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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Green Lantern Emerald Knights

  • Title: Green Lantern Emerald Knights
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2011
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, SF
  • Cast: Nathan Fillion, Jason Isaacs, Elisabeth Moss, Henry Rollins, Arnold Vosloo
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“He held the first construct, no longer a scribe, now a warrior, the First Lantern.”— Hal Jordan, Narrating

“When you shape the light of your ring, you walk in the footsteps of the First Lantern.”— Hal Jordan, Narrating

Emerald Knights is really six short stories interwoven into an arc-plot. Each of the separate stories are written and directed by different people, though this is part of the DC Animated Universe, so Bruce Timm produces and Andrea Romano is the voice director for the entire thing. The stories are pulled directly from the DC’s Green Lantern Corps comic books. I loved the movie. In many ways, I liked it better than the live-action Green Lantern movie, which was only so-so. This film really showcased the rich history of the Green Lanterns, bringing in several characters and plot lines. And because Hal is telling these tales to Arisia, a new Green Lantern recruit, it’s like he’s explaining the history to the audience. Nathan Fillion does an excellent job of playing an older, more experienced, Hal — who still remembers his younger days and wishes to help a fellow recruit get her feet under her.

The six stories are:

  • The First Lantern
  • Kilowog (based on “New Blood”)
  • Mogo Doesn’t Socialize
  • Abin Sur (based on “Tygers”)
  • Emerald Knights
  • Laira (based on “What Price Honor?”

My favorite in terms of pure story was “The First Lantern”, just because it was so awesome to see how the Lanterns first came to be — and I love how Avro wasn’t willing to give up, and thus figured out how the rings were supposed to be used. I also loved the visual image used to show the first Lantern’s ring being handed down from Lantern to Lantern throughout the centuries, and finally to Abin Sur and from him to Hal. That was awesome!

“Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” was amusing. It’s a great story, and probably would have had more impact if I hadn’t had it spoiled for me.

“Kilowog” gives background and a bit more of a human side to the Lanterns’ drill sergeant by showing us his own drill sergeant. Still, it’s the same old “new recruit is terrorized by the drill sergeant but learns to love the tough love approach” story we’ve seen many times before.

“Abin Sur” is weird because it shows he and Sinestro working together, and also the criminal that Abin Sur arrests and jails makes several predictions, which I’m guessing come true in the GL continuity. Abin Sur, of course, doesn’t believe the predictions, especially of Sinestro, his dear friend, going rogue.

“Laira” is probably the darkest of the stories — but it’s fascinating and highly, highly enjoyable. I really liked that one too.

Finally, “Emerald Knights” is the name of the wrap-around story and the finale. Yes, it’s excellent. The entire film is extremely well done, enjoyable, and I just loved it. I highly, highly recommend this movie.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Batman Under the Red Hood

  • Title:  Batman Under the Red Hood
  • Director: Brandon Vietti
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2010
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Mystery, Animation
  • Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Cole, Jason Isaacs
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Could you just once say – ‘Let’s get in the car’, Is that so hard?” — Nightwing, as he finds himself talking to thin air

You really think I would stir up so much trouble and not make sure you knew it was me?” — Joker

Under the Red Hood is a major departure from previous WB Animation Batman films. Where those films (Mystery of the Batwoman, Subzero, and Mask of the Phantasm) felt like longer episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, this film is cinematic, full of action, and also tragic. In short it feels like a film. It’s also very grounded in Batman graphic novels published by DC Comics, especially A Death in the Family and Under the Hood (Also collected as Under the Red Hood). And this film is violent. People die. Granted, most are criminals, but still – not for the under 15 set. This is a film for adults, which, again, is more in the same tone as the more adult Batman graphic novels.

The film opens with a scene from the end of my favorite Batman graphic novel, A Death in the Family, Joker beating Jason Todd/Robin nearly to death with a crowbar and then blowing him sky high. Batman arrives, but too late to save Robin. The shot of Batman, standing in the rain, holding Jason’s dead body is nearly as effective as the still in the novel – where Batman is kneeling clutching Jason, and has his head bowed. Jason’s death would haunt Bruce nearly as much as his parents’ death.

DeathofRobin1

The film then moves forward five years. Batman is out on patrol and ends up fighting Amazo (a killer android), Nightwing arrives and the two work together flawlessly. Nightwing (aka Dick Greyson), voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, I really liked. And I actually thought the re-casting worked. I preferred him to Loren Lester who had voiced Dick/Robin/Nightwing in Batman: The Animated Series. But what Batman discovers is that two new players are at work in Gotham:  Black Mask and the Red Hood. Black Mask is a gangster, similar to what we’ve seen before in Gotham City, but grotesquely disfigured with a skeletal black head. Red Hood is both attacking, and killing, criminals in Gotham, and taking a percentage of their take. Batman, at first with Nightwing’s help, goes after Red Hood. Since Red Hood was once upon a time an alias of the Joker, they pursue a lead to Arkham Asylum, checking in on the straight-jacket restrained Joker. But, Joker has been held tight, and even more convincingly, says he wouldn’t keep it a secret if he was causing chaos in Gotham.

