Superhero Sundays: Justice League: Gods & Monsters
Matthew Turner | On 27, Jun 2021
Director: Sam Liu
Cast: Michael C Hall, Benjamin Bratt, Tamara Taylor, Paget Brewster, C Thomas Howell, Jason Isaacs, Dee Bradley Baker, Penny Johnson Jerald
Where to watch Justice League: Gods & Monsters online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Directed by Sam Liu and co-produced by Bruce Timm (who also co-wrote the story with scriptwriter Alan Burnett), Justice League: Gods & Monsters is the 23rd film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. Since it’s an alternate universe (or Elseworlds) story, it’s a standalone tale that has no continuity with the other DCUAOM movies, although there was a three-episode tie-in series released, entitled Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles, which gave further background on both the characters and the universe of the film.
The film begins with a flashback in which Krypton still explodes as usual, but Superman is now the son of General Zod, thanks to a DNA imprinting device. Years later, Superman (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), Batman (Michael C Hall) and Wonder Woman (Tamara Taylor) have formed the Justice League, an autonomous, super-powered SWAT team who have no compunction about killing criminals.
When a series of high-profile scientists (including pretty much every DC super-brain you can think of) are murdered, all the evidence points to the Justice League, so President Amanda Waller (Penny Johnson Jerald) instigates Project Fair Play, arming troops with red solar-powered energy weapons and sending them after the Justice League. Meanwhile, the mysterious mastermind behind the frame-up puts a fiendish plan into operation.
Rather than use tweaked versions of Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince, Burnett’s imaginative script completely reinvents the three central heroes. Accordingly, Superman is now Hernan Guerra, having been raised by a migrant couple on Earth, Batman is Professor Kirk Langstrom (Man-Bat in the original continuity) and drinks blood like a vampire, while Wonder Woman is Bekka, one of the New Gods from Apokalips, rather than an Amazon princess from Themyscira.
The animation is gorgeous throughout, closely resembling the style most associated with Bruce Timm, as seen in Batman: The Animated Series and the Justice League cartoons. The new character designs are extremely impressive too, to the point where you can tell the whole thing was a bit of a labour of love for Timm and co.
Aside from delivering a decent mystery plot (including a nicely deployed red herring), the film delivers plenty of exciting action sequences, including sword fights as well as no-holds-barred punch-ups. That said, it is a little disconcerting to see such strong violence (blood, impaling, slicing, people getting burned to death etc) in the Bruce Timm animation style. Let’s just say the film really earns its 15 certificate, not least with the implication that a mountain lion is about to eat a tiny horse (one of Ray Palmer’s shrink-ray experiments) and a scene where three dead mice (named Mickey, Minnie and Mighty) are thrown in a bin.
The inspired alternate universe setting allows for several great moments, including what can only be described as a DC animated universe version of Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding, a sequence that’s as shocking as it is unexpected. Similarly, there are a couple of great plot twists, while the central masterplan is pure comics-worthy craziness.
On top of everything else, the voice work – one again down to voice casting supremo Andrea Romano – is exceptional, with the central trio of Bratt, Hall and Taylor all delivering note-perfect performances and strong support from Jason Isaacs (as Lex Luthor), C Thomas Howell (as scientist Will Magnus) and Penny Johnson Jerald as President Waller. Romano gives herself a deserved little cameo too – here she voices Jean Palmer, wife of Ray (Dee Bradley Baker).
In short, this is an entertaining animated adventure that succeeds thanks to an imaginative script, engaging performances and thrilling action. More importantly, you find yourself genuinely caring about the three main characters, despite them having only nominal connections to their beloved counterparts. Perhaps some sort of crossover might be in order?
Justice League: Gods & Monsters is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.