In recent months, I started buying comics again, and of course, one of the first I grabbed was Justice League. With DC revamping their full line of books with 52 all new #1 issues, it was a perfect entry point. I was a serious fan of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series, and while this is not of the same continuity, all of the main voice actors were brought back for this outing. So, that made this animated movie quite special for me. What we have in Justice League: Doom is a very stellar story crafted by some amazing talents as DC Comics’ premiere superhero team battles with more than just villains, but a breach of trust within their own ranks.
Soon after thwarting an attempted robbery by the Royal Flush Gang, the Justice League of America comes under the attack of Vandal Savage’s Legion of Doom. The immortal conqueror has assembled a team of villains to defeat Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter. Concerned of the consequences should his fellow crime fighters ever turn their backs on humanity, Batman created a set of methods for which to immobilize Earth’s most powerful superheroes in the event of an emergency. However, Vandal Savage breaches the Batcave’s security and obtains these files allowing for his team of villains to use them for lethal intent. Now, joined by the young hero Cyborg, the JLA must overcome deep feelings of betrayal to defeat the diabolical Legion of Doom before Savage launches a missile that will destroy half the planet allowing for himself to be situated as ruler of all mankind.
While there is a lot of subject matter I will delve into, first and foremost, I want to say that this is a thoroughly enjoyable, fun, and exciting motion picture. It is full of great action, excellent characterizations, and plenty of epic, heroic moments that will inevitable please any adventure-loving viewer. There is plenty of levity throughout to counterweight to more dramatic storyline, and the balance between them is beautifully handled. There is much to examine and highlight with this animated feature.
This was adapted from a 1990s story arc in the JLA comic book titled Tower of Babel, and a few changes were made. The line-up of the team is different which originally included Aquaman and Plastic Man. The roles of Green Lantern and the Flash were originally the relatively newer heroes of Kyle Rayner and Wally West, but are now the more classic Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. Also, Cyborg is only a recent addition to the Justice League of the comics, but he is nicely integrated into this story. His role shows a young hero earning his keep by stepping up in a chaotic situation, and using his unique skills to help resolve it. The main villain was also changed from the endlessly fascinating Ras’ Al Ghul to the less dimensional Vandal Savage. Using Ras’ made more logical sense since he is a Batman villain who has infiltrated the Bat-cave numerous times, and it is established that he knows Bruce Wayne is Batman. Plus, his motives are usually more ideological in nature whereas Vandal Savage is usually just about conquering the world. Still, they are both megalomaniacal in their own ways. However, despite these peculiar changes, the story still works excellently adapting new motives and dynamics to these different characters.
Every superhero is handled with substantial depth and respect. The story allows for an audience to see most of the JLA outside of their superhero personas. You see Barry Allen attending to a crime scene as a police forensic investigator, Clark Kent at a press conference as a reporter, Martian Manhunter in his human guise as a police detective, and Bruce Wayne in his interactions with Alfred. They are brief moments, but enough to show an audience that these people do live lives outside of their costumes. In their lives, there are people who they personally care about, and those that care deeply for them. I did especially like how Alfred was written being the rational voice to Batman’s more obsessive, workaholic mentality. It shows that Alfred is still his keeper, and can exercise authority over him due to a long standing respect. Batman wants to keep working, pushing through the pain and fatigue to resolve this new mystery, but Alfred reminds him that he is human and needs rest and mending. Bruce could override Alfred’s mandate, but he would never disrespect Alfred’s better judgment. The interactions of these characters display a history amongst them. Little quips about how Ace “sucker punched” Superman before, or Hal and Batman talking about who is ahead in saving whose life really creates a long standing trust and camaraderie here. This makes the impact of Batman’s secretive contingency plans a stronger blow because we can see how much they are friends on top of being teammates. What is really great is what Batman reveals as his contingency plan for himself at the end, and it hit me as very telling of Batman’s true nature of trust.
I also enjoyed that the entire League is not unanimously opposed to Batman’s contingency plans. They are all stunned by it, but subtle actions by some of them suggest a more open minded, fair viewpoint. I can entirely see Hal Jordan being for it as, at least in the comics, he went completely insane and killed the Green Lantern Corps when infected by the fear entity Parallax. He’s also seen someone like Sinestro, who was a Green Lantern, betray the Corps and become an enemy as well. So, having counter-measures in place to neutralize a rogue member would be a wise precaution in his eyes. However, most of the League would view this as a betrayal of trust, and no one is entirely wrong. When Tower of Babel was written Batman was being made into an increasingly more paranoid character, and so, while his ideas might have been wise, his secrecy might be arguable. However, Batman never takes time to brood about this, or feel regret over it. He remains strong in his belief that what he did was a necessary precaution, and it’s only Savage’s twisting of their intent that made them potentially objectionable, in his eyes. Being the sole non-super powered member of the team, he has a unique perspective to see how destructive their powers could be if mind control or a psychological break were to turn them to the side of evil.
