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Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/28/2015

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/16/2015

I've always been a fan of "what if?" stories, which I guess modern audiences would think of as "re-imaginings". In these tales, pre-existing, and often well-established, characters are given a twist in which some part of their backstory or some significant event is changed, thus changing their destiny or the course of their history. We've seen this done some in literature, but it's a very popular concept in comic books. Over the years, Marvel has had several incarnations of their What if...? series, in which popular stories are re-told from a different angle. ("What if Venom had Possessed The Punisher?" being one of their most intriguing.) DC Comics has dabbled in this practice as well from time-to-time and they've now brought it to an animated movie in Justice League: Gods and Monsters.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters opens on Krypton, where we learn that babies are conceived through genetic coding. Just a Jor-El (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal) is about to complete the fertility process with Lara (voiced by Lauren Tom), General Zod (voiced by Bruce Thomas) bursts into the lab, and begins to argue with Jor-El about who is responsible for the imminent destruction of the planet. Zod inserts his DNA into the embryo, which is then launched into space just moments before Krypton explodes. The ship crashes on Earth, where the baby inside is taken by migrant workers.

The story then leaps ahead several decades. Superman (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) is the leader of the Justice League, which also includes Batman (voiced by Michael C. Hall) and Wonder Woman (voiced by Tamara Taylor). This group is well-known for their use of brutal force and the fact that the only authority which they recognize is their own. Their huge headquarters stands in the middle of the city, yet remains an enigma to its citizens. The Justice League's standoffishness is called into question when a group of scientists are murdered and the evidence points to the super heroes. They suddenly find themselves on the defensive, forced to clear their names and find out who is behind the killings.

Following the back-to-back stories Justice League: War and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, which introduced a new take on the characters and the apparent beginning of a series, DC and Warner Home Video have taken a surprising detour with this new story. This is a quintessential "What if?" story, as Writers Bruce W. Timm and Alan Burnett, have taken several hallmark characters from the DC Universe and given them very controversial makeovers. As noted above, Superman is now the son of Zod and, having been raised in poverty, has a very strong sense of right and wrong and truly believes in swift, violent justice. Batman, who is now Bruce Wayne here, but Kirk Langstrom, a scientist who became a vampire through a lab accident. (This sounds curiously like Marvel's Morbius.) Wonder Woman, named Bekka, is an alien, who fled from her home-planet to escape her tyrannical father.

Thus, Justice League: Gods and Monsters isn't just a departure, it's a story set in a completely new universe. Other familiar characters, such as Lex Luthor (voiced by Jason Isaacs) and Lois Lane (voiced by Paget Brewster), appear here, and they are far more similar to their well-known personas. Some other characters -- I won't spoil it -- who will be familiar to DC readers also show up here, and they don't fare very well. This is another indication of just how serious Timm and Burnett are of making this a stand-alone universe. In addition, other than Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, no other super heroes are mentioned, so we are left to wonder if they are the only super-beings in this world.

OK, those differences and changes aside, Justice League: Gods and Monsters is another solid entry in the DC Universe animated movies canon. I've never been a fan of Superman, as he's an incredibly one-dimensional character. The idea of a bad-ass Superman who doesn't care if he kills bad guys in his pursuit of justice is intriguing and his story arc drives the movie. I found this Batman to be less interesting, as he actually shares very few traits with "our" Batman, save for being enigmatic -- this could essentially be a brand new character. The action scenes are well-done and the movie certainly pushes the boundaries of its PG-13 rating, as neither it nor Superman pull any punches. As a passive DC fan, I Justice League: Gods and Monsters to be an interesting twist on the companies best-known characters. How will die-hard DC followers feel about this? I don't know. It certainly takes some getting used to and the opening which immediately changes Superman's origin is a gutsy move, but I think once they realize that this is a completely different universe, they will settle in and enjoy the ride.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters asks us to cheer for a hero named Bekka on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source materials and no noticeable grain. This is a dark movie, but the colors look excellent and the image is never overly dark. The level of detail is very good and some shots show off a notable amount of depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The subwoofer effects are very effective, as they amplify every explosion. Likewise, the stereo and surround effects show good separation, and do a fine job of illustrating sounds moving side to side and from the front to the rear.

The Justice League: Gods and Monsters Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. "Alternate Realities: Infinite Possibilities" (19 minutes) explores DC Comics' history of "imaginary stories" which feature alternate realities and stories which fall outside of the regular continuity. This features comments from prominent figures at DC and pictures from many comic books. "Calculated Risks: The Making of Gods and Monsters" (24 minutes) looks at the chance which DC is taking by introducing these "new" characters and how the project came together. "The New Gods" (22 minutes) is a mini-documentary which looks at Jack Kirby's The New Gods, some of which are featured in Gods and Monsters. The piece looks at Kirby's career, but it's funny how it doesn't show any of his Marvel work. We get an episode of Legion of Super Heroes and of Superman: The Animated Series.

Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long