On Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Somewhere within the DC Animated Film Universe (Justice League DarkBatman Beyond: Return of the JokerBatman & Mr. Freeze: SubZeroSuperman/Batman: Public EnemiesBatman: The Dark Knight ReturnsSon of BatmanWonder WomanGreen Lantern: First FlightJustice League: Crisis on Two EarthsJustice League: The Flashpoint ParadoxJustice League: WarJustice League: Doom, and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights), Justice League: Gods and Monsters features an alternate universe version of the superhero team, Justice League. According to the DC Comics article, “Five Reasons You Should Watch Justice League: Gods and Monsters…Again!“:

Earlier today, DC All Access revealed their top ten moments from DC’s lengthy slate of animated movies. It’s a great list (though it does include some pretty big spoilers, so consider yourself alerted!). We wouldn’t be surprised if it prompts many of you to spend the weekend rewatching some of our animated adventures. However, we’d suggest starting with our most recent—Justice League: Gods and Monsters.

Of course, this assumes you’ve already seen it. If you haven’t, go watch it now. It’s available on Blu-Ray and Digital HD, so it’s not hard to find. Heck, you can even win a copy if you act quickly enough.What’s important is that you get your hands on Justice League: Gods and Monsters and watch it. Then watch it again.

No, we’re not joking. While it may not be apparent at first, Justice League: Gods and Monsters is a movie that needs to be seen more than once to be fully appreciated. It’s nuanced, packed with ideas and based on the work of Bruce Timm! But that’s really just the start. Here are five deeper reasons you need to watch Justice League: Gods and Monsters…Again!

Cameos A-Plenty

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. In creating an original take on the DC Universe where anything (and anyone) is fair game, Timm has built a world that is just familiar enough to be easily accessible to hardcore fans and newcomers alike. However, longtime fans will have fun looking for and identifying the many other familiar characters to be found in Justice League: Gods and Monsters. There are plenty of them, and while some are prominent and impossible to miss, others come at you fairly fast and furious. You’ll want to rewatch and slow some of the group scenes down to make sure you catch everyone.

The Screenplay is Sublime

It’s not laugh-out-loud funny or crammed with silly catchphrases, in fact, it does very little to call attention to itself. But Alan Burnett’s screenplay, based on a story conceived with Timm, is one of the strongest we’ve seen put to film this year. Only, you’ll probably need to watch the movie a few times to really appreciate it.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters’ screenplay is subtle in places, powerful in others, and always very smart. Timm and Burnett have a lot to say about the role of super heroes in a modern society (which they expound on in the movie’s extras), but they also realize the importance of good banter in establishing relationships. Take Superman and Lois Lane for example. Their relationship in the film is far from the tight, often flirty relationship they have in the traditional DC Universe. However, it’s clear they still have a connection of some sort, and Burnett gives them just enough back-and-forth to suggest that down the line, well after the movie ends, something just might develop between them. Or it might not. This is a much different take on these characters after all.

Speaking of which…

Wonder Woman Kind of Owns the Movie

Okay, maybe that’s not entirely fair. Both Superman and Batman are equally well developed and definitely have their moments. But Wonder Woman—whom in this incarnation is Bekka, the granddaughter of the New Gods’ Highfather—certainly rules when it comes to action. We’re not just talking about kicking butt, Bekka makes decisions for the team and has clear motivations which become clearer upon your second viewing (we’ll get to that in a moment). However, if it IS super-powered throwdowns you’re after, she rules there too. In fact, she completely owns the climactic battle, where she comes to the aid and saves the lives of Superman and Batman both. Come to think of it, we wouldn’t mind a spinoff feature focusing just on Bekka, especially since it would likely take place on New Genesis. Which, coincidentally, leads nicely into our next point.