Of course, the voice cast is excellent! Having the same actors back who I loved in the old DC Animated Universe just added an extra special quality to the film. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly have been voicing Batman and Superman, respectively, for a long time, and have earned a respectable standing in the annals of these characters. Conroy is the voice of Batman to me, forever and always. He captures every psychological and emotional nuance of the character perfectly, and clearly enjoys voicing the Dark Knight. Daly embodies the moral sensibilities and epic quality of Superman wonderfully. Michael Rosenbaum is clearly a great actor, and he is able to adapt his voice acting nicely from Wally West to Barry Allen. There’s still a playful aspect to his performance, but it’s more restrained, a little more mature now. He clearly made a conscious effort to differentiate the two performances. The only change-up here is the amazing Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan reprising his role from the Green Lantern animated movies. His performance truly transcends expectations meshing greatly with the animation direction to create strong emotional moments. Fillion offers up great jovial quips, but also, deep emotional resonance for Hal. He creates an interesting and fun character that holds a lot of weight. Lastly, Phil Morris, who portrayed the Martian Manhunter on Smallville, takes on Vandal Savage, and does a thoroughly effective job at it. He gives Savage a nice touch of majesty and culture wrapped in an imposing megalomaniacal package. The remainder of the cast inhabit their characters superbly keeping things strong, vibrant, and powerful throughout, but it doesn’t end with just the voice acting.
I have really enjoyed the animation style of these animated movies. I have seen Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and Batman: Under The Red Hood (which I previously reviewed). All of these have had some slightly different character models, but they have all raised the animation standards for this medium. They are nicely detailed giving each character their own unique look, angles, and energy. All of the heroes here seem a little younger than usual, but that’s exactly what DC Comics has done with their new continuity. So, it did not throw me off at all. The motion of the animation is very fluid making for some dynamic and exciting action sequences. Those sequences are also smartly handled by never making them frivolous. The heroes have to work hard for their victories, and each action scene furthers the story along. The Royal Flush Gang tends to be a token, generic band of villains to battle, but here, they are made more formidable. They have cunning, skill, power, and some cohesion. As dialogue suggests, they have eluded the JLA before, and so, everyone steps up their game so to not repeat that loss. The Justice League uses teamwork and smarts to ultimately triumph over them.
Scenes play out with a solid cinematic style aided by an excellent color scheme to bring out vibrancy and mood. These enhance the subversive elements in the story creating a mysterious, foreboding atmosphere. The creative design of locations is very cool. I really loved the waterfall interior setting of the Bat-cave. It offers up a different aesthetic than I’ve seen applied before. I felt it was a little inspired by the one in Batman Begins due to the waterfall entrance in Christopher Nolan’s film. Also, the Hall of Doom was a nice update from the old SuperFriends cartoon. It still has all the classic design elements, but it reflects Vandal Savage’s personality with various pieces of elegant art that depict him only.
The story unfolds in a very tight fashion. Pacing is consistent throughout. As DC is keeping these hovering around the 75 minute mark, there’s hardly time to let the story lag anywhere, but it’s more a fact that there are no extraneous elements present. It’s a very lean, meaty storytelling structure staying right on point with the plot elements and character dynamics. Every plot element that is introduced has a purpose. They all tie back into the story at some point, and grow organically from the conflicts or crises that develop. They really took Tower of Babel as a template, an idea, and built a fresh story around it using a new set of character dynamics and relationships to create Justice League: Doom. That is very smart screenwriting, and that was evidently the standard for the late Dwayne McDuffie. Brilliant stories filled with well rounded, well realized characters and themes. He surely hit every character squarely on the mark in this instance crafting their psychologies and histories around a very intelligent storyline. When the Leaguers are taken down in the second act, there is such an epic and powerful weight given to it all. It’s not handled like “just another villain victory.” These are moments that could claim all of their lives, and it is no easy feat for them to bounce back from it. Beyond just the physical toll, it becomes an emotional and personal injury that they need to overcome to move forward with stopping the Legion of Doom. These moments are given their due time so that their epic weight can come crashing down upon the viewer. It is an amazing sequence that gripped me tightly as it unfolded.
