By Chaz Lipp
A slam-bang opening act gives us some tantalizing “what if”s to ponder, but the pacing and plot twists of DC Animation’s Justice League: Gods and Monsters didn’t necessarily capitalize on the early promise. Here we find an alternate universe version of the Justice League, which amounts to a scant three figures: Superman (foiced by Benjamin Bratt), Batman (Michael C. Hall), and Wonder Woman (Tamara Taylor). We begin on Krypton as General Zod (Bruce Thomas) symbolically rapes Kal-El’s mom Lara (Lauren Tom). He doesn’t actually commit a physical act against her, but he does artificially inseminate her without consent. Therefore Zod is, in this telling, Superman’s father. Raised by Mexican immigrants, Superman is Hernan Guerra, not Clark Kent (in the comics, Zod and Ursa’s son).
Meanwhile, Batman is not billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, but rather Kirk Langstrom – aka Man-Bat. Here, Kirk is essentially a human vampire bat. It’s the blood of the bad guys he goes after that keeps him satiated. Wonder Woman is Bekka, a New God of New Genesis. Got all that? These variations on the characters’ classic backstories are interesting, but the alternate origins may only resonate with those deeply vested in the DC Universe. Maybe that’s the point. The profanity and often relatively vivid violence make this more of an adult-oriented viewing experience (make no mistake, it is rated PG-13 and earned it; concerned parents should screen it before letting younger kids watch freely). Rather than across-the-board accessibility, Gods and Monsters takes a decidedly inside baseball approach. That’s fine, of course. I only wish the storytelling had been a bit more straightforward, not so convoluted.
Yes, the truth is I found myself lost in the mix of DC Comics history – and the experience proved frustrating. I loved the edgy ambiance that permeates the film. There’s a deadly serious tone in Alan Burnett’s screenplay that was incisively enacted by director Sam Liu. These Justice League heroes are defiant antiheroes and when Victor Fries (aka Mr. Freeze) lifeless body is discovered and found to be bloodless, well, all signs point to Man-Bat – er, make that Batman. When Ray Palmer (aka Atom) is also found dead, it appears to be the work of Wonder Woman. And who else but Superman could be responsible for the heat vision-induced murders of Silas Stone and his son Victor (normally known under the guise of Teen Titan Cyborg)? The motivations of the League are called into question by Amanda Waller, normally the leader of the Suicide Squad (look for the live-action film adaptation next year, in which the character is portrayed by Oscar winner Viola Davis). Here, Waller is actually the President of the United States.
As it turns out, a labyrinth of plot twists reveal a far more complex truth than the suggested “heroes gone wrong” motif it initially seems to present. Justice League: Gods and Monsters is going to send quite a few fans heading back for second and third viewings. While it may not be readily suited for the most casual viewers, its twisted, “through the looking glass” vision of the DC Universe is clever and will reward close, attentive, and repeat viewing. It packs a lot of plot (maybe too much) into a 75-minute runtime.
In addition to a serviceable 1080p, high definition presentation and lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, Gods and Monsters packs in a fair amount of extra content. Three informative featurettes provide some welcome backstory to the whole parallel-universe scheme. “Alternate Realities: Infinite Possibilities” runs 20 minutes and gets into the alternate takes on familiar heroes. “Calculated Risk: The Making of Gods and Monsters” (25 minutes) is a refreshingly frank admittance by the filmmakers that they were going out on a limb with this bold re-imagining. “The New Gods” (22 minutes) offers a mini-bio of Jack Kirby, who created the New Gods characters including the Gods and Monsters iteration of Wonder Woman, Bekka. There is a pair of vintage episodes found in “From the DC Comics Vault.” There’s also a 10-minute sneak preview of the forthcoming DC Animation feature film, Batman: Bad Blood.
Justice League Gods and Monsters Images: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment