Justice League: Gods and Monsters Blu-ray Review

Bruce Timm explores a much darker side of Superman in this extraordinary treat for comic book fans

The great Bruce Timm is back where he belongs, doing what he does best. Justice League: Gods and Monsters is the latest animated DC feature from the animation legend. Bruce Timm is known to a generation of DC fans as the man behind such successful shows as Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, among a host of others. His track record is beyond reproach, having shepherded much of DC’s animated output over the past two decades to both popular and critical acclaim. Many fans have begged Warner Bros. to hand their DC film franchises over to Bruce Timm’s care and supervision.

The DC Timmverse, as his work has become known since gaining fame, is marked with a classic understanding of what makes DC’s fabled heroes tick. His style is told in a clean, simplified approach palatable to mainstream audiences. It removes the more exotic tropes commonly found in the superheroes’ original comic book settings. Timm’s iconic character designs strip the characters down to their core elements.

Timm and co-producer Alan Burnett have crafted a wonderfully intricate Elseworlds story for this newest entry in Justice League: Gods and Monsters. Long-time comic book readers will understand that Elseworlds was the line started by DC Comics for alternate reality takes on their most popular characters. These type of stories have often become more popular and influential than the regular comics themselves. Frank Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns can be counted as an Elseworlds tale.

The premise for this intriguing alternate DC Universe reality begins with a simple divergence from Superman’s classic origin. How would Superman’s destiny, and thus Earth’s destiny, change if General Zod had been the hero’s father instead of Jor-El? That is what Justice League: Gods and Monsters explores in this parallel reality that operates as a dark reflection of the traditional heroes we’ve come to know so well in the greater DC Universe.

All three icons have far deeper emotional issues going on beneath the surface than their traditional heroic counterparts.

This is a much darker approach to Batman and Wonder Woman. Bruce Wayne is missing from this take on Batman, replaced with a character more closely resembling the fearsome Man-Bat. The trio form a far more brutal Justice League on this parallel Earth. This set of “heroes” lack the strict moral code that is a staple of the comic book medium. Batman and Superman here show no compunction about killing villains off, operating with little concern for world governments or any sense of honor. All three icons have far deeper emotional issues going on beneath the surface than their traditional heroic counterparts. It is nice touch of complexity to a genre that often mails those issues in with stock characterizations.

It has always been surmised that Superman’s presence as the first and greatest hero has always directed the moral compass of DC’s assortment of heroes. Removing his finely honed sense of integrity and justice instilled in him by his human parents would turn the other heroes darker as well, making them more deadly characters. It’s an intriguing idea that is fully fleshed out in this taut script, which keeps you guessing until its final moments. Superhero storytelling rarely gets this kind of crafted sophistication, especially in a tight 75-minute package that doesn’t waste a minute of screen time.

Long-time DC Comics readers and fans of their animated programming won’t immediately recognize the familiar icons. This Superman (excellently voiced by Benjamin Bratt) was raised by migrant workers and wears none of the familiar iconography associated with the character. The powers are the same, but his motivations are completely different from the heroically noble superhero the world knows as Superman. Timm also gave new origins and costumes to these alternate versions of Batman and Wonder Woman. Steeped in a wide array of DC characters outside mainstream recognition, the story uses everyone from the New Gods to the Metal Men in filling out the deep cast of characters. It’s a diverse bunch that serves as excellent fan service for comic book readers.

A new animated DC film from Bruce Timm that includes intrigue, mystery and convincing superhero adventure is a rare treat. This is certainly the most refined animated DC movie we’ve gotten in many years, possibly going back to the wonderful Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. It is a classic deconstruction of DC’s heroes operating within a carefully scripted superhero adventure. Aimed at the more mature adult market despite a well-earned PG-13 rating, Justice League: Gods and Monsters is essential viewing for fans of DC Comics and its pantheon of well-known superheroes.

Movie ★★★★★

And that's a trio @ 8:36

Like most animated DC films, Justice League: Gods and Monsters looks incredible in 1080P resolution on Blu-ray. The sharp, angular line-work features some very interesting new character designs for Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman from Bruce Timm. Animated in colorful clarity with perfect black levels, the vivid animation looks fantastic. Warner Bros. provides a BD-50 for the relatively short 75-minute main feature. The adequate AVC video encode averages 17.92 Mbps. A touch of minor banding is visible in a couple of shots but the clean animation is presented in flawless condition directly from its digital HD master.

