Chief Justice Michael Stailey is having a crisis of metahuman faith.
"There is a difference between us. We both looked into the abyss, but when it looked back…you blinked."—Batman to Owlman
For as excited as I was interviewing Bruce Timm with respect to the launch of the DC Comics / Warner Premiere direct-to-DVD adventures, I've since soured on the franchise. More often than not, these stories pale not only in comparison to their original source material but to the Batman, Superman, and Justice League animated franchises which preceded them. You would think a single film adventure would prove much easier produce than a weekly series, offering the creative team the time and resources to make them well worth the effort. Apparently, you would be wrong.
Adapting an obscure 1964 two-issue JLA story, in which the Justice League (young heroes) calls on the Justice Society (older heroes) to help defeat the Crime Syndicate of America, screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League Unlimited) tackles the ever popular mirror universe conceit. Alternate universe tales have long been a draw for comic book readers. This one takes the classic mob mythos—a populace who acquiesces to the demands of organized thugs in order to "live in peace"—and gives it a metahuman spin. How can we tell this is an alternate universe? Angry voices and facial hair!
As the Justice League satellite HQ nears completion, an alternate Earth Luthor (voiced by Chris Noth, Sex and the City)—the leader and last surviving member of his world's Justice League—seeks the assistance of our JLA to take down The Crime Syndicate, a mafia family of metahumans. A divided team agrees to help, but Batman (Billy Baldwin, Dirty Sexy Money) stays behind to oversee construction. Ambushed on arrival, our heroes—Superman (Mark Harmon, NCIS), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy), Green Lantern (Nolan North, Wolverine and the X-Men), Flash (Josh Keaton, The Spectacular Spider-man), and Martian Manhunter (Jonathan Adams, Bones)—must fight the likes of Ultraman (Brian Bloom, The A-Team), Superwoman (Gina Torres, Firefly), and Owlman (James Woods, The Hard Way), staying alive long enough to carry out Lex's plan. Little do they realize that Owlman is close to detonating a bomb that will destroy the multiverse.
Twenty minutes in and there's been more fight sequences than actual story development. To be honest, my brain was spending more time trying to figure out who each of the alternate Earth characters are supposed to represent (Johnny Quick, Lobo, Black Lightning, Elongated Man, Green Arrow, Hawkgirl, Vixen, Wonder Girl, the Marvel family, and more). The B-story is a blossoming romance between J'onn and Rose, the daughter of alternate Earth's president. Of course, the big final blowout finds each of our heroes having to defeat their evil counterparts. And we wrap with the bloated bad guy expositional monologue.
Look, I don't want to denigrate anyone's hard work. Somewhere, someone thought this would make a great feature-length film and marshaled Warner Bros. creative forces to make it happen. But aside from a talented voice cast and some eye-catching sequences, the story itself is flat. We've seen all this before, done with more heart and panache. Has the superhero genre run outta gas? Is it time for break? I know the studio needs to make a buck, but they'd be better off developing better material than trying to meet a schedule that cranks out one of these DVD releases every year.
Presented in 1.78 anamorphic widescreen, the image is top notch—blacks are solid, colors pop, and the visual effects are sharp. The Dolby 5.1 mix is adequate with plenty of atmospheric ambience. And yet all these releases are starting to blur together. Batman: Gotham Knight is the only release to truly stand out as a storytelling achievement, handing over the creative reigns to animators with truly distinctive styles.
The only bonus feature on this single-disc edition is a 10-minute sneak peek at Batman: Under the Red Hood. The two-disc Special Edition offers a DC Universe featurette and two bonus Justice League episodes introduced by executive producer Bruce Timm.
Guilty of boring us with more of the same.
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