Movie Review: Justice League: Gods and Monsters
Justice League: Gods and Monsters
Director: Sam Liu
Writers: Bruce Timm and Alan Barnett
Run Time: 72 Minutes
Release Date: July 28th, 2015
Studio: Warner Brothers Home Video
Penned and produced by fan-favorite Bruce Timm, Justice League: Gods and Monsters is a re-imagining of the beloved (and sometimes maligned) superhero super team as a darker, perhaps even unlawful, band of sentinels. In many ways, the concept harkens back to DC’s Imaginary Stories line of comics and its more recent Elseworlds titles. In this new world, the Justice League operates out of an imposing monolith called the Tower of Justice. This new League is a government sanctioned team of meta-humans that ostensibly operates for the good of the commonwealth. It is obvious even from the onset of this tale, however, that the arrangement is a tenuous one. This underlying tension provides some familiar ground on which the mythology of this alternate world can be built.
Intelligently, perhaps even by consequence, the revision focuses its narrative on DC’s Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) in place of the titular group’s larger roster. Doing so allows just enough room to develop some history for the otherwise unheralded cast without employing Jacksonian run times to do so (Lord of the Rings references are always in style, people). This is necessary not only because it provides further context for the events of the animated feature, but also because it helps viewers acclimate to these unfamiliar “heroes.” Superman, for example, is no longer the scion of the largely altruistic house of El, nor is he the ultimate product of the nurturing Kent household. Rather, he is the progeny of seminal villain Dur-Zod and, later, the adoptive son of illegal immigrants who happened upon his errant ship. And while this transition from archetypal boy scout to edgy domestic import may seem a bit unimaginative, that isn’t to say that it is done poorly. Really, it is a classy sort of indolence that makes me appreciate why Bruce Timm is so fantastic at what he does. That said, the remaining stars receive much more nuanced treatments.
Case in point, Bruce Wayne is replaced by sometime Bat-rogue Kirk Langstrom (AKA Man-Bat). This time, his serum produces a vampiric anti-hero rather than a nearly mindless beast. The new origin, which commits the sacrilege of bestowing Batman with supernatural abilities, describes a completely different motivation for the caped crusader. Rather than a man who is driven by a singular crusade against the world of crime, we are given one who is determined to regain his former humanity. This is a Batman who is far more given to sentimentality and vulnerability. The change is done tastefully, too. No one aspect of the character is treated with a heavy hand. In fact, despite my love affair with the original version, I found myself enjoying this more human take on the Dark Knight than I thought I would (the subtle irony that a vampire would be more human further speaks to the brilliance of Timm’s work).
Likewise, Wonder Woman receives an updated back story. No longer the daughter of Hippolyta, nor an Amazon by birth, this version of the character is a re-imagining of New God and former Batman paramour Bekka. The extraterrestrial ancestry not only serves as a powerful vehicle for providing some context into the psychology of this new Wonder Woman, it also allows for some of the coolest bits of fan service in the entire movie.
On that note, it is important to mention Gods and Monsters is, first and foremost, a good old-fashioned mystery. Someone is killing off scientists and setting up the Justice League to take the fall. The major narrative points, the examination of the new heroes and all the little details that the most assiduous among us crave are delivered throughout the course of an investigation into those murders. It’s a tightly woven yarn that offers a number of pleasant surprises, not the least of them being the big reveal at the end. Even at its hokiest (it’s shocking, almost humorous really, to witness a goateed Man of Steel mutter a gratuitous “Dios mio” under his breath), this release is an unexpected treat for fans of DC’s animated universe.
By removing Gods and Monsters’ attachment to canon, new and fresh ideas are explored without sacrificing the integrity of DC’s mainstays. And while it’s possible that this approach may seem perfunctory to some in light of the industry’s almost systematic commitment to rebooting, it is a move that pays some very real dividends in this case.