What happens when you take Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and give them completely new backstories and identities? You get Justice League: Gods and Monsters!

Genre(s): Sci-Fi | Superhero

Created By: Alan Burnett | Bruce Timm

Network: Direct to Video

Air Date: July 2015

Good:

  • Fascinating take on the DC Universe.

  • Strong protagonists.

  • Villain motives.

Bad:

  • Villain plans.

Review

 

Gods and Monsters is the latest DC Animated universe film, this time taking the big three, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, and turning their origin stories on their heads, in the process changing how they and their DC Universe work and behave. “What If?” Stories aren’t new to the DC Universe, in fact those comics sometimes offer the best stories, but it’s rare to see them in the Animated features, where the recognisable cast and elements are important to keep fans engaged.

Yet that’s exactly what Timm and Burnett have done. No longer the son of Jor-El, but Zod, Superman was raised by Mexican migrant workers and learnt the harsh realities of life and this in turns affects (or even skews) his perception of what justice and due punishment are. Batman isn’t our favourite brooding playboy but Kirk Langstrom, the main universe’s Man-Bat, behaving like a classic Vampire instead of the inhuman monster we know. Yet, he still feels like one, and while he values his friends and loves those close to him, he remains distant and closed off at times, constantly at work trying to find a cure to his condition. Finally, Wonder Woman isn’t the Amazon Princess with the Lasso of Truth, but instead one of New Genesis’ New Gods, fierce, unrelenting and determined, but still leaving room for honest human feelings and vulnerability that don’t diminish her character.

In fact, that is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this film. We know the big three and we’re invested in their original personae because we’ve been with them for years, but Gods and Monsters shows and makes us care about these new incarnations in less than two hours, and while the title is Gods and Monsters, these three are perhaps the most human they’ve ever been. These vulnerabilities make them relatable, something the DCU has always struggled with in the past.

Justice League: Gods & Monsters presents a much darker DC Universe. The Justice league kills most if not all of its enemies and people fear them because of it. They don’t view themselves as evil, just doing what is necessary to keep the peace. Even beyond their actions, their backstories are quite dark. Batman’s is a story of heartbreak, unrequited love and his struggle to remain human. Wonder Woman’s story is all about the endless conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips, with its back-room deals and hidden agendas. She’s on earth escaping from her past, trying to atone for what she sees as her fault and honouring a loved one’s memory. Of all three stories, I liked hers the best. It’s the biggest departure from continuity and the most touching of all.

That isn’t to say the other two stories aren’t good. Superman’s origin tells us more about Zod in five minutes than most DC stories have in years. When Jor-El was about to touch Superman’s pod and add his DNA to Lara’s, a highly scientific version of conception, Zod intervenes and blasts Jor’s hand away. After shooting him, he adds his own DNA to the pod, claiming that if someone’s seed should reach the heavens it must naturally be his. It’s subtle and masked in science and high-tech, but it’s effectively a rape scene. Zod forces himself on Lara’s eggs to add his own genetic material. It makes Zod monstrous, arrogant and despicable without having him go into a villainous monologue.

Batman’s story on the other hand is much simpler but is central to the movie’s plot. His past sets everything in motion and turns friends into foes and loved ones into bitter enemies. The villain in this film suffered a complete mental breakdown and his evil scheme is a result of it, born from a skewed perception of reality—and an overinflated ego. While the plan itself is convoluted to the point of ridiculousness, involving a set of circumstances that have to happen EXACTLY according to plans, the motives are brilliant and much like the rest of the film, spin a much different tale than any other DCU Animated feature before it. I can’t go into it in much detail as any would spoil the plot.

But while it is a darker world, it doesn’t mean the DC Animated Universe has forgotten how to tell a joke. There are the usual quips and comments that lighten the mood. One recurring joke in the film comes at Wonder Woman’s expense, with people often commenting on her relationship with Superman, asking her if “the boyfriend” will be ok with it, to her annoyed replies that there is nothing between them. Yet there really is something, though it’s hard to qualify as a romantic relationship when it works just as well as a family one.

The film has an open ending, leading into the upcoming second season of the companion web series, but it fails to resolve or properly address some of the previous minor plotlines, such as public perception on them. On the upside, it shows this Lex Luthor in a very positive light and the Wonder Woman’s arc takes a big leap forward.

There isn’t much to say about the animation, as it’s the same style we’ve grown accustomed over the years. Action is slick and character designs are instantly familiar or recognisable, such as Amanda, the president of the United States, and the same with Lex Luthor, even if he’s not a villain and is a quadriplegic hermit on a space station.

Voice acting is top notch. Michael C. Hall (Dexter) adds his own brand of sociopathic detachment to Batman, allowing the character to be expressive and emotional even in a monotone. Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality for me) voices Superman aka Hernan Guerra and adds a much needed authentic Hispanic quality to the character that makes him believable. The accent is real and not forced. Tamara Taylor (Bones) brings strength to Bekka/Wonder Woman, and you can feel the pain in her voice when she’s remembering her past. Warner Brothers went all out on the voice cast and it paid off.

Conclusion

If you’re expecting Justice League: Gods and Monsters to give you a tour of this new DC Universe, you’re out of luck. There are a few familiar characters here and there but most don’t make it to the end of the film. Thankfully there’s the companion webseries that explores this new world–which is phenomenal. But if what you’re looking for is a fresh take on familiar ground and characters, then give this film a try, I can promise you won’t be disappointed.

TMA SCORE:

4.5/5 – Amazing

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