Warner Bros. (2015), Warner Home Video (July 28, 2015), 1 Blu-ray + 1 DVD, 76 mins, 16:9 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $24.98
Just imagine… three dark heroes from an alternate timeline are framed for murder, and must defy the law in order to save the world from the true threat.
The Sweatbox Review:
Warner Bros. Television Animation has for years relied on product based on the DC Comics properties, most notably cranking out series after series of Batman shows of varying quality. It has been a few years, though, since they last had a Justice League series playing, and producer/animator Bruce Timm was asked to come up with a concept for a new show, something that would stand apart from his classic Justice League Unlimited series that ran in the 2000s. As his new concept evolved, a colleague mentioned that it could make a terrific direct-to-video title, which appealed to Timm, since that meant they could push the concept into PG-13 territory. And thus was born Justice League: Gods And Monsters, the latest entry into the DC Animated Universe line of movies.
The story takes place in an alternate reality, evident from the first scene, in which General Zod interrupts Jor-El’s launching of a gestation chamber about to be sent to Earth. By adding his own DNA code to the capsule rather than Jor-El’s, Zod ensures that the child being created inside will bear his genes. Krypton explodes, but a new child of Krypton is conceived and rockets to Earth. When the baby arrives, a poor Hispanic migrant couple discover him ahead of the authorities. Years later, this child has grown to be known as Superman.
Meanwhile, the Waynes apparently stayed home on the night that they were murdered in the DC reality we know, so Bruce never becomes Batman. Instead, a dying college student named Kirk Langstrom is aided in his research by his friend Will Magnus, the result of which is a formula that transforms Langstrom into a vampire-like Batman. And on Apokolips, the granddaughter of Highfather of New Genesis is betrothed to Darkseid’s son Orion, a marriage that is to signal a truce between the two worlds, but a shocking betrayal leads to Bekka’s decision to leave her people and come to Earth, where she becomes known as Wonder Woman.
These origins are largely told in flashback sequences, and we never see how the trio of heroes initially meet (though further details are coming out from comics tie-ins). Instead, their three-member Justice League is a fait accompli as the modern day story opens, but it becomes immediately apparent that these heroes act quite differently from what we have come to expect. After they rout a terrorist cell made up largely of other DC Universe doppelgangers, no enemy is left alive, much to the consternation of military leader Steve Trevor. The friction between the Justice League and the USA’s political-military leaders has Superman considering that perhaps he and his friends should just take over.
That line of thought is somewhat interrupted by a new crisis. Some of the world’s leading scientists— all familiar names to DC fans— are being murdered, and the killer is making it look like the Justice League is responsible. (Given this League’s usual methods, having them perceived as murderers does not stretch credulity.) When Trevor and the military come calling, the League resists arrest in order to get to the bottom of the matter. Meanwhile, the world wonders— what ever happen to the scientific genius, Lex Luthor? And how does this all tie in with Langstrom’s college buddies?
I found this movie to be a real breath of fresh air after the last few DC animated movies. They have recently been mostly set in the supposedly edgy “New 52” continuity, and using character designs that leaned towards anime styling. Like so many DC fans, I loved the Timm-designed DC animated TV shows, and it was great to see a movie using his designs (albeit new ones) again. The designs here are less minimalist than where Timm had left off (we even see the whites in people’s eyes now, for example), and not as cartoony as what was often evident in his TV shows; but the Timm influence is evident. Bekka is every bit a Timm girl, and his Kirby-inspired tech is on good display.
The story is well done too, with the script coming mostly from Alan Burnett. While watching the movie, I found myself relieved that it was not so invested with mindless violence. The characters actually thought, and even if the characters do not seem quite fully rounded (owing to the movie’s quick runtime), they are still interesting and avoid the typical hero or antihero clichés. Unfortunately, the script does falter at the finale, as the heroes give in to the mindless violence I had been so glad to see missing for most of the film, with good guys seemingly among the casualties. If not for that, the movie could have been nearly perfect. Fortunately, it does come to a satisfying conclusion, with the mystery solved and the characters all changed and looking ahead to what comes next.