My only down comment is that, at the end, I would’ve preferred a more sound tactical approach in the villains and heroes pairing off. When you have such equal opponents setup here, it would be more logical to change them up. Have Flash take on Cheetah, Batman against Mirror Master, Superman against Bane, or Martian Manhunter battling Star Sapphire. Throw the villains off guard by pitting an opponent against them they are not prepared for instead of each hero battling their common enemy. I can understand the storytelling significance of having each hero take down the villain that defeated them earlier in the story, but this suggested approach also makes sound storytelling sense. The Legion of Doom outsmarted them once. Now, it should be the JLA’s turn to outsmart them instead of just throwing down like they’ve done countless times before with the same enemies. This is especially so since there’s a missile ready to be launched that will destroy half the Earth. No time for personal vendettas. For me, it would’ve been more satisfying if they had taken a smarter approach by changing up the fight dynamics instead of trying to settle scores when the fate of half the world is at stake. However, that is merely my own personal issue, but the climax of the film doesn’t end with a hero-villain fight. The Justice League still has a crisis on their hands that requires each member to give it their all to avert disaster, and that only made for a far more intense and satisfying ending.
This is a very dramatic story that deals squarely with the characters on numerous levels. It raises a very involved issue about trust amongst a group of people with secret identities and super powers. Despite their own personal secrets, they have come to trust each other, but at some point, there must be an objective point of view questioning ‘what if.’ Beyond just the potential of mind control or magic manipulating them, anyone is capable of using their power to do something destructive through emotional or psychological turmoil. When that day comes, someone has to be prepared to deal with it, and Batman surely felt it was his responsibility to prepare for that. Batman, at his best, has always been about doing what’s needed, not what’s popular. The film doesn’t address the complexities of the issue, but it does address how the characters deal with it. That is what’s important, in the long run, and it would truly be intriguing to see a direct follow-up to this story to know how this team moves forward from here.
All of this simply results in an extremely well rounded animated movie. The foundations of its success truly began with Dwayne McDuffie’s immense talent and brilliance as screenwriter. I have not had a wide spread exposure to his work, but from what I have learned of it, Justice League: Doom exemplifies much of what he was admired for. This is written with so much depth and knowledge of the characters that it works as an excellent entry point for anyone into the DC Universe. The loss of all the stories McDuffie still could’ve given fans worldwide is hard to fathom, but it is clear that his talent will be forever missed. However, he left behind a large catalog of work for us all to enjoy at our leisure. So, I would say starting here would be a fine choice. Justice League: Doom has thrilling action, great excitement, rock solid dramatic storytelling, wonderfully fun characters, and is an all around enjoyable watch. It’s an attention grabber from beginning to end, and I know for me, it left me wanting more of this greatness. As I know it does for the great guys at the Raging Bullets DC Comics fan podcast, whose own review helped me fuel mine, this movie makes me long for the return of a Justice League animated series.
DC Comics have certainly languished behind Marvel Studios in bringing their popular characters to the big screen in the last decade. At times, I had thought it was because Warner Bros. wanted to take their time to do things right, and make good movies instead of cheap, fast cash grabs. Marvel has had plenty of those. Of course, you need to have not just good talent, but the right talent behind a project to make it all it should be. With Batman firmly established and a Superman reboot rigorously in the works, Green Lantern would’ve been the springboard for other DC Comics film adaptations, but its box office performance was not what was hoped for.
There have been many Green Lanterns throughout the decades, but Hal Jordan has been the most popular one for over fifty years. I have some fond history with Hal Jordan originating back to the time of The Reign of the Supermen event which set him on a path from fallen hero to super villain to spirit of vengeance to redemption and resurrection. I enjoyed this journey which took a whole decade to see fulfilled. It has since made me a fan of Hal, and I became a supporter of having a Green Lantern movie made. We finally got one, but it wasn’t all I had hoped for. The resulting film has some serious flaws in it, but very satisfying elements do exist. Let’s set the stage, first.
