Justice League: Gods & Monsters is an animated DC else-worlds instalment designed and directed by Bruce Timm, the art style reminiscent of the old DCAU but the story otherwise bearing no resemblance to the DC universe we are all largely familiar with. In this canon, the Justice League consists of only the three core members, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, except with twists on the backstories of all three. Kal-El is now Kal-Zod (though still the son of Lara Van-El) thanks to the interference of the infamous general in Clark’s ship mounted gestation matrix, Bats is Kirk Langstrom instead of Bruce Wayne and is a literal vampire, and Wonder Woman is now Bekka of the New Genesis gods instead of Diana Prince of Themiscyra. The tone is considerably darker and edgier than other adaptions, with none of the heroes hesitant about lethal force, something that puts them frequently at odds with not only the US government but others as well, as they globally exercise their jurisdiction with unbound impunity.
Three short-episode prequels titled as Chronicles were released on YouTube prior to release as well, showcasing the considerably more violent and outright bloody aspects the movie was going to employ with each one focused on one of the three Leaguers. In a way, the movie is an extension of those, with roughly half the film being made up of flashbacks for each of the three main cast. While this does serve to flesh out the narrative quite considerably, it also breaks the pace and flow of the story and thus causing it to drag somewhat. Luckily the flashbacks themselves are interesting and add character depth as a counterpoint. Only one actually serves the plot though, that of Kirk Langstrom’s, providing the backstory as to how and why he became a vampire and setting up the ultimate premise of the movie’s climax. Arguably making the story more about Kirk than any of the others, whose backstories never come into play any further than the emotional relevance they each have to Superman and Wonder Woman.
The plot itself kicks off with the murders of several prominent scientists quickly recognisable to DC fans, though none of them bear much resemblance to their mainstream counterparts beyond the superficial. Furthermore, the murders are carried out in such a way as to implicate each of our three (anti) heroes, though the audience sees that the real culprits are monstrous androids that have been designed to replicate the League’s various abilities, bearing a passing shout-out to AMAZO perhaps. Despite Kirk quickly drawing the dots that it’s a frame up, things soon come to a head with the death of all the remaining other scientists, who all turn out to be part of a recent government program called Project Fair Play. The androids brutally slaughter them all and then disappear by boom tube, leaving the Justice League alone with a pile of dead bodies all tellingly killed by abilities belonging to the three of them.
Needless to say, the US government, much less the public, is not amused and a showdown at the Tower of Justice commences, Steve Trevor leading the charge with weapons born out of the Project. Weapons that include rifles that discharge concentrated bursts of red sun energy and can inhibit Bekka’s New Gods technology. The situation is eventually resolved, but at a costly price that sees significant changes to the League as a result, both structurally and methodologically. The story is solid, if weighed down by exposition and slow to get off the ground, and the characters diverse and fully three-dimensional. The different take on the Justice League and indeed many other characters is refreshing and Bruce Timm’s art style and direction are a welcome return. That being said, because of this whole new approach to the DCU and the retooling of all its aspects, it will arguably work better as a series simply because there’s so much world (re-) building that really needs twenty or so individual episodes to flesh out and give better focus where it is needed.
However, all in all, I enjoyed Gods and Monsters and am fully onboard for the darker and heavier tonal shift that they are evidently going for in this latest else-worlds creation.
Review by Joshua Jennings