Bookended by Cats was named after Milo and Otis. They are the short, orange, and furry brothers who, upon entering our lives in 2003, often bookended us on our couch. And who are we? We're a geek couple living in PA. We love music, movies, TV, comics, books, and comic cons. And, from time to time, we'll share our thoughts on these nerdy things.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Justice League: Gods & Monsters -- A Review

Finally, our long-awaited review of Justice League: Gods and Monsters, the 2015 direct-to-video animated superhero film ... also known as the reason we returned to SDCC 2015. You know, because the film was having its world premiere there!

Now, we already posted a pre-review on July 11. This is the "more complete review" that was promised. And we deliver on our promises ... no matter how long it takes us to do so. If you want to get our take on the flick, it starts just after the break. Oh, and there will be spoilers.

Dangrdafne says:

So I have no history with Justice League, DC or Gods & Monsters. With that said I can review that this movie was pretty good. Not my favorite of the world premieres of animated films we have seen at SDCC, but not my least favorite either.

I would definitely start my review with a caveat: To fully appreciate this movie, you MUST have a background in the DC universe. There was just too much I didn't understand and could not appreciate because I did not know who the people were or who they might become. I did, however, love the change in the histories of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. It definitely made this a whole different movie than I thought it would be and probably what helped me enjoy it regardless of my lack of DC background.

I would have to say that a main reason this was not high on my list of favorites was that it was just too violent... for me. I was very taken aback with how vicious it was and how much they actually showed. Mind you I don't avoid violent shows, movies, etc but for some reason this movie felt a little over the top or perhaps just more than I thought it would be. Again not having a background in the theme, Gods & Monsters, I had nothing to be prepared for or expect.

This Batman has little compunction against killing.

I did unexpectedly pick up some things from the movie though. While at a grand opening for a local comic book store, there was a figure in one of the display cases, an all silver female with a P on her headpiece. I turned to Brainwise and I say "Isn't this that woman from the movie we saw at SDCC?" Now I know that doesn't sound like I really remembered, but for me, this was huge! Brainwise was very happy that I remembered Platinum from Gods & Monsters and he took the time to remind me of her role from the movie, which I did recall pretty early in his explanation.

So all in all I would give this 3.5 paws out of 5 but if I had the DC background, I am sure it would be higher. It is already available on DVD and BluRay as we started seeing the commercials within a week of the premiere. And I must say, I feel pretty special knowing that we already saw the movie before the general public.

Lastly, we did say that this might be our last year for SDCC. Well, during the Gods & Monsters panel, Bruce Timm (one of Brainwise's favorites) announces that he will be director for next year's world premiere animated feature... The Killing Joke (a story that ranks highly on Brainwise's list of all-time Batman stories). Brainwise was in line at the time to ask a question, so I texted him "So will we be back next year now?" and I received a smiley face in return.

Soooo, see you all next year for The Killing Joke world premiere at SDCC!  *crosses fingers that Mark Hamill will be on the panel*

Dangrdafne's rating: 3.5 paws:

Brainwise says:

If you read Dangrdafne's review above, you already know that I had been looking forward to this Bruce Timm helmed flick since last year. And I have to say, it did not disappoint me. Oh, and in case you missed the first warning ... massive spoilers ahead!

The Justice League that appears in Gods and Monsters differs from prior incarnations of the team in two ways. First, it is a team of only three individuals: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman -- the big three, or Trinity, of DC Comics. For those of you who are familiar with the Justice League, that means the other four heavy-hitters that usually make up DC's "magnificent seven" -- Aquaman, J'onn J'onzz (the Martian Manhunter), The Flash, and Green Lantern -- are not here. Also, any other hero who has ever been named to the roster (Black Canary, Captain Marvel, Green Arrow, Hawkman, The Atom, etc.) are also missing. This will be an important point that I'll come back to later.

The second big difference is that these versions of Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman are definitely ones you are not used to. This goes beyond the Elseworlds or Multiverse concepts which put familiar heroes in slightly -- or even greatly -- different situations or origins. In most of the Elseworlds or Multiverse stories, the core conceit is that, although some background facts are different from the standard canon, it's the same person who dons the cape and mask. However, in Gods and Monsters, two out of the three main characters are entirely different people, while the third is the same person but with an interesting twist. A twist, I might add, that makes this movie a compelling study.

But let's talk about the first two who are completely different. In this version of the Justice League, Batman is not Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman is not Diana Prince. Batman is a vampiric Dr. Kirk Langstrom, while Wonder Woman is Bekka of the New Gods.

In Gods And Monsters, Batman thirsts for more than justice!
This Wonder Woman saw her family commit Deicide
The tweaks on Batman and Wonder Woman are interesting beyond the fact of eschewing the usual aliases for these two heroes. In each case, a character who already existed in DC's universe was given something of a makeover to take on a new heroic role. For example, Dr. Kirk Langstrom is usually a scientist whose experiments with bats lead him to become the reluctant Batman villain, Man-Bat. In Gods and Monsters, Langstrom is still a scientist, but his study of vampire bats is focused on trying to find a cure for Lymphoma, which he himself suffers from. A combination of Will Magnus' nanotech with Langstrom's anti-coagulant research finally yields a stable serum ... but with the disastrous side-effect of making Langstrom a pseudo-vampire. This bat-man could have become another reluctant villain or simply a monster, but something happens to place him on the path of becoming this world's Batman: Superman finds him and gives him purpose.

