Alternate universes are a concept that DC Comics excels at. From Red Son to Injustice: Gods Among Us to Kingdom Come, “Elseworlds” have provided some of the company’s greatest moments. One of the acclaimed talents behind the brilliant Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, Bruce Timm, was given free rein to create his own DC Universe with Justice League: Gods and Monsters.
The film takes place in an alternate universe where the famed DC Comics Trinity of Superman (Benjamin Bratt), Batman (Michael C. Hall) and Wonder Woman (Tamara Taylor) comprise the Justice League, but are very different from the heroes we know. Superman is actually the biological son of General Zod, Batman is an actual vampire (Dr. Kirk Langstrom aka Man-Bat), and Wonder Woman is not Diana the Amazon and… well, a bit more evil than normal, I suppose? In other words, she’s probably the least changed in the Trinity.
Timm’s new vision is imaginative, dark and brutal while weaving a tale that is riddled with deep Easter eggs from all corners of DC history. Hardcore DC fans will be intrigued by the mystery of who is setting up the Justice League, and will love seeing all the unexpected character cameos.
If you’re not a DC superfan, a lot of this movie might be lost on you. The fun reveals are well crafted, and surprising only if you know many of the more obscure characters in the DC universe. While Timm sets up an intriguing universe, unfortunately much of it seems familiar – “dark” versions of the Justice League have been done to death recently with stories like the aforementioned Injustice: Gods Among Us, as well as Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and multiple episodes of the Justice League animated TV series.
The film is beautifully designed, boasting Timm’s sleek, retro-future art deco style. The action is fast-paced and extremely violent and there’s quite a few bloody, super-power induced deaths strewn about the film from start to finish – some of which are unexpected and shocking, both in identity and execution.
The voice acting overall is a bit weak and features some stiff performances from the two main male leads. Michael C. Hall does his Dexter thing with a detached, emotionless voice for Batman, but when coupled with Bratt’s deadpan Superman, you get a lot of boring conversation. DC Animation veteran Tamara Taylor seems to be having the most fun of the Trinity with her vibrant, energetic portrayal of Bekka/Wonder Woman. The supporting cast is also a “who’s who” of supporting DC characters and veteran DC voice actors. Jason Isaac as Lex Luthor, in particular, was the most enjoyable new take on an old favorite.
The special features come with the same extras as usual from Warner Bros. Animation including the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack and UltraViolet digital copy of Justice League: Gods and Monsters for streaming. Additionally, the Blu-Ray offers a few featurettes including Alternate Realities: Infinite Possibilities which features many of the behind-the-scenes DC honchos, including Geoff Johns, schooling the new viewers on DC Comics’ “Elseworlds” stories. This is a good primer for those interested in digging deeper into the lore after watching the film.
Calculated Risk: The Making of Gods and Monsters is an interesting look into getting this film off the ground and marketing it, since the subject matter is radically different from your normal Justice League film. The New Gods is another featurette for the uninitiated who might be puzzled by characters in the film like Highfather and Orion.
This time out, From the DC Comics Vault is a bit light on content, but makes some nice episode choices to add to your content. The underrated and generally forgotten Legion of Superheroes animated series has their episode Phantoms included, featuring an alternate universe Superman-type character getting set free. The other episode included is the tremendous Brave New Metropolis from Superman: The Animated Series that most certainly was a big influence on Injustice: Gods Among Us and features Lois traveling to a future where she has been killed and Superman and Lex team up to rule in a police state.
Lastly, fans get a look at the next DC animated film, which will be a continuation of the Bat-Family films (Son of Batman, Batman vs Robin) with Batman: Bad Blood. You’ll get a first look at animation and storyboards for the film that loosely adapts the Grant Morrison era where Dick Grayson takes over as Batman with Damien at his side as Robin. Most notably, this film will also introduce Batwoman to the mythology, played by Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck).
The film has an intriguing mystery that re-invents the DC Universe from the ground up while keeping fanboys guessing, but still feels a bit repetitive as the darker, alternate universe "Elseworlds" stories have been overdone at this point.