Bekka’s Origin Story Changes Everything

All three heroes get an origin story, but Wonder Woman’s comes last, and for very good reasons… which we won’t spoil. However, we’ll say that her story is set on Apokolips, it looks amazing and it changes the entire way you perceive Bekka. But since it comes late in the action, you’re unlikely to think about how it shaped her behavior and choices up to that point. Everything, from the way she handles relationships to the subtle way she questions Superman’s comments about ruling Earth is given brilliant new context.

All of the Amazing Action

Finally, we have to call out the action. Have to. It’s so intense, exciting and thrillingly staged that you’re going to want to watch the movie again just to take it all in. Batman’s technique of combining feeding with fighting, Wonder Woman’s remarkable swordsmanship and Superman’s brutal, breathtaking beatdowns all represent the best in super hero action, and that’s to say nothing of the thrilling set pieces and relentless villains. Like all of the DC Universe Original Movies, this one earns its PG-13. It’s not for young kids. But mature fans looking for a jolt of adrenaline will find plenty to do the trick here.

Additionally, according to the Hollywood Reporter‘s article, “‘Justice League: Gods And Monsters’: 21 Easter Eggs in the Animated Movie“:

In the comics, Silas is an absent father, but the father is anything but distant in the movies reality, sharing a tender moment with his son before both are vaporized in the blast.Additional fact: Victor is repping Titan school colors — the football team Vic plays for in Justice League: War.

Crushing the Competition

While performing clinical tests, Dr. Magnus (C. Thomas Howell) tosses out a few lab rats named Mickey, Minnie and Mighty. The sole survivor is Jerry, a reference to cat-and-mouse cartoon Tom and Jerry, produced by Warner Bros.

Ever the Scientist

An experimental serum turned Kirk Langstrom (Michael C. Hall) into Man Bat in the comic book universe. In the movie, Kirk tests an experimental drug on himself in order to cure his lymphoma, which turns him into the vampire vigilante Batman. He gains superhuman strength, increased speed and flight capabilities, but the experiment also turns him into a vampire, requiring him to feed on human blood.

What’s in a name?

Batman finds an email in Silas Stone’s computer that has been sent to several significant scientists who in the comics are a mix of superheroes and villains. These characters appear later in the film discussing Project FairPlay but never suit up or display any metahuman abilities.

Bat-Tech

The naming scheme for Batman’s gadgets has usually been “Bat-[insert item’s name].” This versions doesn’t carry any of the Batarangs or ride around in a Batmobile, but he carries a flash drive modeled after himself. A Bat-flash drive if you will. Outside of the Tower of Justice, a vendor sells Bat-fangs and Wonder swords but no flash drives. Like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, the audience has to ask, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”

Who is Pete Ross?

Pete Ross is one of Clark Kent’s closest friends in the comics. He goes on to marry Lana Lang — Clark’s romantic interest growing up — and becomes a senator. In the film, Pete (Larry Cedar) continues working as a government official doing damage control by handling press inquiries from Ms. Lane and The Daily Planet.

Where’s the Love?

Lois Lane and Superman are the most recognizable couple in the history of comics, but Lois (Paget Brewster) doesn’t trust Superman in this alternate universe. The man of steel tries to connect with Lois by revealing secrets about himself to her, but she isn’t having any of it. Later Superman reveals his real thoughts about the reporter to Wonder Woman.

Bekka and Orion

In the film, Bekka (Tamara Taylor) and Orion’s (Josh Keaton) wedding/honeymoon is cut short when Highfather (Richard Chamberlain) slays his enemies, including Orion. This effectively ends the relationship between Bekka and Highfather. However, in the comics, Bekka, Orion and Highfather are all on the same side, fighting Darkseid’s forces.

New Gods

In the “New 52” comic reboot, Darkseid is a farmer named Uxas, but after killing the old gods, he inherits their powers, turning him into the mad god. His brother-in-law, Izaya, goes to one of the gods to save his wife/Darkseid’s sister. The dying god won’t save her but give Izaya godlike power, turning him into Highfather. The two have been at war ever since.