The Gods and Monsters version of Wonder Woman, Bekka, is also given purpose and a place in Superman's Justice League. Originally created by Jack Kirby in his 1984 graphic novel, The Hunger Dogs, Bekka is a member of The New Gods, those beings who are, somehow, successors to the powers and responsibilities of the ... well, the old gods. There is one similarity between Bekka in 1984 and Bekka in 2015 (Gods and Monsters): She falls in love with Orion, the Scion of Darkseid. And, in Gods and Monsters, it is that love that is betrayed by Bekka's father and the rest of her people as they descend upon and murder all the denizens of Darkseid's world, Apokolips, during her wedding ceremony. Heartbroken and angry, she uses Orion's wedding gift, a technologically sentient sword that can cut pretty much anything, and it enables its wielder to travel great distances -- or send an enemy away -- through a "Boom Tube." So, no, she isn't Diana Prince, but she is wondrous. And angry. Did I mention angry?

And that brings us, finally, to the Gods and Monsters version of Superman.

In this movie, Superman is still "a strange visitor from another planet ... with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men," to quote the opening narration from the old radio serial as well as the opening of the George Reeves television series, Adventures of Superman. Gods and Monsters' Superman was still rocketed from Krypton as an infant by his birth parents, and he was still found and raised by a kindly farming couple here on Earth -- or, rather, over there, on their Earth. So, instead of a tangentially related or completely different person assuming the hero's mantle -- which was the case with Batman and Wonder Woman -- we still have a Kal-El Superman.

Or do we?

You see, in Gods and Monsters, Lara is still Superman's biological mother. And, like many a Kryptonian parent-to-be before her, she has donated her DNA to a birthing matrix. This birthing matrix, however, is to be loaded onto a small rocket with a one-way ticket away from doomed Krypton. Only one thing remains to be done before the ship can be launched, and that is for the father-to-be to donate some DNA (through some kind of digital fingerprick it seems). And Jor-El, Krypton's pre-eminent and stoic scientist, was ... meant to be ... the father. Instead, Jor-El is shot by the ruthless and implacable General Zod who then donates his own DNA, thereby making Superman a bastard son of Lara and Zod. That is the first major deviation. The second was what happened after that Kryptonian ship reached Earth.

The ship carrying the child of Lara and Zod crash lands in Kansas, right? Wrong. Well, as far as the movie is concerned, it could have landed in Kansas. In a prequel comic, Justice League: Gods and Monsters–Superman #1, we see the ship crashed in Mexico. All we see in the movie, however, is that a pair of Mexican migrant workers -- not the Kents -- find the alien infant and raise him as their own. Growing up as the adopted son of poor Mexican Migrants, the son of Zod is exposed to the ugly underbelly of America, seeing prejudice and bigotry as his people receive a much different treatment from that of other people who live in America. Seeing the world through the eyes of an oppressed ethnic minority radically changes the Man of Steel's outlook and attitude, particularly toward humanity in general and America in particular. So he has a very different idea of what it means to save the world. The harshness he experienced growing up may have been tempered by his adoptive parents' love of America and their belief in the country's promise of opportunity, but this Last Son of Krypton is still affected by it ... and he refuses to allow anyone else to experience it if he can help it.

On top of that, Supes never learns much about his off-planet origins. Seems the US government, and a certain Lex Luthor, gave Superman only a portion of the data they recovered from his spacecraft, and a damaged portion at that. This is the third deviation because Superman as we've known him has always learned of his Kryptonian heritage, and parentage, early in his superhero career. This time around, he doesn't get the full history of his home planet -- or even the full details of his parentage -- until very late in the game (the game being this movie).

Still, he is Superman.

Therefore, beyond the grim and gritty portrayal of this particular Justice League, this movie is really a nature/nurture argument waiting to happen. On the biological/nature side, this Superman has only half of the "noble" parentage of our more familiar superman; the other half comes from a homicidal tyrant. And it would seem that his adoptive parents and experiences on Earth did much to shape this Superman, particularly his desire to root out and stop bigotry and oppression. Hell, even Lex Luthor is given credit in Superman's development (Superman flat out tells Luthor, more or less, "You're just as responsible for what I've become" due to the latter's incessant obsession with the Kryptonian). That is some fantastic material to consider, and I love when an animated movie is not afraid of heavy philosophical themes.

So, my review has focused solely on the big three in this movie (with little about Lex Luthor). And although this review is heavily spoilerific, I will resist the urge to go into details about why Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman are the only members of this world's Justice League. I will also refrain from talking about the villain. Suffice to say this movie does a fine job of scoping out the rest of this world's primetime players. Likewise, the villain's reveal, and the explanation of their motivation, is also satisfyingly portrayed.

I loved this movie. I own a copy. And I eagerly await Bruce Timm's next project.

Brainwise's rating: 4.5 paws!


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