Showing posts with label DC Animated Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DC Animated Movies. Show all posts

Justice League: Gods and Monsters review

You've seen Batman: The Animated SeriesJustice League, Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series, or Justice League Unlimited, right? Assuming the answer is yes (and it really should be), that means you're familiar with Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett's work. Now the two have teamed-up to deliver a character-driven mystery that's sprinkled with creative fan service, loaded with exciting action, and packing a legitimately interesting approach to DC's trinity.
There's been a wide variety of alternate universes over the years; we've seen everything from Batman in a different era to Superman being raised by a different family. At this point, bringing something 100% original to these characters would be a herculean feat, but Timm, Burnett, director Sam Liu, and Geoff Johns (a bonus feature explains how he helped build the story) have managed to present an alternate universe that leaves me wanting to see so much more of it. Where will the remaining characters go from here? What changes have been made to other heroes and villains? Can these characters slowly begin to resemble their iconic counter-parts more and more, or will they never be able to reach that heroic level? This is a world where things aren't completely upside down, but they're just different enough to breathe so much more life into this place. Morals have shifted, the cosmic mythos is altered, and things aren't going to go so well for many familiar faces. The Justice League's three members are Gods compared to regular humans, but does killing their enemies also make them monsters? Or is a lack of transparency and trust what truly puts them at odds with humanity? I love the way the conflict between the Justice League and the U.S. Government is explored - there isn't a lot of blunt exposition and it escalates naturally - and I'm left seriously hoping we get a sequel at some point. There's still so much potential on their version of Earth.

Overall, Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment's direct-to-video projects have solid voice acting. There's some films where certain characters fall flat, but there's been far more hits than misses, thankfully. In Justice League: Gods and Monsters, the performances are definitely solid and that's hugely important because this is a movie that relies on character development and making sure these individuals are compelling instead of just being colder and more violent versions of characters you already know so well.

Tamara Taylor's voice manages to capture Wonder Woman's strength and vulnerability equally well. Whether it's yelling in combat or temporarily letting her guard down, it just wasn't jarring when Wonder Woman switched from a fearsome warrior to someone far more relatable. Benjamin Bratt's voice further solidifies the fact that we're dealing with a totally different version of Superman. The Man of Steel still sounds confident, but instead of speaking in a way that give listeners a feeling of hope, there's more mystery in his dialogue - there's something especially scary about a man who can talk calmly after killing his enemies, after all. You can really tell this is a guy who thinks he knows what he wants (he's tempted to rule humanity with an iron fist, yet never choose to do so), but he's still torn over whether or not he's doing the right thing. He wants you to believe he's firm in his beliefs, but deep down, it's obvious he's far more torn than he lets on. Bratt's lines absolutely did this character *ahem* justice. And Michael C. Hall as this darker version of Batman? I mean, we're talking about the voice of Dexter as an emotionally distant killer. Come on, it really doesn't get more fitting than that, does it?
Everyone may be familiar with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but Justice League: Gods and Monsters' take on these heroes are quite different - it isn't even the same people wearing the costumes. Because of that, this movie has the difficult task of revealing three new origin stories while also building an overall story. Luckily for us, these origin stories don't interrupt the flow of the bigger picture. Instead of feeling like jarring flashbacks, they unfold in a more natural way and the handling of Batman and Wonder Woman's earlier tales are a nice reminder of just how much this narrative relies on character instead of big events and spectacle. On the surface, these characters are colder and darker than their famous counter-parts. However, this story is able to humanize all three of them in different and equally effective ways.

The new designs are also a satisfying way to make it crystal clear we're leaping into a whole new world. Batman may still be swift and skilled, but aside from the signature ears and wings during flight, plenty of changes - like the goggles that aid his eyes - help this character stand apart from the Dark Knight. The same holds true for Wonder Woman's armor. I won't go into where it stems from (spoilers, obviously), but it's a clear reflection of someone who isn't from the same place as Diana Prince. Meanwhile, Superman no longer has his signature chest emblem (something Batman doesn't have, either!) or flowing cape. The way his coat waves is a nod to Big Blue's design, but overall, this Superman feels like a more grounded and practical approach to this individual. He isn't here to inspire; here's here to crush the opposition. There's no need for bright colors with him.

