Warner Bros. // 2005 // 299 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski // May 2nd, 2007
"And the adventure continues..." -- Wonder Woman
Coming into this DVD as a non-fanboy-level superhero aficionado with fond memories of cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men, I was elated to learn that my favorite caped crusaders were being so well-written, well-animated, and well-voiced on Justice League Unlimited: Season Two. The onslaught of complex insider references I detected must make this a great series for the obsessed, but even those of us who only recognize a small fraction of the Leaguers can joyfully consume these episodes without frustration.
The Justice League consists of a bunch of "metahumans" (superpowered folk) who have teamed up to more efficiently save the world(s) and operate from a really cool space station. They've got teleporters, they've got high tech communicator earpieces, they've got spandex and capes. Familiar faces like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash are complemented by a pack of lesser-known good guys.
In this season, the evil they face tries a similar tactic of incorporation when a bunch of baddies get together to form the Legion of Doom. Assembled by Grodd -- a hyper-intelligent, giant, talking gorilla -- the team gains a powerful new member as the season begins when Lex Luthor joins up, motivated by his fixation on reuniting with Braniac and the possibility that Grodd can make that happen.
Justice League Unlimited: Season Two contains all thirteen episodes of the season, collected on two discs:
"I Am Legion"
While Grodd works on recruiting Lex into the Legion, he sends Lex, The Key, and Dr. Polaris to do some meddling on an island rich in World War II history. Flash, Hawkgirl, and Fire work to stop them.
"Shadow of the Hawk"
A romance between Hawkgirl and a mysterious stranger, Carter Hall, sets Batman's "spider-sense" a-tingling (to mix superhero metaphors). When he follows them to an Egyptian pyramid, all three experience unexpected revelations and encounter a dangerous foe.
"Chaos at the Earth's Core"
Transported to Skartaris, a primitive society at the center of the earth, Supergirl, Stargirl, Green Lantern, and S.T.R.I.P.E. get tangled up in a local good vs. evil battle there.
"To Another Shore"
While attending a conference on global warming, Wonder Woman becomes entangled in a Legion scheme to thaw a frozen, immortal Viking prince. Meanwhile, Martian Manhunter confronts his complex feelings about humanity.
"Flash and Substance"
A handfull of C-list supervillains get drunk and decide that Flash is the root of all their problems. Plotting for collaborative revenge, they threaten to spoil the speedy one's big day: the opening of The Flash Museum.
Having avenged his own death, Deadman sets about avenging another one. The League starts to realize that Grodd is forming a new "secret society."
A furious, post-Cadmus General Eiling bulks himself up with powers to protect the world from people with powers -- logic much? A group of non-superpowered Leaguers may be the only ones who can stop his inevitable rampage.
"The Great Brain Robbery"
In a forgivably improbable gimmick, Lex Luthor and The Flash switch brains and mayhem ensues.
In the midst of an intensifying rivalry between Canary and Huntress, female metahumans are being kidnapped, brainwashed, and forced to face off in deadly matches for high-rolling gamblers to bet on.
"Far from Home"
Far in the future, a descendent of Brainiac and his portly sidekick summon the Supergirl, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern of the 21st century to help them defeat some formidable evil-doers.
Romantic tensions turn dangerous when Hawgirl, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and Vixen are thrown together to battle Shadow Thief. A mystical device reveals said "ancient history" about the heroes' supposed past lives.
Mutiny on the Hall of Doom! Lex goes too far in his quest to reunite with Brainiac, spurring insubordination from some of the Legion.
The rivalry between the League and the Legion takes an unexpected turn when a resurrected Darkseid declares war on Earth.
Like everything that comes out of the Pixar studio, Justice League Unlimited is an amazing testament to the quality of "children's entertainment" these days. Although the series probably attracted plenty of pint-sized viewers, it is definitely produced with the adult fan in mind -- and the adult fan with discriminating taste, no less! Almost every aspect of the series -- from the animation to the writing to the voice acting -- oozes a great blend of fun-loving sophistication.
Let's start with the visuals: Justice League Unlimited: Season Two is an incredibly cinematic show presented here with a beautiful transfer. The colors really pop, but the subtle details of light and shadow are also on full display -- my only technical gripe here is that some of the lines don't come out too cleanly, fragmenting in motion. In terms of cinematography, the animators have a great instinct for the epic, using their framings, "camera moves," and lighting to make everything the Justice League does seem downright grand. Take Grodd's big reveal of his Legion of Doom at the beginning of "I Am Legion," for example. Unveiling what he has to offer Lex, Grodd decloaks his base and, as the score swells, the camera zooms out and racks focus, shifting from a medium shot of Grodd to a wider shot that focuses on the foreboding line-up of villains appearing behind him as the door rumbles open. A dramatic beat, the opening credits fade in, and you may get a small case of goosebumps from the sheer artistry of it all.
High quality "pows" and "zaps" back the visuals up on the soundtrack, along with a consistently pleasing original score. It's only too bad that the discs don't include a Dolby 5.1 track -- especially considering that it gets name dropped in "Patriot Act!"
