Superhero Movie Month: "Justice League: Doom" Review

Photo Credit: Warner Home Video

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Rating: PG-13
Length: 75 minutes
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Directed by: Lauren Montgomery
Genre: Animation / Action / Fantasy

The Justice League and Batman have always had an unusual relationship. The Justice League was created to give some of DC's most loved characters a common title, but Batman has maintained a niche of his own. The rest of the League had cool powers like using sheer will to create objects and cause planets to move at their whim. Batman, however, has always been a guy — to be sure, a guy in amazing physical condition — with a mask, remaining more a film noir character taking on villains that were only slightly more unusual than he was. In "Justice League: Doom," the odd energy that comes from keeping this group cobbled together actually works quite well, making a cohesive story that moves nimbly, keeping the audience on the edge of its seat.

Directed by Lauren Montgomery, "Justice League: Doom" begins with an amazing hook, as the cabal of villains have conspired to make lightning-quick strikes on each of the members of the League. The twin ambitions of either conquering or just annihilating Earth are what drive the supervillains here, and the race against the clock to stop that plan gives the movie its outstanding suspense. The steady repartee between heroes and villains, combined with some fights that show sophisticated animation, gives the movie some definite eye candy.

Batman's accidental betrayal of the team creates a chance either to sever him from the group or create some closure and welcome him with the rest of this science-fiction-themed crew. However, the script never takes the opportunity to go to that depth. When Bane punches Bruce Wayne, the entire audience can feel the impact. Even so, the impact of the betrayal on the group as a whole is something left undefined. If there is a flaw, this is it.

On the whole, though, "Justice League: Doom" is well built and solid all the way through, aimed to entertain both devoted fans and people new to the story arcs. Vandal Savage has lines that show his personality perfectly, but at the same time, it does not take any special knowledge of his character to understand the weight he brings to the film. The viewer does not have to know the backstory between Wonder Woman and Cheetah to sense the enmity that seethes between them, although those who are in the know will nod knowingly at their confrontation in the film.

Bane has received some more screen time than some of the other villains because of his role in "The Dark Knight Rises." Perhaps because of this, Bane's promise to "break the man" comes across as more powerful than some of the other villains' revenge. For those who are familiar with the arcs of the Justice League, this is just another moment for vengeance that has long been denied.

The anger that Star Sapphire still feels toward Hal Jordan, because of their quashed romance, has been described in some reviews as somewhat whiny. In the context of the Justice League and their villainous counterparts, though, there are complications at work that keep any of them from coming across as completely virtuous — and from seeming total villains as well.

Tim Daly, Michael Rosenbaum, Carl Lumbly and Susan Eisenberg all reprise their parts in the Justice League. Phil Morris also returns as Vandal Savage, making one of the few instances when a villain returns to the animated cast. This makes for a stellar cast, along with well-chosen minor villains who bring verve and vigor to their portrayal of the roles that they have to carry out.

As with many animated films, it is the writing that carries the day, in part because the actors only have their voices at their disposal. Batman has become a cynical and dark character over the years, and this version of him serves to deconstruct that a bit, suggesting that the Bale portrayals, as well as some of his other animated appearances, have taken a bit away from the character. It is not necessary for Adam West levels of camp to define the Caped Crusader, but Batman can only be so shadowy and retain an element of the hero. After all, it is one thing to be obsessive and quite another to be a stone wall.

"Justice-League: Doom" is one of the better direct-to-video animated features, showing solid construction from beginning to end. It has the potential to delve more into emotional depths and to go beyond Batman in raising interesting ideas for characters, but it remains a fun ride all the way through, with stellar writing and an outstanding cast.