There's a lot of cameos and familiar items floating around, so viewers with a good amount of DC Universe knowledge are going to be pretty pleased with just how many people and recognizable things were sprinkled into this story. Some are nothing more than "Hey, I know that person!" kind of appearances, but it's still cool they packed so much in here. It's especially interesting how they handled one popular villain, but I won't get into that because, you know, spoilers.

Liu makes sure all of the action leaves an impact. From immense, super-powered strikes to jaw-droppingly harsh acts of violence, every encounter finds its own way to make an impression. Each "hero" fights differently - Superman's a blunt tank; Batman's agile and precise; Wonder Woman's frighteningly good with her blade - and the director's able to present all three kinds of action scenes in equally enjoyable ways. A slugfest between titans is every bit as jaw-dropping as Batman leaping around or Wonder Woman deflecting a barrage of projectiles. It's all thrilling and there's plenty of it. There's some especially over-the-top stuff in here as well and man, it's a blast.
My biggest criticism of this movie is one that also applies to many other superhero stories: it doesn't seem likely at all that the villain's elaborate plan will succeed. The buildup is excellent and there's a fair amount of surprises in the mystery, but once everything is revealed, it begins play out in a pretty standard - albeit enjoyable - manner. While it does remain focused on character - that, along with morals, is easily the most important part of the story - I would have loved to see some more creative twists once the villain's plan is put in the spotlight.

The Blu-ray's special features are definitely worth your time. There's an extensive look - 11 minutes and 45 seconds long - at next year's Batman: Bad Blood. This movie already had my interest, but after watching this feature, I'm legitimately excited for it. Going into the feature, all I knew about Bad Blood is who's directing (Jay Olivia) and who's voicing Batwoman (Yvonne Strahovski) and Batwing (Gaius Charles). This feature reveals so much more of the story - something I won't spoil in here - and goes into great detail about who's involved and what kind of roles they'll play. I will drop one incredibly minor and vague spoiler, though: Nightwing fans, it looks like you're going to be happy.

There's also a 20 minute feature about the various alternate realities DC has created. If you're looking for must-read alternate tales or simply want to hear some of DC's talent explain what makes stories like Kingdom Come special, it's most certainly worthy of your attention. Additionally, there's a feature which explores how Gods and Monsters was created. It's a very insightful look into where the idea came from, how the characters were designed, and what makes this universe worth exploring. As if nearly an hour of extra content wasn't enough, there's also an older feature about the history of Darkseid and the New Gods - there's a big emphasis on Jack Kirby's work, of course - and two relevant episodes of Superman: The Animated Series and Legion of Superheroes.
Justice League: Gods and Monsters is a must-watch for both new and old fans of DC's animated projects. Thanks to great designs, a sharp script which focuses heavily on character, and a variety of intense action sequences, Gods and Monsters is a movie that deserves a spot in your collection.

4.5/5

Justice League: Gods and Monsters is currently on sale digitally and the Blu-ray/DVD will be available July 28. It's rated PG-13 and, thanks to some graphic kills and language, it certainly earns that rating.

Batman vs. Robin review

I love Damian Wayne. I think the little dude is simply an awesome hero. Quick-witted, hilariously blunt, and surprisingly formidable, he quickly became my favorite Robin. Damian's had some great stories in the comics, but unfortunately, his animated debut in Son of Batman wasn't exactly the strongest feature from the new DC Animated Universe. However, he's getting a second chance in the spotlight with the appropriately titled Batman vs. Robin. Yes, the father and son technically do fight, but the "vs." really applies to their relationship. Can Batman be a father and a hero's mentor? Can Damian earn his father's trust? Does he even want to earn it or will Bruce's methods push him away? This one is all about character, readers. Don't worry, there's plenty of punching and kicking as well!