In the film, an arranged marriage has been proposed between Highfather’s grand-daughter, Bekka, and Darkseid’s son, Orion, as a peace treaty between the new gods.

Aside from the Game of Thrones reference, an assortment of obscure characters from the comics make cameos at the wedding, including Mister Miracle, Lightray, Big Barda from New Genesis (Highfather’s planet) and from Apokolips (Darkseid’s Planet) are Granny Goodness, Steppenwolf, Mantis, and Desaad and Kalibak.

The Metal Men

The Metal Men were created by William Magnus for search-and-rescue missions in toxic environments too dangerous for human beings. Two basic rules govern their programing: Save whoever they can and neutralize the threat at any cost. The movie only shows Platinum (Grey Griffin) and Tin (Dee Bradley Baker), but the team also consists of Gold, Lead, Iron and Mercury. A responsometer — or advance thinking device — is added to their respective metals, giving them their individual personalities while making them sentient. The Metal Men are virtually indestructible so long as their responsometers remains intact since their bodies can be remade assuming they have the proper metal.

Batman Drones

Although these drones were programmed to frame the League, their appearance has some semblance to the Bat-sentries found in Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come. “The iconic miniseries sees Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor team up to create a legion of steel soldiers that can be controlled remotely as a way of ridding the world of the “Kryptonian and his ilk.”

The Wall

In the comics, Amanda “The Wall” Waller (Penny Johnson Jerald) is portrayed as a ruthless government official. She is the head of government agency A.R.G.U.S. and director of the Suicide Squad. In the movie, the antihero has finally made her way to the Oval Office. Her right-hand man Steve Trevor still answers to her and “handles” the Justice League.

Jimmy Olson

Jimmy Olson is best known as a photographer for The Daily Planet, working alongside Lois Lane and Clark Kent. He’s known for his squeaky-clean look, often rocking a bow tie. But Jimmy’s alternate version is rough around the edges. He breaks into a morgue trying to get photos of dead scientists for Lois but is shortly apprehended for trespassing.

Fun fact: Actor Yuri Lowenthal voiced both Jimmy Olson and Jor-El in the film.

According to the Nerdist review:

Justice League: Gods and Monsters, the latest DC animated film which debuted at Comic-Con this past weekend, marks the return of Bruce Timm to the series of films he helped to begin back in 2007. And man, oh man, was his presence missed. Although I rather enjoyed the last DC animated outing, Batman vs. Robin, overall there’s been a serious decline in these films since Timm decided to take a break and step down as the godfather to these movies. Well, I’m here to tell you that the DC animation quality drought is over. Written by Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett– both veterans of the DC animated TV universe– and directed by Sam Liu, Gods and Monsters is easily one of their best films ever.

The movie begins on Krypton, with a recognizable scenario that we are all pretty familiar with, in Jor-El’s lab with Lara as the planet nears its end. But things take a darker turn, as General Zod barges in, and uses Jor-El’s technology to send his infant child, Lar-Zod, to Earth as Krypton’s last son. Instead of the Norman Rockwell style, all-American Ma and Pa Kent, the baby is discovered by a Mexican couple, both poor workers, who decide to raise baby Zod as their own, and name him Hernan Guerra. (DC comics readers might recognize baby Zod as the same one from the Geoff Johns story Last Son, where he was raised by Clark Kent and Lois Lane as Chris Kent.) From the opening five minutes of this movie, this is a vastly different DC Universe than anything we’ve been accustomed to before.

The movie then cuts to the present, where the Justice League, which is comprised soley of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, decided to take down a terrorist cell in the country of Kaznia (a fictional Eastern European country created by Timm for the various DC animated shows over the years.) Batman and Wonder Woman are totally different heroes in this world as well, but like Lar-Zod/Superman, they are rooted in familiar DC universe characters. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who in the regular DCU is Man-Bat, but here his experiments have made him a vampiric Batman. Wonder Woman is an even more obscure character, Bekka, who in the regular DCU is the wife of Orion, the son of Darkseid and a key figure in the New Gods lore.

