New to Blu: Justice League: Gods and Monsters

We review Justice League: Gods and Monsters, new to blu-ray. 

Writer/producer, Bruce Timm, co-creator of the legendary Batmam: The Animated Series, brings us a shockingly mature and sophisticated story in Justice League: Gods and Monsters. The concept behind Gods and Monsters was a major turn off to me and going into it I was expecting to be bored to death. For those that don't know, this original animated film completely retools the origin and identities of DC's Trinity. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman undergo an overhaul that not only fundamentally changes their stories, but their personalities, designs, and even their powers. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved it.

Leading up to the release of Gods and Monsters, three shorts showcasing one of the three characters were released online by Machinima. Although written by Bruce Timm, these did very little to whet my appetite, and mostly affirmed my fears for the following feature length film. They ranged from lame to great, inspiring an overall lukewarm reaction from me. Fortunately, the full length film subverted expectations and delivered perhaps the deepest original DC animated film to release so far. Taking a shockingly dialog rich approach, Gods and Monsters isn't the typical slam bang animated film. It's gruesome, sinister, and written with subtleties and nuance rarely ever seen in these films.

It's really difficult to say much about the film without spoiling the plethora of surprises and details unique to these fresh takes on the characters. Discovering who they are and their powers is part of the charm and one of the biggest reasons to keep watching. All of the voice actors are on point. Michael C. Hall, most know him as the murderous antihero, Dexter, plays a vacantly cold Batman and is perhaps the most engaging character of the bunch.

Unassuming at first, the back stories manage to not interfere with the momentum of the plot, rather building as a crucial story supplement. The film feels more like Zack Snyder's Watchmen as we bounce around history, seeing how each character's back story adds up to the present conflict. The further I got into Gods and Monsters the more I was second guessing my comic book knowledge because the story is so unconventionally refined for DC's current animated standards that I kept thinking I somehow missed the amazing graphic novel this surely must be based on. The best DC animations are the ones already based on award-winning books, such is the case for Under the Red Hood, Flashpoint Paradox, and Dark Knight Returns just to name a few of the greats. What makes Gods and Monsters so special is the fact that it's not. It stands on its own as a story that needs to be seen by any comic book fan. As unique of a take as this is, I'm going to guess that the people who will get the most from it will be fans most familiar with the original characters who can appreciate where exactly the twists turn our traditional characters down drastically different paths. Ironically, it could meet diametric opposition from diehards as well.

Perhaps what's most engaging about Gods and Monsters is that the entire character lineup's moral standing is bathing in gray. Nothing is black and white and it makes the conflicts, and story arc that much more enticing to see to its close. In hindsight, it's really tough to figure out if any one character was truly good or bad.

My biggest disappointment with the film is that the look doesn't hold a candle to the writing. The aesthetic is fairly dull, lacking contrast, vibrancy, or punch. While the story is without question the least child friendly DC offering yet, it still has that run-of-the-mill animated series look to it and hasn't grown up with the narrative. It was off-putting at first, but the story sucked me in eventually and I soon found myself forgetting about it. While the action ramps up early in the film, I wasn't impressed with the feel. The entire second act was almost 100% narrative-driven and will surely put younger viewers to sleep. However, the third act ramps up the kinetics a bit and the swings of punches and laser blasts connect with more power and motion, making for a satisfying climax. Make note, as the DC animated films are getting more and more adult, this particular film takes the brutality and mature narrative structure up a few extra notches. This is certainly not a film for children. Not necessarily because of the violence, but the attention span required might make the young ones start squirming in their seats.

At a mere 72 minutes, Gods and Monsters is simultaneously as brisk as it is careful. Not a single note is missed. Even when allowing the characters to breathe, it's arguably these slower, quieter tones that resound the loudest. If you forego the quick series of short films, you won't be missing anything as they stand entirely separate from the feature. In retrospect, they might have been more effective if viewed after the film, had I known the characters better. Though the look of Gods and Monsters lead me to believe this would be an easily forgotten chore, don't do the same as I did and judge a book by its cover. Though director Sam Liu has a track record of notable work himself on Batman: Year One and the criminally short-lived Green Lantern: The Animated Series, you can feel Bruce Timm's blood coursing through every moment of Gods and Monsters. Had I not needed to review this for TMS, it is likely I might have never watched it regardless of its reception. Gods and Monsters should not be missed.

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- J.G. Barnes