Justice League: Gods and Monsters.
It's been a while since we've reviewed one of DC Comics' direct-to-video films on this blog, hasn't it? I do believe the last one was the Aquaman film, which was pretty good, or possibly Batman vs Robin, which was not. Unfortunately, it appears that the decline in quality that gave us the latter film hasn't stopped, as Gods and Monsters, a seventy-five minute film that sold itself on the premise of 'what if the DC Universe had barely any of its recognisable characters in it' is actually quite terrible.
Set in an alternate universe with a very different and much more brutal Justice League, Gods and Monsters follows Superman (the child of General Zod, raised by Mexican migrants), Batman (Doctor Kirk Langstrom, better known as Manbat in the main continuity, now a vampire), and Wonder Woman (Becca, a god of New Genesis) as they are framed for a series of crimes committed by strange robots utilising their signature powers. As tensions ramp up between the Justice League and the government, the three attempt to discover who is setting them up, and what the mysterious Project FairPlay is.
We'll start with the technical points here: The soundtrack is dull, the voice-acting is universally uninspiring (nobody is truly terrible, but nobody is interesting enough to make you particularly want to listen to them - they are, to the last, mediocre. Tolerable, but not pleasant) and the animation is actually quite hideous. They appear to have attempted to go for something akin to the much-loved Justice League cartoon, which was simple but striking, except for some reason they seem to have filtered it through the works of Rob Liefeld, resulting in everything having too many lines on it, everything looking slightly overcomplicated, everything being slightly awkward and weirdly proportioned.
(Another effect is that everybody looks like they have lumpy skin, full of weird ridges and angles that don't quite make sense.)
|This just looks awful.|
It's a cheap seeming film, which is a shame - other DC Animated flicks have never exactly had gigantic budgets behind them, but they've managed to utilise those budgets well, they've had good production values, and they've generally managed to create some quite superb work on a shoestring and a prayer. Gods and Monsters feels like what little budget they had was stretched too thin on a project nobody cared about as a fairly cynical cash grab.
But who can blame them for not caring about this film? I certainly don't care about this film. If you set your film in an alternate universe with an entirely new set of characters, you have to make me care about those characters early, and this film never manages to make me care about any of this new Justice League. It tries, at points, having flashbacks showing Batman and Wonder Woman's tragic pasts, but since I felt no connection with these characters whatsoever, I just kind of shrugged and moved on. That's a considerable problem when a big part of the climax is meant to be an emotional moment for Batman, because I didn't sympathise with this character or empathise with him, and so when he was staring down a heartwrenching moment of personal anguish, I had exactly the same emotional reaction as if it had been a ten minute scene of him eating Doritos: Total apathy.
(Speaking of, it's slightly creepy that the writers chose to have their dark Superman be raised by Mexican migrants, because it carries the unfortunate implication of 'Superman is so brutal and unpleasant in this film in part because he was raised by those dirty nasty immigrants', and Mexican people are demonised plenty already.)
|Do not concern yourself with these characters, they do not show up after the film's prologue|
and nothing they do has any relevance to anything.
It doesn't help one bit that the film's plot is massively predictable. Hands up everyone who watched this and figured out the plot twist at the end in about thirty minutes - okay, yeah, that's - that's everybody, good. If you're going to have your plotline be a mystery, it probably isn't a good idea to signal that plot's conclusion with a giant neon sign in the first act of your film by, for example, introducing only one character who could possibly have the expertise to create your team of robotic killers.
(Avid comic book readers might well be able to figure out that plot twist even more quickly than I did, since the culprit in the film creates pretty much identical-except-that-they're-good-guys robots in the comics, but I digress.)
So, the final verdict is that this film is just - awful. Boring at the best of times, frustrating at the worst, it's a lacklustre, cynical affair that isn't worthy of an animation studio that has put out some superb work over the years, or of their many loyal fans. Here's hoping that the next few DC Animated films - which we know includes two Batman films, one based on The Killing Joke and including Mark Hamill among its voice cast, and one film about the Justice League and Teen Titans - will be better.