After their first confrontation with Red Hood, Batman and Nightwing, now suffering a broken ankle, are in the Cave with Alfred (who’s bandaging said ankle) going through Batman’s video and audio recordings of the fight. Nightwing notes that Red Hood isn’t just some hood or gangster – he’s trained. Batman points out that even the ability to have knives that can cut his lines is unheard of. However, Batman also sends Nightwing away, asking Alfred to bring Dick home. In part, because Bruce still sees a need to protect Dick.

Once Dick is gone, Bruce reviews the audio, and thinks he hears the Red Hood call him “Bruce”. Only a handful of people know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. After another confrontation with the Red Hood, Bruce is able to get a blood sample for analysis. He’s running the sample through the computers in the cave, running a comparison. The results come back just as Alfred walks in. The result: a match between Red Hood and Jason Todd, startles the normally unflappable butler so much he drops the coffee service he’s carrying. But he also, immediately, tries to console Bruce, while trying to figure out what’s happened. Together, they dig up Jason’s grave. Bruce realizes he’s buried a latex dummy. Alfred tries to comfort Bruce, reminds him how distraught he was, but Bruce is angry with himself and insists he should have realized.

Bruce flies off to the middle of nowhere and confronts Ra’s al Ghul. Ghul explains exactly what happened. During a confrontation between himself and Batman five years before, in desperation, he had hired the Joker to provide a distraction. But, he hadn’t counted on the Joker’s madness or savagery. Ra’s, in short, actually felt bad about Jason’s death.  He arranges the switcharoo with the bodies, and takes Jason’s body to a Lazarus pit. But, the resurrected Jason is quite literally, quite mad.

After he’s discovered the truth, Batman heads back to Gotham in his jet. Alfred talks to him over the video link.

“Sir, please take this to heart. Who Jason was before, how we lost him, and this dark miracle or curse that has brought about his return, it is not your fault.” — Alfred

“Then I got him killed. My partner. My soldier. My fault. I own that. I’ll carry that like everything else.” —Batman

The conversation is filled with everything I love about Bruce and Alfred’s relationship, and nearly brought me to tears. Alfred cares so much for Bruce, the man he sees as a son. Bruce, however, can’t really accept that caring in any way. (He has the same problem accepting how Dick feels about him). And Bruce is, oh, so ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Brilliant writing.

The conversation is cut short, however, by Alfred’s discovery on the news that Joker is causing trouble. Batman needs to rush to the scene. Red Hood shows up where Joker is (who’s taken all of Gotham’s criminals who work for Red Hood hostage) and reveals everything was a plan to get an audience between himself and Joker. Joker scoffs, but is then impressed. Then he’s on the run for his life. (Imagine — someone scarier than Joker chasing the Joker. And in this film, it works.) Red Hood catches the Joker, takes him to a room, and starts to beat the crap out of him with a crowbar — using the exact same taunting words Joker had used five years ago. Formerly confused as who Red Hood was, now Joker gets it, and still manages to insult Jason.

Batman does arrive and tries to stop Jason. In the fight, Jason tears off the cowl, then removes his own red helmet. (He does return the cowl to Bruce) He leads Batman to Joker. Their conversation, again, is heartbreaking. Bruce tries to apologize and tries to make things right, but it doesn’t work. Finally, Jason tells a startled Bruce that he forgave him for dying (that is for Jason’s death). But he doesn’t forgive him for not killing the Joker. Batman tries to explain that he has thought about it, but that’s a dark pit he’d never crawl out of. Jason continues with — “I’m not talking about Penguin, or Scarecrow, or Dent — just him!” But Batman is adamant – he will not kill. So, Jason gives him a choice — kill the Joker or kill Jason (as he puts a gun to Joker’s head). Batman turns, slowly walks away, then after Jason’s fired at him, he ducks the bullet as he turns back and throws a batarang into Jason’s gun, which explodes and so does the room, with charges that Jason has set. Batman isn’t able to get everyone out safely.

This is a dark, violent story. But vintage Batman. Well, new Batman, to be precise. It’s an excellent, excellent movie, dealing with dark themes. The voice actors are good, especially Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing and Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd/Red Hood. I was very disappointed that Kevin Conroy, who was so excellent as Batman, and in many ways is my favorite Batman actor, (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and old Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond, plus various DCAU movies) is re-cast with Bruce Greenwood. However, Greenwood does do a good job. And oddly enough, Batman, Alfred, and Joker, all sound very much like their counterparts in the Warner Brothers live action movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

But, I also cannot stress enough just how good this film was. It’s cinematic, it’s shot or filmed like a film — with some really great shots (the close-up of Robin’s eye as he realises the Joker’s rigged the place in Sarejevo to explode; Batman holding Jason’s broken body, etc). I also loved how flashbacks were introduced with ghost images that then became solid. The storyline is great, and based in the books (always a plus for any filmed version of Batman). And, Warner’s has gotten away from the “no one can really die” code that makes it’s animated television shows occasionally resemble The A-Team (the original TV series, not the movie).