These direct-to-video efforts from WB and DC Comics usually share a range of common visual features. The traditional two-dimensional animation retains a hand-drawn appeal from the heroes’ comic book roots. Most of the attention and focus is provided towards getting the characters right. Facial detail tends to suffer a bit in comparison to theatrical animation. Animated using a digital ink-and-paint process, the perfect contrast and rich black levels make for a very appealing appearance in Hi-Def video. This particular movie has slightly tighter art than is the norm. The polished character designs fluidly move in space and backgrounds show a creative approach to the familiar locations of the DC Universe like Metropolis and Apokolips.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters is carefully animated in a widescreen 1.78:1 presentation that takes full advantage of the wider frame. Smoothly directed by DC films’ veteran Sam Liu, the animation’s bold colors leap off the screen as the superheroes battle. The intense picture quality is a vivid reminder of why superheroes are often more popular in brighter color palettes. This near-demo quality Blu-ray is a joy to experience on a calibrated display.

Video ★★★★★

An excellent 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack rumbles with aggression. The sweeping surround mix thunders with mega bass and a choice selection of neat panning moments. The crystal-clear audio makes quite an impact in every way, from its heroic symphonic score to the quietest dialogue. Animated movies featuring a lot of action and adventure usually deliver the goods when it comes to explosive surround mixes. Justice League: Gods and Monsters is no exception. The overall quality is a tick behind the best demo soundtracks available on Blu-ray but competes well with everything else.

WB has provided three dubs in 5.1 Dolby Digital at 640 kbps: French, German, and Spanish. Optional subtitles appear in a white font: English (SDH), French, German, two different forms of Spanish, and Japanese.

Audio ★★★★☆

Warner Bros. includes a well-done set of special features that go the extra mile in terms of depth. This combo package does includes a DVD version. The supplements include a couple of neat bonus episodes from prior DC Comics-related cartoons, including an older episode of Legion of Superheroes seen in its native HD for the first time on home video. The documentary features include many familiar faces to comic book readers, from superstar writer Geoff Johns to DC’s current publisher Dan DiDio. Their emphasis on how this movie fits into DC’s long established tradition of alternate realities is enlightening. The LEGO Dimensions trailer has a funny cameo from a Community alum.

An UltraViolet digital copy in HDX is included in this combo set. Initial retail copies include an embossed slipcover. A deluxe edition adds an exclusive Wonder Woman action figure, done in the same style as previous action figure editions seen at Best Buy.

Sneak Peek at Batman: Bad Blood (11:45 in HD) – The next animated DC effort gets a thorough introduction and overview from such figures as director Sam Liu and DC supervisor Mike Carlin. It will center around Nightwing. If you want to remain free of spoilers, this featurette does cover much of the plot.

Alternate Realities: Infinite Possibilities Featurette (19:24 in HD) – An exploration of alternate realities as seen in DC Comics over the years. This is a smart, captivating documentary with engaging comments from Bruce Timm, Geoff Johns, and Dan DiDio about the history of DC and its various permutations. They explain the concept behind the idea of Elseworlds and the discussion includes more popular ones such as Gotham By Gaslight.

Calculated Risks: The Making of Gods and Monsters Featurette (23:37 in HD) – Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett discuss the creative risks taken in movie. A concern was that removing the familiar costumes and origins for characters like Batman and Superman would upset the movie’s appeal in the marketplace. Timm explains how this concept came about for him and what prodded him to go in this startlingly direction. A nice piece that lays out the inner workings of the creative process that led to this movie.

The New Gods Featurette (22:13 in HD) – A wonderful piece that pays homage to Jack Kirby and the characters he created for DC Comics, most prominently the New Gods. After leaving Marvel Comics, the man affectionately known as the King in the comics field switched to their rival, DC Comics. The New Gods play a critical role in Gods and Monsters and this documentary details their comic book origins for newcomers to the DC Universe.

Legion of Superheroes episode (22:25 in HD) – This is a very cool bonus. We get the episode ‘Phantoms’ from the 2006 animated series, featuring a story involving escaped criminals from the Phantom Zone going up against Superman and the Legion of Superheroes. It is also the first time anyone has seen this in its native HD outside of streaming video!

Superman: The Animated Series episode (21:19 in upscaled HD) – From Bruce Timm’s deep body of work with DC’s heroes comes this episode where Lois Lane is thrust into an alternate reality. Titled ‘Brave New Metropolis’

Teen Titans Go! Trailer (00:34 in HD)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Trailer (02:34 in upscaled HD)

Batman Vs. Robin (01:23 in HD)

A bunch of trailers precede the main menu (All in HD) – Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem, Scooby-Doo! & KISS: Rock and Roll Mystery, LEGO Dimensions videogame, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis

Extras ★★★★★

 

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

  • Like most recent animated DC Blu-rays, Target is offering a very limited Steelbook edition. Reports indicate it’s exceedingly rare.