I’m gonna sing the doom song now.
Another day, another DC Universe direct-to-DVD animated movie. What makes these releases interesting is how each one is a stand-alone tale, and not part of a series. The DC Comics heroes have always lent themselves to multiple interpretations, and this has allowed animators to adapt a variety of stories from their histories for these movies. Justice League: Doom retells a story arc from writer Mark Waid’s run on the title, with amusing references to the characters’ pasts in other media, making an ideal animated movie that appeals to audiences both new and nostalgic.
Meet the Justice League:
• Superman, the Man of Steel (Tim Daly, Wings)
• Batman, the Dark Knight (Kevin Conroy, Batman: The Animated Series)
• Green Lantern, intergalactic police officer (Nathan Fillion, Castle)
• Wonder Woman, Amazonian princess (Susan Eisenberg)
• Flash, the fastest man alive (Michael Rosenbaum, Smallville)
• Martian Manhunter, the… uh, Martian manhunter (Carl Lumbly, Alias)
Joined by up-and-coming teen hero Cyborg (Khary Peyton, Teen Titans), the league teams up to battle some crooks, not knowing this is part of a larger plan. Following this, each league member is defeated in a way preying on their specific weaknesses. Turns out these defeats were devised by none other than Batman, as contingencies in case any leaguer goes bad. Now, though, a villain has these contingencies. With the Justice League members either out of commission and distrusting their teammate Batman, the baddies are prepped to hatch an even larger scheme.
First things first: This is not a panel-by-panel recreation of the comic the way Batman: Year One was. Like other DC Universe discs, it takes the graphic novel and simplifies it, streamlining a more complex plot into a feature’s three-act structure. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The opening of the movie has the league in action, set up in such a way that we get a sense of each member’s powers and personality. The villains—and there are a lot of villains running around in this one—are also introduced in a quick, efficient manner, bringing newbies up to speed. Sure, those familiar with the comics and with past cartoons will catch a lot of little references and continuity bits, but for the most part it works as a feature.
A lot of writers over the years have struggled with how to write the Justice League, because the different characters have different power levels and personalities. Here you’ve got Superman, who can push planets out of orbit, and Batman, who skulks in dark alleyways beating up muggers. Wonder Woman is a stoic warrior, while Green Lantern and Flash are guy-next-door jokesters. Justice League: Doom sidesteps these concerns nicely by giving each leaguer a moment to shine during the opening fight after their opponents split up. Then, in the second act, we see each member in his or own environment, with the villains plotting to take them out. The writing and editing here is excellent, as we’re asked to follow seven short stories with hero and his or her own adventure. It never gets confusing, but instead builds in tension as we jump from one character to the next and back again.
During the big finale, the creators think big with a number of big set pieces, one after the next. Each hero takes on his or her rogue’s gallery opposite, while also working toward the greater goal of saving the world. I kept expecting the writers and animators to mix things up, and use this as an opportunity for the heroes fighting characters they normally don’t, but we don’t get that. Either way, it’s exciting to see the entire league, working as a team, in action on screen. Amid all the punches and explosions, though, the dramatic tension of the rest of league learning Batman’s dirty secret is palpable, but is resolved in a nice way.
As is the case with these releases, the DC Universe team has come up with some great voice actors to fill out the movie. It takes a specific type of earnestness to say lines like, “Look out, Superman!” without sounding buffoonish, and these actors have it. Conroy and Daly have Batty-boy and ol’ Red Boots down to a science by now. Fillion and Rosenbaum are at times competing for comic relief duties, but each also has a dramatic moment or two to further explore their characters. The other characters don’t get as much development as the others, but Eisenberg, Lumbly, and Peyton continue to have that same earnestness.
Not all of the contingency plans work for me. The means used to take out Green Lantern leads to one of the movie’s most dramatic moments, and yet Green Lantern, whose fearlessness is supposed to be a key character trait, caves awfully easy. It seems to me that it should take a lot more than this to rid the world of the ol’ ringbearer.
Justice League: Doom is a bright, colorful movie, depicting locales from all over the DC universe, and this disc’s standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer really lets it shine, with smooth, clean movements and visual depth. The audio is good as well, with clear dialogue and booming sound effects and score. The only bonus feature is a preview for the next DCU animated flick, Superman vs. The Elite. As is often the case with these releases, the Blu-ray and two-disc DVD special edition have more bonus material than what’s here, so buyer beware.
Justice League: Doom is a fun movie with a lot to offer, for both new fans and those who’ve grown up with these characters. If you want to enjoy some good old fashioned superheroes versus villains action, check this one out.