This is certainly the best we have seen from the DC animated movie line in a while, probably the best since Jay Oliva’s excellent Dark Knight Returns adaptation a couple of years ago. Justice League: Gods And Monsters may have seemed like a risky proposition commercially, but it certainly paid off creatively. With the ending of the film suggesting a great idea for a sequel, I am definitely on board.
Is This Thing Loaded?
This disc also gets one of the better assortments of bonus features to be offered on the DC movies. Before getting to those, however, the disc starts with previews for Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem, Justice League: Throne Of Atlantis, and Scooby-Doo Meets Kiss, plus the Lego Dimensions game.
Then we get to the good stuff, with a few meaty featurettes that give good insight into DC Comics history and the production of this movie. Alternate Realities: Infinite Possibilities (19:24) is a dandy look at DC’s history of telling tales outside their normal continuity, ranging from the “imaginary stories” of the Silver Age, to the later Elseworlds line and even the recent Convergence event.
Calculated Risks: The Making Of Gods And Monsters (23:37) is one of the best “making of” featurettes to ever appear on a DC animated movie, detailing the evolution of the project and showing a great deal of production artwork. This is much more in-depth than what we are typically offered, and this is a great project to give such special attention.
A Sneak Peek At Batman: Bad Blood (11:45) is an enticing look at the next DC movie, which promises to be something special. Inspired by the Batman R.I.P./Batman Reborn storyline, this movie looks to re-imagine the plot, but still featuring the apparent death of Batman, with Dick Grayson taking over the role. It’s exciting to see that Batwoman and Batwing will be making their first animated appearances here as well. The featurette is full of model sheets, pencil tests, and even finished animation, giving us a better than usual sneak peek.
The New Gods (22:13) is a vintage featurette that was first seen on the Superman/Batman: Apocalypse Blu-ray in 2010. If you haven’t seen it yet, though, it’s a good one, chronicling the history of Jack Kirby’s creations. Superfans may find it lightweight, but it is a good primer for general audiences.
Additional Trailers are also offered, for Man From U.N.C.L.E., Teen Titans Go!, and Batman Versus Robin.
From The Vault brings us two episodes from the DC library. A young man with Superman’s powers is freed from the Phantom Zone in the Legion Of Super-Heroes episode Phantoms, and an alternate reality tale is told in the Superman: The Animated Series story Brave New Metropolis.
The DVD in this set has only the trailers and the Bad Blood featurette.
Per usual, this is a Blu-ray eco case, with a disc sitting in either side. There is an insert with an UltraViolet digital HD code. The cover slip has embossing.
Ink And Paint:
For my purposes, this video is really perfect. While watching the movie, I noted no problems, though close inspection does reveal minor banding issues. But if you’re not looking for problems, you are unlikely to see any. The colors are rich, the picture is sharp, and the action smooth.
Warner sticks with DTS-HD Master Audio, and the 5.1 audio benefits well, providing a nice representation of the sound design for this movie. While not quite as action packed (thank goodness) as prior DC movies, there is still plenty of opportunity for some fun sound effects. For a DTV, it’s a nice experience, though not as rich as a theatrical release film. There are also tracks in French, German, and Spanish; and subtitles are offered for the same languages, including two versions of Spanish.
The DVD has audio in English, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and Thai; and subtitles in the same, plus Taiwanese Chinese.
One of the purposes of the DC animated films was ostensibly to tell more mature stories featuring the classic heroes. However, in the past, getting a PG-13 rating sometimes only meant idiotic violence, crass jokes, and innuendo that seemed inappropriate given the juvenile plots. In Gods And Monsters, the stupidity is thankfully dialled back, and the solid, interesting story makes the innuendo and the bloodletting present (and there certainly is enough of that) more acceptable to the adult viewer looking for more sophistication in his or her animated fare. Bruce Timm’s return is about all one could hope for, with his vision realized nicely by Alan Burnett’s scripting. The great selection of bonus features further makes this disc a great value.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?