This animated feature doesn't draw any strong parallels to Grant Morrison's "Batman vs. Robin" storyline (at least none that I recognized) and it instead takes some major inspiration from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Court of Owls" and Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's "Born to Kill." Both are pretty excellent stories ("Born to Kill" is without question one of my favorite New 52 arcs), so it's understandable to go into this movie with some pretty high expectations, even if you weren't a fan of some of the recent animated features. Thankfully, there's a solid creative team behind this movie and it really does show.
Directed by Jay Oliva (The Dark Knight Returns, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox) and written by J.M. DeMatteis ("Kraven's Last Hunt"), Batman vs. Robin is all about the difficult relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son, Damian. If you watched Son of Batman, read the comics, or just quickly googled the character, then you know Damian was raised by Ra's al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, and the League of Assassins. Batman is all about solving conflicts with a strict no-kill rule (well, unless they're basically zombies), so that makes their dynamic an interesting one. Damian was raised to believe that killing your foes is the right thing to do, and Batman is doing his best to make his child realize he needs to resist taking fatal measures. Seeing as they've been apart for so long and Damian was raised by villains, there's also a wee bit of a trust issue going on. As if things weren't difficult enough as is, the Court of Owls enters the pictures to make matters far more complicated. In this story, Talon takes Damian under his wing and attempts to tell him that yes, killing bad guys is the right thing to do. Seeing as Damian and Bruce are arguing so much and they're having trouble connecting, Damian isn't exactly opposed to the idea of joining forces with another "hero."  If you've read Snyder and Tomasi's work, you can tell DeMatteis has pretty much given Talon Morgan Ducard's role. If you haven't, well, go read those stories! Seriously, check 'em out.

The story here is solid. Unlike some of the other movies, it doesn't feel like it's rushing through character-driven scenes in order to get to the explosive conclusion. Sure, the action is probably the part that'll really win you over and I'll admit Batman's stubborn attitude can make him frustrating instead of simply seeming unaware about how to properly balance being a father and a hero, but this movie did a good job handling both character and story progress. It really did stand apart from the source material in a creative way, too. It's really cool that Talon is basically Ducard and that brought more way more emotion to the story. Aside from Batman: Assault on Arkham, the latest DC animated movies haven't done a great job selling their villains. Ocean Master and Black Manta didn't receive nearly enough focus; Deathstroke's story felt uninspired and seeing him lose to Damian in an extended fight is tough to swallow; Darkseid was basically there for one big boss battle. That really isn't the case here and they make sure Talon is there for plenty of kick-ass action while also playing a substantial role in the narrative. The twists probably won't drop your jaw, but it all plays out in an entertaining way and there's a legitimately heartwarming moment in the end -- one which is well-earned. It's brief and predictable yet still totally effective. There's no shame in admitting it'll potentially make you tear up. As the overall narrative moves forward, it never loses sight of making sure to focus on its primary theme: the bond between a mentor and their protege. Even during the opening conflict, this theme is front and center... in a very twisted way, though.
When Jay Oliva is directing, you know you're going to get some exciting action sequences. The choreography -- especially during the final fight between Batman and Talon -- is thrilling and there's plenty of amusing shots. The debut fight with the Talons is downright vicious and watching Batman do everything he can against seemingly impossible odds is a blast; I loved seeing Bruce use different pieces of equipment throughout his fight. It's great to see they just didn't have him to go hand-to-hand the whole time since that would have been totally foolish. Dick Grayon fans will probably feel disappointed by the hero's role, but there's a handful of seconds in there of the agile dude unleashing and it's terrific. Short and sweet sure beats nothing at all, right? The crowded battle is a lot of fun and offers a nice amount of variety. From displays of technique to various gear to a spiffy armor that's taken out in such an unexpected way, the big conflict is a really good time. Plus, even Alfred gets in on the chaos. It's nothing spectacular, but it's still pretty entertaining seeing the guy take part.