To say this powerful trio make mince-meat out of the terrorists is something of an understatement-they mow through them, holding nothing back. This scene is really violent– a violence that feels even more compounded because the animation style is Bruce Timm’s classic style, the kind he used on beloved shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited. Seeing characters who look like the ones you grew up watching suddenly acting like bloodthirsty monsters is jarring, to say the least. But unlike recent DC animated fare like Justice League: Flashpoint, where the ultra violence seemed fetishized and an attempt to look “cool and edgy”, here the violence is supposed to be disturbing. The people of this world are shocked and disgusted at how the League essentially butchers criminals, no matter how bad those criminals might be. It’s gross overkill. It’s clear that the Wildstorm comics series The Authority was a big inspiration for this version of the League, and in some places, they go even farther than the Authority ever did.

One of the League’s most vocal opponents is Lois Lane, reimagined in this universe as a TV reporter, very much in the Rachel Maddow style. In fact, much of the world is disgusted and fearful of the team, although Batman points out that “about 30% would be ok if they just took over the world.” This League isn’t all bad-over the course of the movie– we get each character’s tragic backstories, and it makes us sympathize with them more. Batman’s is similar to Marvel’s Morbius the Living Vampire, and Wonder Woman’s is clearly inspired by a certain famous wedding on Game of Thrones. But those flashback sequences are crucial, as it makes us see this League as more than just bloodthirsty tyrants who see themselves above everyone else.

The basic plot of the movie involves a mystery of sorts, as someone is killing off a group of scientists and making it look like the League is responsible (among those scientists are famous DCU characters like Silas Stone, Cyborg’s father, and Ray Palmer, the Atom.) Also among the scientists we see in the movie is Dr. Will Magnus, the creator of the Metal Men, and of course Lex Luthor, who has an important role to play. The movie is filled with many, many more DCU cameos, so trust me, I haven’t spoiled them all. With so many people already mistrusting this version of the team, framing them for a violent crime isn’t hard. The League has to reach out to people who already are suspicious of them for help in clearing their names, and that conflict makes for an interesting storyline.

As usual with the DC animated films, the voice acting is top notch, and everyone is extremely well cast. Benjamin Bratt does an admirable job as Superman, as does Tamara Taylor as Wonder Woman. But, in something of a total non surprise, it’s Dexter’s Michael C. Hall who steals the show as Batman, and gives the movie its emotional center. But it’s not just the League who are well cast, the supporting players are great too, such as C. Thomas Howell as Dr. Magnus. Maybe the weirdest high profile casting is renowned actor Richard Chamberlain as Highfather of New Genesis, in a part that is really just a cameo. Aim high, I guess? My only complaints about the voice casting is that they didn’t bring back Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. Seeing as his design is essentially the same as the Superman and JLU designs, it felt jarring to have a different voice actor portray him.

I also prefer this animation style to most of the recent DC animated fare, which decided to take an almost anime route with their character design and overall animation style. The clean lines of the Timm house style is just more well suited for these kinds of movies, where they don’t have all the money in the world, and where too much details can looks sloppy and rushed. Director Sam Liu does a great job with the action in this movie as well, and I would say it’s on par with his last Justice League movie he directed, Crisis on Two Earths.

Earlier this year, Warner Brothers and Machinima released a series of shorts set in this world called The Gods and Monsters Chronicles, with ten more planned for 2016. Personally, I hope we get another movie with these characters as well, as there is room for much more in this universe. I for one, would love to see what the Green Lantern and Flash of this universe look like, and I hope Warner Brothers intends to show us. I can tell you right now I’d much rather have more of this than their New 52-inspired Justice League from movies like War and Throne of Atlantis.

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