bruce Wayne better than that!) And, Superman gets a kryptonite bullet? Not all that creative. (And how many times has he died now in these things?) Plus, robbing Green Lantern of his will is a good idea, but it makes Hal look more pathetic than I ever really wanted to see.
No matter. What’s important is how these challenges are resolved, and how the League responds to Batman acknowledging the source of the attack plans. Naturally, the team still bands together to defeat the supervillains (with an exciting but ultimately silly finale that requires one to totally ignore any science class taken since fifth grade), but then they must confront Batman. Without giving anything away too much, I was disappointed to find so little here in terms of developing the characters. Sure, there are ramifications, but everyone pretty much sticks to their vision of how things played out, and we’re left with an ending that is slightly ambiguous except for an unsurprising reaffirmation of an important League friendship. Yawn. Cue credits.
As far as the DC Universe movies go, this is actually a pretty decent effort, though not challenging for top spot. As always, there is lots of action, and the Warner Bros. team know how to deliver quite well on that front by now. However, while it is certainly less mindless than the Superman-Batman movies, the story is not as interesting as it could have been. Frankly, this isn’t Warner’s best work (see the Justice League TV shows for some of that), though it’s far from their worst either. I would have liked to have seen some more imagination, some character development that actually pushed the Leaguers forward, and a resolution to the big threat that actually made sense. I’m also not generally a big fan of the character designs, where even Superman looks lithe (and Bane shows too much belly), but I have to admit that this is the first Cyborg design since the George Perez original that I’ve really liked.
So, it’s probably worth watching if you’re a big DC heroes fan, but maybe don’t use this one to try to convert your friends.
Is This Thing Loaded?
While I wasn’t bowled over by the main feature, the bonuses on here make the whole effort worthwhile. The disc starts up with the obligatory previews, for the unappealing-looking videogame Gotham City Impostors, the already out Batman: Year One, and the CGI-yet-retro Green Lantern: The Animated Series.
This will apparently be the last production to carry a by-line from Dwayne McDuffie, the much-respected writer who tragically passed away in 2011. A League Of One: The Dwayne McDuffie Story (36:35) is an exceptionally heartfelt and touching remembrance of McDuffie from friends (including his wife Charlotte) and colleagues, who comment on his comics work, his animation writing, his great intellect, and the legacy he left behind. As much as I have followed his work over the years, I learned a lot about the man from watching this, and felt even sadder that I’ll never meet him. I also gained even more respect for him, which was a bit surprising, since I’ve always appreciated his work so much. If you have a dry eye after watching this, I would be a bit shocked.
Guarding The Balance: Batman And The JLA (18:54) is one of those odd features that sometimes appears on the DC movie discs, using psychology professors to discuss comic book stories and how they relate to real-world issues. It’s all a little pretentious, but somehow manages to avoid being totally boring.
Cyborg: His Time Has Come (6:08) has comics writer Geoff Johns exuding on the character of Cyborg, and why he wanted him in the new Justice League comic that launched in 2011 (I’m still not convinced he fits; he’ll always be a Titan to me). Cyborg co-creator Marv Wolfman also appears. It’s a decent featurette, but it rankles me when people say that the Justice league never had a “tech” hero before, forgetting the role Steel previously played on the team for a while. Maybe they don’t wish to remind people that two of DC’s biggest black heroes are largely hidden behind metal.
The Creative Team Commentary is not actually from anyone directly involved in making the movie, but from DC executives Geoff Johns and Mike Carlin. As such, they can comment on decisions made in adapting the story, but cannot give much insight, beyond Johns confirming he pushed to have Cyborg included.
In the Superman Vs. The Elite Preview (6:32), we don’t’ see any animation, but there are a few sketches and a model sheet. Comics writer Joe Kelly, Producer Alan Burnett and others discuss the upcoming movie, based on Action Comics #775. The movie is due for release in Summer 2012.
Bonus Cartoons, as chosen by Bruce Timm, are comprised of the two-part Wild Cards story from Justice League Unlimited, a story featuring The Joker. And, the cartoons are actually presented in HD, a rarity for these bonus picks.
The DC Digital Comic Book offers but a few sparse panels from the Tower Of Babel story from JLA, showing some nice art from Bryan Hitch, but it’s barely enough for appetite whetting, never mind telling any sort of complete story. Not worth the bullet point on the back cover.
More Trailers on the disc are those for the DCU Application, Thundercats, Young Justice, and Mad.
(The DVD has all the same Trailers, and has the Superman Vs. The Elite preview. All of the other Special Features are Blu-ray exclusives.)
Per usual, this DC Universe Original Movie is put out under the auspices of Warner Premiere, with the movie offered in both Blu-ray and DVD versions in a combo pack. The standard keepcase has one disc on each side in the inner case, and an insert with a code for the ultraviolet digital copy, which can also be used for Warner Insider Rewards points. The other side of the insert has information regarding DC Comics’ We Can Be Heroes charity initiative. The case also gets an embossed slipcover that has only subtle changes from the case cover.
Ink And Paint:
One would have to have better vision than mine to find any significant fault in this hi-def transfer. The 16:9 image is stable and strong, with brilliant colors, deep blacks, and loads of energy. It’s another example of just how good even non-feature quality animation can look on Blu-ray. (Note that the screen captures here are from the DVD.)
Warner springs for a lossless audio track on this release, being offered in DTS-HD Master Audio in 5.1 sound, and it’s a doozy. Bass effects are particularly strong, while the rear speakers get some attention inconsistently. Though lacking the immersion of a feature quality track, it’s powerful enough to impress. There are also Dolby Digital tracks in French (5.1) and Spanish (2.0). Subtitles are offered in English and Spanish. (Note that the DVD adds Portuguese and Thai audio and subtitles.)
I should mention (because Warner would want this highlighted, I’m sure) that they have assembled an all-star cast for this movie. That means Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg, Michael Rosenbaum, and Carl Lumbly all return in their familiar DC animated roles (though Rosenbaum switched Flashes), with Nathan Fillion also making a return visit as Green Lantern. Bumper Robinson voices Cyborg.
Justice League: Doom has a good premise and an entertaining storyline, though it lacks the depth that it strives for. There is an understandable emphasis on action, and characterization never quite makes the leap to character development. Overall, it’s a decent time-waster, but no classic. The bonus features are well done, especially the excellent tribute to Dwayne McDuffie. Fans of McDuffie may even find that the tribute makes a purchase worthwhile nearly all by itself, even if his strongest work appears elsewhere on disc (Justice League Unlimited, All Star Superman) and in comics.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?