There's some great melee combat and fun madness in here, but I do have a criticism: the handling of Damian's capabilities in fights. I don't mind making him formidable -- he should be -- but it'll take some serious plot devices for him to give some iconic characters trouble, and the way he took advantage of them didn't really feel justified. I know it's made clear he'd lose against Bruce in an all-out fight, but the fact he's giving him that much trouble without any other factors playing a role is a little baffling. I can't help but feel like Grayson fans will also feel disappointed. It would have been cool if that brawl concluded the same way as Damian's first violent fight with Tim; that way it isn't downplaying Grayson and still gives Damian credit. I also wish Damian's impressive intellect played a bigger role.

As for the performances, I have to say Jason O'Mara has grown on me. I won't say he's my favorite Batman, but I do believe he's come a long way since Justice League: War. Even when enraged or upset, he gives Bruce a more controlled tone, and I think that's fitting for such a brilliant character. Stuart Allan's perfectly fine as Damian and Jeremy Sisto delivers as Talon, yet the real treat is Kevin Conroy returning to the Wayne family. He doesn't have many lines, but making him voice Bruce's father, Thomas, was a nice dose of fan service. I know we've seen the death of Bruce's parents a gazillion times now, but it's appropriate for this story. Thankfully, it doesn't drag out the scene of his parents being gunned down and instead focuses primarily on the follow-up.
I do have some minor and personal criticisms -- many of them really aren't even worth noting -- but one that I do want to mention takes place early on in the movie. It's a minor spoiler, so skip to the next paragraph if you don't want even a tiny part potentially ruined. If we're dealing with the world's greatest detective, it's tough to believe his reaction when he first sees Damian and Dollmaker out in the snow. If Robin's weapon had blood on it (for example, he could have cut the guy's leg to make the villain trip), the Dark Knight's reaction would be easier to swallow. Instead, I was left feeling like Batman would demand to know what happened instead of immediately blaming his son. I get there's the issue of trust, but after what they went through in Son of Batman and the time they spent together that we haven't seen, it felt like an unnecessarily harsh response. I know the situation was dark and it impacted Damian personally, but it seems like Bruce's interactions with Damian made him surprisingly cold and mean. Even when he's just curious about what his son is reading, he pretty much swipes the book from Damian's hands! I also wish this movie took advantage of some of the story elements that took place towards the end of "Born to Kill," but at the same rate, you have to respect them for doing their own thing with these two story arcs. Oh, and I thought having the owl carrying a bat was a little too blunt. But hey, that's like, a few seconds out of the whole movie. No biggie. 

I know some of you weren't the biggest fans of Son of Batman and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis. Those experiences may have you feeling uninterested in this latest feature and honestly, I wouldn't blame you for feeling that way. I didn't love those two features, either. However, I'm here to tell you that you really shouldn't let those two movies prevent you from watching this one. Batman vs. Robin is pretty awesome and it's definitely worthy of a purchase. While those previous movies disappointed because of lackluster villains or very generic story beats, this one thrives because it has a solid balance of character insight, a fleshed-out bad guy, and excellent action sequences. Batman: Assault on Arkham is still my favorite post-Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox animated movie, but this one absolutely takes second place. Even if you're not a fan of the story, the action is pretty much guaranteed to win you over. (Unless you hate Damian, that is.) Here's hoping the next Batman movie -- you know, if we do get another one -- is every bit as good as this one. And if we do get one, I'm still hoping for "Hush" or maybe even "Knightfall" as a two-parter. A man can dream, yeah?

Oh, and just so you know, there unfortunately isn't a credits scene. Bummer, right? But hey, at least Justice League: Gods and Monsters looks cool. Bruce Timm for the win!