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Justice League: Gods and Monsters is the long awaited return to the DC animated form by the much acclaimed Bruce Timm. Now, full disclosure, while I grew up with the various “DCAU” cartoon shows, I never felt much beholden to them. In fact, as I’ve grown into a more well-read comics fan, there are parts that nag at me. Although, regardless of that, Timm has proven to be an incredible showrunner, so expectations were high.
The biggest thing that spoke to me before going into this is the well-known love that Bruce Timm has for The Authority brand of comics, first made famous by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch. Gods and Monsters is very much Timm’s homage to the team, with the styling of a not-so-clean team still taking on the threats that would harm humanity. So, from the outset, there’s this frame of reference from which to work with in terms of the tone, as it had drawn ire.
Ire that, honestly, seemed like such a waste of good disdain. There were some complaints about the direction, tone, and angles they were playing with the characters. Yet, in an Elseworlds story, those are the things that should be different. Whatever I can say about this film, right off the bat, is that it is at least more interesting than the generic “What if Superman was a…/What if Batman was a…” type that had become so populous under the branding.
The plot of the movie is simple enough. It has to be, because there’s a whole new universe to hang upon it. So, going in and expecting something richly complex and layered in terms of threat is not recommended. The trade-off is that the viewer gets the time allotted to seeing how this new world functions, and the backstories of this new “Justice League”. There’s a lot that pays service to that, usually in 5-8 minute chunks of time, and it’s a good balance. There’s not much to go wrong with in terms of a “scientists going missing/being killed” story. Classic pulp fixture. There’s darkness and a bit more extreme themes in the film, to be sure, but it’s all even handed.
Speaking about those backstories, while there are a wealth of characters in this movie, from the more prominent Steve Trevor to the cameo that is Michael Holt, there’s really not a lot that goes into them. They’re fun little asides and nods but unless this morphs into a new series, or gets a sequel, that’s as far as it goes. With regards to the main trio, they all have their pros and cons. Superman, son of Zod voice by Benjamin Bratt, gets the main focus here, even to the extent of providing the introduction.
While they could have gone the easy route of just having him be Zod in all but name, the filmmakers go the extra mile and do combine that with Superman’s ideals. It’s much appreciated and gives the character a handle that the audience can invest in, no matter the time constraint. Bratt doesn’t really do much voice acting wise, and he’s very sage at times. Outside of the really terse and tense moments, Bratt doesn’t surprise.
Kirk Langstrom, the Bat-Man, voiced by Michael C. Hall, steal the show, however. His character moments and backstory, which provide the backbone of the plot, are interesting, suspenseful, and really work with the setting at hand. Hall gives a wry, sarcastic, and dramatic performance, selling some nice deadpan one-liners alongside some impactful pathos. Although the movie glosses over the most intriguing part of his backstory and that is a real shame.
The final part of the trinity, Bekka, the Wonder Woman voiced by Tamara Taylor, receives quite a bit of fair play. Although, as a Fourth World fan, I do have to say that aspects of the backstory are just ridiculous and make no sense. In an Elseworlds story though, it does help give Bekka a lot more to get the viewer behind her than she would have otherwise received. She’s the most removed from the plot and this really sells her as a well rounded character. There’s a bit of a playful, boisterous, warrior, but also a wounded bird in there. Taylor is able to play with both sides of that coin.
In terms of animation and general direction, it is one of the most eye pleasing DC animated films to come out in quite some time. The designs are good, as are the action sequences. There’s a small bit near the end where the landscape seems to be a screenshot, but other than that Bruce Timm and Director Sam Liu keep everything kinetic and fresh looking. It also manages to balance the flashbacks with the present in a way that’s not all that boring, a real threat to structure.
Overall, it was an entertaining experience, and that’s about as much as one could want. If you’re in the mood for a small, but rich, Elseworlds story then this offers a story that is as satisfying as anything the brand ever came out with in its heyday. There are small quibbles here and there that stand out, but those mainly are about how there’s not enough space to breath at times. This is a movie that could definitely turn into a series of movies, or a cartoon, and either would be great. Comments and thoughts would be appreciated below.