Recommendation: See it! Buy it! Appropriate for children over 15 and adults.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Director:  Mike Newell
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Robert Hardy, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Tennant
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Dark and difficult times lay ahead, soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.  But remember this – you have friends here, you’re not alone.”  — Professor Dumbledore

With Goblet of Fire, the Harry Potter series take a turn for the darker, and the new director, Mike Newell, doesn’t shoot the film and its environment the way his predecessors did.  Rather than giving us lovely, beautiful shots and placing the characters in them perfectly – Newell concentrates on showing us close-ups of the characters’ faces.  Not as interesting an approach to watch, but, on the other hand, it does add to the emotional feel of the film.

This is the first Harry Potter film to have a very episodic feel to it.  We see a brief, almost prologue, at the Quiddich World Cup, which is broken up by a show of force by the Death Eaters, the first and second Tri-Wizarding Tournament tasks, the Yule Ball, and the final task and Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort. Each episode is well realized and told, but of course details from the book are lost, as they have been for all of the Harry Potter films.

Still, it is a very good movie, and a good adaptation of the novel.  The Wizarding World is again expanded and Harry goes with Ron and his family to the Quiddich World Cup; then at Hogwarts, exchange students from Drumstrang and Madam Beaux Batons Academy come to Hogwarts for the Tri-Wizarding Tournament.  It’s interesting to note that apparently Drumstrang is a boys school and Beaux Batons a girls school.  Only Hogwarts, of the three Wizarding Schools, appears to be co-ed.  A champion is to be chosen from each school, but he or she must be seventeen or older. Yet, not only is Hogwarts represented by Cedric Diggory, but also by Harry.  This causes Harry some problems, as even Ron is jealous and angry.  However, Ron and Harry work out their differences after Ron sees the danger Harry is in during the first task of challenging a dragon.  During the second task, Harry comes in last as he’s determined to rescue all the kidnapped people (Ron, Hermione, Cho, and Fleur’s younger sister).  Cedric and Krum save their “treasures” and Harry rescues Ron and Fleur’s sister.  His bravery and determination, however, earn him extra points for moral fibre, and he ends up in second place behind Cedric.

The third task is a maze, with the Tri-Wizarding Cup hidden somewhere inside.  After spooky challenges, Harry and Cedric take the Cup at the same time.  But it’s a portkey, transporting them to the graveyard where Tom Riddle’s parents are buried.  Cedric is killed.  Wormtail performs an incantation which brings back Voldemort.  Harry and Voldemort duel, but their wands become locked.  Harry escapes, bringing Cedric back and sobbing.

In a sober end-of-year lecture, Dumbledore informs all the Hogwarts students that Cedric was killed by Voldemort, who’s back.

Recommendation:  See It
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Henry V

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Director:  Chris Columbus
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Harris, Robert Hardy, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I fashioned a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would fear to speak when I became the greatest sorcerer in the world.”  — Tom Riddle
“Albus Dumbledore is the greatest sorcerer in the world.”  — Harry Potter
“Albus Dumbledore’s been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me.”  — Tom Riddle
“He’ll never be gone, not so long as those that remain are loyal to him.”  — Harry Potter

“It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are – it is our choices.”  — Professor Dumbledore

Chamber of Secrets” previously was my least favorite of the first four Harry Potter films, but upon re-watching it today, I actually enjoyed it very much.  Like, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, also directed by Chris Columbus, this film has a sense of whimsy, and is beautifully shot.  The film begins with Harry looking at the photo album containing pictures of his parents, given to him at the end of the previous film.  However, it also opens up the world that Harry is learning about, the “Wizarding World”, by bringing us to Ron’s home and to the frightening Knockturn Alley  (I love the wordplay in that almost as much as “Diagon Alley”).  However, besides a good mystery (e.g. What is the Chamber of Secrets?  Where is it?  What’s hiddened there and who opened it?) that is better than the one in the first film – there’s more of a sense of danger.  Students are being attacked, including Hermione.  Ron’s own sister is kidnapped – though the book goes into greater detail of how Riddle uses his diary to en-trance Ginny into doing his bidding.

Still, another successful, enjoyable, and fun movie appropriate for all ages.  The young actors playing the students are all quite brilliant; and the established British actors playing the teachers bring gravitas to the film.  Kenneth Branagh appears in this one as Gildroy (as in gilded) Lockheart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher — and a man who’s all talk and bluster with no skill at all.  I highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  5
Next Film:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban