Justice League Gods and Monsters

  • Title:  Justice League Gods and Monsters
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Date:  2015
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Benjamin Bratt, Michael C. Hall, Tamara Taylor, Jason Isaacs, Richard Chamberlain, Penny Johnson Jerald, Carl Lumbly
  • Format:  Widscreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“At least fifty dead in the embassy massacre, and not just dead – dismembered, burnt alive, sucked of their blood, a virtual house of horrors. Granted the victims were part of a terrorist organization… but what about our terrorist organization? What about the Justice League? It’s not like we haven’t been warned.” – Female Newscaster
“What the government has sanctioned is more than a Super-SWAT Team, it’s a weapon of absolute power. We all know where that leads.” – Lex Luthor

“We’re being framed! Someone’s actively trying to frame the Justice League? Who would have the balls?” – Superman

Gods and Monsters is an alternative universe story, DC calls these types of stories – “Elseworlds”, and before that “Imaginary Stories” (to distinguish them from the main continuity) as pointed out on one of the special features that accompany the film. This tale gives us three very different versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The film starts with Superman’s new origin story. In Gods and Monsters Superman’s father isn’t Jor-El but Zod. This is shown in the opening scene where Zod pokes his finger into a genetic device that will develop into a baby in the spaceship that’s sent to Earth. Once the ship lands, he’s rescued by a migrant laborer couple rather than the Kents. This Superman is very different – he’s brash, arrogant, and even rude. He also knows very little about his genetic parents or Krypton, because Luther stole his baby spaceship and everything inside.

In the film’s present, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are on a US-sanctioned mission to destroy a terrorist cell. Steve Trevor is marginally in charge of the mission, but they neither listen to him nor do they wait for Trevor and his troops to arrive before totally trashing the cell and everyone in it. This shows the violence of this alternative Justice League, and their willingness to let the end justify the means.

However, before long, a series of scientists – many who were known as “Luther’s Whiz Kids” are getting killed in horrible ways – and the crime scenes are designed to look like the Justice League is guilty. But since we see the robots committing the crimes from the beginning the audience knows that this Justice League, as twisted as the are, aren’t responsible. Though, like all mysteries – who is responsible isn’t revealed until the end.

While telling the mystery story we also see flashbacks explaining the origins of Batman and Wonder Woman. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who attended university with Will Magnus, and Tina. Kirk was suffering from some form of cancer or blood disease (it isn’t spelled out exactly what) and is experimenting with bats. He ends up becoming Batman, a vampire.

Wonder Woman isn’t from Paradise Island, but New Genesis. Bekka was to marry the son of Darkseid, Orion, whom she had actually fallen for – despite the fact that the marriage was arranged and she was actually a bride-price to stop an eons-long war between New Genesis and Apokolips. Just after the wedding, however, her Grandfather, known as High Father (Richard Chamberlain), and his troops break up the wedding by killing everyone they can, including Bekka’s very new husband. Angered at both the carnage and the death of her consort, Bekka turns her back on High Father, and New Genesis, and makes her way to Earth via Motherbox (boom tube – basically a type of very long distance teleport).

The rest of the story involves the attacks on the scientists, the Justice League finding out about the attacks – and various people calling for sanctions against the League, including Amanda Waller, who had been their government liaison and handler.

Superman decides to challenge Luther as well (Luther is still his arch enemy) – from Luther he finds out the truth of his origins. However, this Luther, though initially overly cautious (thus his refusal to share the information from Krypton with Superman), is won over by his use of Kryptonian technology to study the universe.

Gods and Monsters is a surprisingly violent story – fifty people are killed in close to the opening scene (after the background scenes on Krypton), the scientists – Victor Fries (now a climatologist), Silas Stone, Ray Palmer, etc. are first killed one by one, but then there’s a bloodbath to kill any scientist who had opposed the Justice League. At times, it seems both Batman and Superman have real blind spots when it comes to protecting themselves when solidly framed. Batman, though a vampire and having a completely different back story, does have good investigation skills – but not good enough to see what’s going on until it’s almost too late. Superman, upon realizing they are being framed is incredulous, as in, “Who dare be dumb enough to frame us?” Still, as in all good mysteries – the League does figure it out and with some surprising help, is exonerated.

The Blu-Ray includes a documentary on DC’s history of Alternative Universe, “imaginary stories, and “Elseworlds” stories, starting with the example of, Gotham by Gaslight. The Blu-Ray also includes a documentary on Jack Kirby, New Genesis and Apokolips. And finally there’s a making-of documentary that’s excellent. Just the comics history and information in the documentaries make the Blu-Ray worth having.

Overall, I enjoyed this film, though it was very dark. Still, it was a good, alternative take on the big three DC Heroes.

Recommendation: See it
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: When Harry Met Sally

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Justice League Doom

  • Title: Justice League Doom
  • Director: Lauren Montgomery
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2012
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Animation
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Susan Eisenberg, Nathan Fillion, Carl Lumbly, Michael Rosenbaum, Claudia Black, Paul Blackthorne, Olivia D’abo, Alexis Denisoff, Phil Morris, Robin Atkin Downes
  • Format: Widescreen, Color animation
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“When we fought before, I broke the bat; today I break the man.” — Bane to Bruce Wayne

“No, you weren’t afraid, not really. You were dosed with a synthesized version of the Scarecrow’s fear gas. Because will is the source of your strength.”— Batman
“And fear is the enemy of will.” — Green Lantern, Hal Jordan

Justice League Doom brings back most of the original cast from the original Justice League animated television series, only substituting Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern Hal Jordan, rather than keeping Phil LaMarr as GL Jon Stewart or introducing Guy Gardner. There is also a stellar cast of “guest stars” as the Leaguers greatest foes.

Vandal Savage uses Mirror Master to obtain secret files from the Batcave – files that Batman created containing plans on how to bring down any of the main Justice League members in case they went rogue. The villains then begin to attack and defeat the League members. Mirror Master gets Flash to put his hand inside a Schrodinger’s cat box to rescue an old woman. Flash ends up with a bomb in his wrist that will explode if he stops, de-accelerates, or does nothing when the timer runs out. Cheetah fist-fights Wonder Woman, but poisons her with her finger nails so everyone she sees looks and sounds like Cheetah. Green Lantern Hal Jordan is sent to a Salt Mine to rescue some hostages from a militia group and the rescue goes wrong – a woman who is a dead ringer for Carol (Hal’s former girlfriend) is killed. Even running into Star Sapphire doesn’t help Hal realize he’s been set up. Martian Manhunter is slipped a poison that caused him to sweat Magnesium, which bursts into flame, even under water. Superman is shot in the chest with a Kryptonite bullet. Bane takes Bruce’s parents out of their graves. A groundskeeper (not Alfred) reports this to Bruce, who goes out to investigate in civilian clothes. He’s jumped by Bane, who beats him up, then drops him into his mother’s (new) grave, and buries him alive, with her skeleton in her coffin.

Bruce, stranded underground, takes the keys out of his pocket and starts to pummel the coffin lid. He’s about to give up, when he turns and sees his mother’s skeleton staring at him — and he renews his attack and escapes. It’s a very eerie and spooky image — but it’s also something that is just “so Batman” and “so Bruce” — he cannot ever give up on the oath he swore to his parents that faithful night when he was only eight years old.

Once he’s escaped, Batman contacts the other Justice League members to get them out of their immediate danger, then they meet to find out what’s going on.

Meanwhile, Vandal Savage has gathered the villains together to take out the Justice League, so he can put a secondary plan into motion. Once the various villains report their success — they insist on joining Savage in his plans. Savage’s plan is to fire a missile into the sun, causing a massive solar flare which will destroy the sunward side of the Earth as well as send out an EMP that will fry anything electronic. The Justice League arrives, and each member fights his or her opposite number villain. However, despite the assistance of Cyborg, Savage’s missile is fired. Superman and Green Lantern attempt to stop the missile at the sun, but fail, giving the League seven minutes to figure out what to do. They come up with something — and Earth is saved.

I really liked the first part of  the story — that Batman would have contingency plans for taking out everyone in the League (though his plans were non-lethal) is both scary, and yet fitting with his personality. I would have liked to see more of a sense of the League’s sense of betrayal though — not only that Batman would do that, but that he’d keep detailed records of his potential plans. After the Justice League saves Earth, they discuss what to do with Batman, and it’s Clark who tells Bruce that he was right, then asks what safety valve exists for Bruce — Bruce responds, “The Justice League”. In other words, he’s created an equal and balanced system. But, I would have liked more. More storyline, more background, especially for the villains, even more dialogue between the Leaguers (and between Alfred and Bruce. Alfred appears and then suddenly disappears, before just as suddenly appearing again. It was very frustrating). With six heroes and seven villains, including Savage, plus the opening gambit with the Royal Flush Gang, the film really should have been longer than 76 Minutes, and more flushed out.

I also felt the film fell a little flat at the end. It sort of turns into, “Of course the Justice League will win,” and really loses momentum. There’s some great stuff with Superman and Hal in space as they try to stop the missile and fail, but there’s still no real sense of danger — in part because Savage’s plan is just too big. I like the more subtle villains with subtle plans (like Lex Luthor becoming the US president — which he did in the DC Universe).

Still, it was great to see the re-united Justice League cast together again. I’d like to see Doom as the pilot for a new Justice League series, but I doubt it will happen. Still, one can hope. I will admit it was great to see the Legion of Doom appear threatening instead of as a joke, though. If you’re a DC fan you’ll enjoy this!

Recommendation: See it, especially if you’re a DC fan.
Rating: 4 out of 5

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

  • Title:  The Adventures of  Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
  • Director:  W.D. Richter
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  MGM / Sherwood Productions
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, Rosalind Cash, Robert Ito, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, Carl Lumbly
  • Genre:  SF, Adventure, Comedy
  • Format:  Color
  • DVD Formats:  Anamorphic Widescreen, R1, NTSC

“Remember, no matter where you go – there you are.”  — Buckaroo Banzai

“History is made at night, Character is what you are in the dark.”  — Lord John Worphin

This is a movie where I actually owned a copy on VHS tape.  However, it is amazing just how good the DVD looks, especially the anamorphic widescreen.  It is, without a doubt, one of my absolutely favorite movies.  I have seen in many times, and have several of the best lines memorized.

Buckaroo Banzai comes at you all at once and never slows down, producing a wild ride, filled with great lines and snappy dialogue.  However, it also quickly establishes it’s characters, so we come to care about them as people, as the film zips along at warp speed and then some.  If you have never seen this movie before – I highly, highly recommend watching it at least twice in order to figure out what is going on.

The crawl at the beginning of the film attempts to explain part of what’s going on and introduces some of  the humor of the movie, mentioning that Buckaroo, with an American father and Japanese mother — was “brought into life the way he was destined to live it – going several directions at once.”  It also mentions those “hard rocking scientists – the Hong Kong Cavaliers”, Buckaroo’s friends who have just sort of drifted into his circle.  And in the movie – he picks up a couple of new followers.

The opening of the film attempts to introduce the many sides of Buckaroo — brilliant neuro-surgeon (Jeff Goldblum gets some great lines in that scene so watch closely), experimental scientist and physicist, head of a rock band, and founder of the Banzai Institute.  He’s also an incredibly sensitive man, able to pick out a girl crying in a crowded audience while on stage playing jazzy rock music.

However, the majority of the plot involves the 1938 Radio Broadcast of “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles – the one that panicked the country, when people believed it was real.  This movie posits – What if  it was real?  But the aliens weren’t from Mars, but rather trapped in a prison called the 8th Dimension, an inter-spatial place between the tiny particles of matter.  That is, matter is mostly empty space, so Banzai is attempting to prove it is possible to cross inside it.  An earlier experiment into the 8th Dimension had released several aliens from this prison.  When Banzai’s experiment opens the Dimension again, more aliens from the Planet 10 arrive to cause World War III – if Whorfin (formerly imprisoned in the 8th Dimension) isn’t stopped.

But that really simplifies this brilliant movie.  There are many extremely likable aspects to the film — a brilliant cast; the idea that the film treats it’s audience as intelligent and just drops one into the middle of events, trusting the audience can figure it out without spoon-feeding information; some truly brilliant, funny lines; a rip-roaring, fast-moving fun plot; great characters.  In many ways, it has everything.

By the bye – the sound design in this film is also notable.  Pay attention to the background announcements in the scene when Whorfin escapes from a mental hospital (Whorfin is inhabiting the body of Dr. Emilio Lazardo) or in the scenes at YoYoDyne Propulsion Systems.

Recommendation:  Run don’t walk to the nearest rental store or Netflix and get a copy of the film.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Adventures of  Robin Hood