Justice League: Gods & Monsters is the best of the DC original animated movies in a long while. That’s because it’s fresh. It’s based on an original story by Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, two creators who know what they’re doing, and the result is that you don’t know every plot beat before it happens. That kept me interested, even if the film was more violent than I usually like my cartoon superheroes.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

I liked the revamped takes on the characters. Superman is still rocketed to Earth from Krypton, but this time around, he’s the son of General Zod (and so rocks a goatee and trench coat) and was raised by Hispanic migrants (so he’s voiced by Benjamin Bratt and sometimes breaks out Spanish). At one point, he explains himself to Lois Lane (Paget Brewster) by evoking his past:

“I’ve seen the harshness of life. If I deliver justice with a heavy hand, it’s because I’ve been on the receiving end.”

Justice League: Gods and Monsters Superman

Wonder Woman (Tamara Taylor), meanwhile, is a New God, survivor of an arranged marriage to Orion — and a redhead! — while Batman (Michael C. Hall) is literally a vampire … but not the evil monster fantasy type. His origin ties directly into the theme of the film, about technology run amuck. Kirk Langstrom was working with Will Magnus (C. Thomas Howell) when he was transformed through an experiment gone awry. Now, important scientists are being killed (including Ray Palmer, who’s been working with miniaturized horses), and the Justice League is blamed, since this version is more violent, caring nothing about killing their enemies if needed and working outside the law (represented by President Amanda Waller).

Justice League: Gods and Monsters Wonder Woman

Justice League: Gods and Monsters Batman

Here’s an action sequence from early in the movie that shows their approach:

And two with the reactions of observers:

Justice League: Gods & Monsters

I didn’t care, personally, for the number of deaths, nor the explicitness of them, but I know that’s an old-fashioned opinion. The overall characterization and plot were both a lot more interesting than I thought they’d be, and they feel modern. What makes this most involving is that I didn’t know what was going to happen next, since it’s not based on a pre-existing comic story, although the characters are familiar enough to want to know more about them. Yet because they’re different versions, their more brutal approach isn’t grating. I can see myself watching this more than once, the second time to pick up the details now that I’m familiar with this new take on the Justice League.

The extras include a 12-minute sneak peek at Batman: Bad Blood, the next movie, which introduces Batwoman, who disrupts Batman’s extended family of Nightwing and Robin Damien. Nightwing has to impersonate Batman when he disappears. My favorite part is that Batwoman is played by Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, The Astronaut Wives Club).

“Alternate Realities: Infinite Possibilities” (19 minutes) discusses the use of variations on existing characters in DC history, Elseworlds and imaginary stories. “Calculated Risks: The Making of Gods and Monsters” is a 24-minute making-of about the genesis of this film. There’s also a 22-minute “New Gods” piece about the inventions of Jack Kirby that first appeared on Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

There are some tie-in elements. Each of the three main characters got a six-minute focus cartoon in the online Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles Machinima series:

  • “Twisted” pits Batman against this universe’s Harley Quinn
  • “Bomb” shows the government worrying about Superman’s power
  • “Big” has Wonder Woman rescuing Steve Trevor (Tahmoh Penikett) from the robot Giganta

There are also origin comics, first serialized on ComiXology, then reprinted, coming out over the next month or so. (The studio provided a review copy. Sadly, it wasn’t the deluxe edition with the Wonder Woman figure.)

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