And speaking of audio, the guest voices on Justice League Unlimited: Season Two are like a wet dream for sci-fi/fantasy -- and particularly Joss Whedon -- fans. In addition to seasoned superhero-voicing pros such as Batman's Kevin Conroy and Lex Luthor's Clancy Brown, the season's prestigious guest list includes Michael Rosenbaum as The Flash, Powers Boothe as Grodd, Gina Torres as Vixen, Phil LaMarr as Green Lantern, Malcolm McDowell as Metallo, Carl Lumbly as The Martian Manhunter, Alexis Denisof as Mirror Master, Mark Hamill as The Trickster, Juliet Landau as Tala, Nathan Fillion as The Vigilante, J.K. Simmons as General Eiling, Amy Acker as Huntress, Morena Baccarin as Black Canary, Virginia Madsen as Roulette, Bud Cort as Toyman, and Daniel Dae Kim as Metron. As you can see, the list is pretty unbelievable, and probably not exhaustive here. And for the most part, the talent on display here really does display their talent, with Rosenbaum and Fillion going particularly all-out with their characters.
The voice actors' excellent work brings to life some above average superhero-cartoon scripts. The actors are especially required to flex their comic-timing muscles in some wonderfully amusing exchanges:
Green Arrow to Wonder Woman, as she heads off to a global warming conference: "I think you'll make a great diplomat. [pause] Leave your sword."
Brainy: "We needed help, so we sent the time bubble to bring back some
of Earth's greatest heroes."
Supergirl: "But why us?"
Brainy: "It was random. We'd have taken anyone."
Flash to Batman: "You're a standup guy. Don't let anybody call you a crazy loner!"
And the best spot of dialogue dialogue in the season, when The Flash is trying to convince the villains that he is Lex Luthor in "The Great Brain Robbery" -- Flash-in-Lex's-body has just gone to the bathroom:
Dr. Polaris: "You gonna wash your hands?"
Flash-in-Lex's-body: "No...'cause I'm evil."
The funniest episode of the season is certainly "Flash and Substance," a nice little day-in-the-life story. The opening scene -- reminiscent of Angel -- features four "super"-villains pathetically drowning their sorrows and ranting about The Flash. Little details like the wussy drinks they order and their decision that what they have in common is "bilateral symmetry" make this a great, understated scene that opens a great, understated episode.
Overall, the episode quality is quite consistent. The main story arc opens big with "I Am Legion" and closes in an unexpected, but pretty satisfying way with "Destroyer." And the season's arc doesn't just disappear for episodes at a time, as it does in some similar series, but rather surfaces in small ways throughout the season as the League starts to pick up on clues about the existence of the Legion and what they're up to. In addition to the hilarious "Flash and Substance," "The Great Brain Robbery," and "Grudge Match" are both highlights, despite their gimmicky premises. "Far from Home" proves to be surprisingly touching, as does "Ancient History," to some extent. There aren't too many duds in this 13-episode set, with only "Dead Reckoning" and the somewhat simplistic "Patriot Act" disappointing. The series also touches on some fascinating and very grown-up themes about the nature of power and good and evil. None of these are developed too much, but we get some great tidbits, such as Grodd's notion that incorporation is "the only way to survive in the modern world" and Amanda Waller's wise musing about the Soviets that, "Our enemies are never as evil as we imagine, and maybe we're never quite as good."
In addition to the lovely picture and sound quality, Warner Bros. includes a healthy dose of special features on Justice League Unlimited: Season Two. Justice League Chronicles is a set of three mini-commentaries, with series staff talking through single acts of "The Great Brain Robbery," "Ancient History," and "Alive!" Commentators here and on the Cadmus: Exposed featurette include Bruce Timm, James Tucker, Dwayne McDuffie, and a couple of others, who all do a nice job elaborating on the series' themes and style. My favorite part here was the laughter generated in the "Alive!" segment by discussion of some of the very obscure villains that populate the Legion's ranks. Cadmus: Exposed is an nice 23-minute piece on the Cadmus arc, but feels a little out of place on this season's DVD. Discussing a storyline from the previous season could leave casual fans a little lost, but the crew does offer some interesting points and is refreshingly willing to admit some of the show's failings. Dwayne McDuffie concedes, for example, "the last four episodes are one episode. We just didn't say "to be continued and hoped nobody noticed." Lastly, the pure-music version of "Destroyer" is a clever extra that showcases the series' original score. Chapter breaks on the episodes would have been nice, and I'm still trying to puzzle out why the only subtitles available are in Portuguese...
Justice League Unlimited: Season Two is everything a superhero cartoon should be. With great style, great stories, and phenomenal voice talent, it's too bad this had to be the final season.
Guilty of making a 23-year-old want to get back to Saturday morning cartoons.
Review content copyright © 2007 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Portuguese)
Running Time: 299 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cadmus: Exposed Featurette
* Justice League Chronicles for "The Great Brain Robbery," "Ancient History," and "Alive!"
* "Destroyer" Music-Only Track
* Trailers for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Batman: Season 3, and Teen Titans: Season 3
* Official Site
* Season One Review