Hey there Pulse readers. T3h Penneh has crawled out of her cave to give you a pre-release review of DC Direct’s latest animated movie. There WILL be spoilers ahead, so if you don’t want anything ruined for you, skip this review.
In stores on July 28th, Gods & Monsters is a departure from all previous DC Direct movies, in that it’s neither based on an existing storyline or graphic novel, nor is it for the most part set in the mainstream DCU. Whereas all prior Justice League movies except for New Frontier kept the story to modern versions of our favourite DC heroes, and, like New Frontier, were adapted from popular existing stories, Gods & Monsters is not only a completely different vision of the DCU, it’s an entirely new story and concept.
While Gods & Monsters focuses on the DC “Big Three” of Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman, it is most definitely not our Big Three. This isn’t just a simple alternate universe take on Clark, Diana and Bruce. Clark Diana and Bruce don’t even exist in this universe. And Machinima teamed up with DC to make three shorts on Youtube leading up to the release of Gods & Monsters to give us a taste of just how different this Big Three really are. It’s also considered the first season of a webseries, as a second season of these Machinima shorts is planned to debut next year on Youtube.
(GRAPHIC CONTENT & SPOILERS WARNING)
Batman is a vampire. And his moral code with criminals is, shall we say, far more relaxed;
Superman is a bitter child of impoverished immigrants with a mean streak;
And Wonder Woman is a brutally effective killing machine with a taste for celebratory corpse sex;
Still, these shorts only give you the most cursory idea of just how different the G&MU really is from the DCU.
First of all, it should be no surprise that a project this daring and outside the box is the brainchild of Batman; the Animated Series masterminds Alan Burnett and Bruce Timm, (sadly minus Paul Dini in this outing). The duo wrote the story with Burnett focusing on the screenplay, while Sam Liu handles directing duties.
The differences with this universe start in the cold open, as the insane and corrupt General Zod, refusing to take responsibility for the destruction of Krypton that his war machines caused, stroms the El labs and shoots Jor-El before he can add his genetic material to Lara’s in the Matrix. Zod instead inserts his own DNA, and the Matrix launches, heading for Earth as the last child of Krypton gestates within.
When the Matrix lands on Earth, Lex Luthor is on site with the military to seize the vessel, while an unnamed immigrant couple sneaks away protecting the infant they found. Not the Kents, they raise him in the poverty most immigrant workers face.
The unnamed son of Zod and Lara grows up bitter, seeing the worst of how humanity treats the weak, and when the immigrant raised Hernan Guerra becomes Superman (Benjamin Bratt, Law & Order, Miss Congeniality), he’s a Superman that seethes more at the social injustices of the world than the criminal ones. He and his compatriots do wetwork for President Amanda Waller, (Penny Johnson-Jerald, Castle/Star Trek; Deep Space 9), under their long-suffering handler Steve Trevor, (Tamoh Penniket, Battlestar Galactica/Dollhouse).
Meanwhile, this universe’s Wonder Woman, (Tamara Taylor, Bones), is not Diana Prince of Themiscira, but Bekka of New Genesis, who fled to Earth in bitter anger after her Grandfather, the Highfather, (Richard Chamberlain, Shogun/The Thornbirds), used her marriage to Orion of Apokalips to stage a surprise slaughter of Darkseid and all of his servants, and Orion as well despite his promise to Bekka to spare him. She is fierce, angry, and highly independent.
Finally, no Bruce Wayne avenging his murdered parents here. Instead our Batman is Kirk Langstrom, (Micheal C. Hall, Dexter/Six Feet Under), who became a vampire after injecting himself with a serum based on vampire bat DNA mixed with the nanotech of his college friend Will Magnus, (C. Thomas Howell, The Outsiders/Red Dawn), in an attempt to cure himself of stage 3 Lymphoma. He is still to some extent kind-hearted and thoughtful, but is desperately seeking a cure for his condition, getting by on the blood of criminals as seen in the above Harley Quinn short.
Collectively, this Justice League is viewed with fear and suspicion by the populace, due to their brutally violent methods. Lois Lane, (Paget Brewster, Criminal Minds/Modern Family), is the voice of that distrust, using her position in the media to call the league out over those methods.
Those concerns begin to look justified when a trio of androids that collectively mimic the League’s powers start murdering a group of scientists from Magnus and Langstrom’s graduating class, with Victor Fries drained of blood in the arctic, Ray Palmer carved like a Sunday roast by the droid wielding a familiar looking sword, and the Superman-mimicking droid burning Silas Stone and his young son Victor alive.
Superman is, understandably, kinda pissed off that someone is setting out to frame them and starts looking into it. Batman is more concerned about the murdered scientists, and seeks out Magnus who begs him to find out what happened. Wonder Woman meanwhile presses Steve Trevor for information about his investigation into the case.
The League’s investigations result in Superman seeking out Luthor, (Jason Isaacs, The Patriot/The Harry Potter Films), presumed missing by the general public but is in truth a quadriplegic recluse who has basically become this universe’s version of Metron, hiding in his satellite outpost mapping the universe. Luthor chastises Superman for his ruthless methods, asking him if it’s really so far-fetched for people to believe the League is murdering his former students and showing him the truth about his insane genocidal birth father. Superman is visibly shaken by this truth and leaves, only to witness his android doppelganger destroy Luthor’s space station, and for himself to be caught on camera by a government spy satellite as being right outside when it explodes.
This is enough for President Waller to believe the League is guilty, and the order is given for their arrest.
Meanwhile, the League back on Earth tries and fails to prevent their android impersonators from murdering the rest of Langstrom’s classmates, all gathered at Magnus’ mansion to figure out how to survive, and discussing Project Fairplay, the initiative they all collectively worked on that Langstrom believes is the reason they were targeted. In the aftermath of the slaughter, the League return to their tower to wait for Steve to come for them.
And that’s where I’ll stop, leaving the climax of the story unspoiled.
The story is well-written, and unflinching. It pulls no punches, and is most definitely NOT for children. This is by far the goriest and most brutally graphically violent of the DC Animated movies. There are no cutaway shots leaving the violence to your imagination, save a couple of long-distance screams echoing. Much of the violence is right up in your face, including a scene of a small child being set on fire at his father’s side. But the story is intriguing, and poses some interesting questions about nature versus nurture. It asks if, under different circumstances, can completely different people take on Bruce, Diana and Clark’s identities and truly BE those identities? Is a Superman raised by poor immigrants enough of the Superman we know to truly rise to the title? Is a Wonder Woman from another planet every bit as justified to the title as an amazon from the Mediterranean? Is a Batman who kills really enough of a Batman to feel like the Batman we love and still be different?
The animation and art direction is, as always with DC Animated movies, excellent. The art style is very much DCAU as re-imagined by Clive Barker. The story is well-paced and captivating, with no spots that really drag. There do seem to be a few very minor plot holes and inconsistencies, (Victor Stone should be college aged, not 10), but overall these are mostly nitpicking at best, and not enough to ruin the stoy or pull you out of it. And the reveal of the true villain makes sense in the hindsight of various clues subtly set up throughout the film in a way that you’ll notice enough to notice them, but not so bluntly that the reveal is telegraphed. You don’t see it coming ahead of time, but when it’s revealed you think back to all those clues they placed and it’s a smack your head moment of “Ohhhhh, of COURSE it was XXXXXX all along!”
Overall I rate it an A-.
We now return you to wondering who keeps getting clean copies of these movies to release them weeks before they hit stores and how much the WB wants them dead.
Tags: Batman, DC, DC Animated, Gods & Monsters, Justice League, Superman, WB, Wonder Woman