Billions of years ago, the Guardians of the Universe divided the universe into 3,600 sectors to be policed by their Green Lantern Corps, assembled from the most fearless beings throughout the universe to maintain order and justice. When one of their finest, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is attacked by the yellow fear-essence entity Parallax, he is mortally wounded, and crash lands on Earth. He commands his ring to find a worthy successor here. That person is the reckless and cocky aircraft test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) who is no stranger to fear. As Jordan slowly learns to use his power ring when he is whisked off to the planet Oa, the home of the Green Lantern Corps. Here, he is trained by the best Lanterns including Sinestro (Mark Strong) and Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), but also has his failings and fears brought to light. Meanwhile, Parallax creates death and destruction as it moves through the universe towards Oa. The Corps’ attempts to thwart this enemy fail with more casualties, and they consider harnessing the yellow power to fight fear with fear. On Earth, scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is summoned by his father Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins) to do an autopsy on Abin Sur’s body at a secret government facility, and is infected by the yellow fear entity developing telepathic and telekinetic powers. Hal returns home where he must combat Hector’s increasingly dangerous and villainous behavior, and confront his own insecurities before he can become a true Green Lantern. Soon, the fate of Earth and the entire universe will be in the hands of Hal Jordan.
What I need to say first is that I do not believe Ryan Reynolds was miscast as Hal Jordan. Yes, there could have been better choices, but Reynolds was not a bad choice. I have seen him in dramatic roles such as in Buried where he portrays a man buried alive in a coffin in the middle east. The raw, wide range of emotion he put on display in that film solidifies my faith in his acting abilities. The problems in this film that diminish his effectiveness here were far beyond his control.
The main problem here is how unbalanced the film is, and I can entirely pinpoint all the aspects. Fundamentally, the film is divided between the Earth-based scenes and the intergalactic ones. They both follow different plotlines and carry different tones and scopes. Everything involving the Green Lantern Corps on Oa or elsewhere in the universe has a serious urgency to it, and a vast wondrous visual landscape for an epic adventure to take place in. The Earth scenes have a lighter tone with no such urgency to the storytelling process and a fairly contained scope. Events in one setting do not have enough effect on those in another. It can feel like two different films meshed together with Hal Jordan as the only linking thread between them. There is no cohesion to bring the plotlines tightly together, and when they do converge at all, it’s done too late. To boil it down simply, everything that didn’t take place on Earth happened to be the best parts of the movie. Every time the film cuts away from the cosmic, intergalactic part of the story, I couldn’t wait to come back to it. I had no such anticipation for the Earth-based scenes.
The story involving the Green Lantern Corps and Parallax is so compelling because it deals with a threat on a large, epic scale. Billions could die, and so many have already perished in its wake. Therefore, every action and decision the Corps makes has the weight of that menace bearing down upon it. There are strong characters and fleshed out personalities in these extraterrestrials that easily dwarf those of the human characters. Sinestro stands out as the strongest and most compelling character in the entire film for me. I would’ve liked more time spent with him than anyone else to delve deeper into his psychology and emotions. Knowing that Sinestro becomes an enemy of the Green Lanterns in the comics, he would’ve been a deeply fascinating character to explore in detail before he became that enemy. Mark Strong does an amazing job with him reflecting many subtle nuances, and he does leave me wanting a hell of a lot more. It’s a wasted opportunity that more wasn’t done with such an excellent actor in this strongly written role. On the lighter side, I’m sure fans gained enjoyment from Kilowog, who is particularly entertaining. Michael Clarke Duncan has a good amount of fun playing this character that he is so much a fan of. The Guardians themselves have some gravitas to them because of their looming, stoic manner. They are mysterious, but much can be read into them, as Hal does late in the movie. They set a very ominous tone that is integral to building up the threat of Parallax.
The visual effects that create these alien landscapes are beyond gorgeous! In those respects, I can see where all those millions of dollars went in this inflated budget. They are breathtaking vistas filled with rich depth, color, and textures to create worlds that are enveloping. Green Lantern is given a strong cosmic sense to it with a universe filled with millions of years of deep history. The visuals offer a massive scope along with a perfect visual tone to compliment the story. I have not often seen interstellar science fiction cinema with this amount of extraordinary, beautiful detail. They surely put the CGI in the Star Wars prequels to shame, in most regards. All of the CGI aliens in the Corps are fantastic looking! They all have their own textures, body language, and unique character traits that give the film a wealth of visual personality. Although, the motion capture animation can tend to appear lacking in realism, mostly in wider shots. There is not enough weight (or mass) given to their movements in these instances is what I perceive. However, it’s only in brief, sparse moments. Conversely, when the shots get in close on Reynolds while wearing the energy suit, the effect is not very convincing. It can look cheap at these moments, and since Hal Jordan is the main character with a generous amount of close-ups, these moments are frequent.
Over on the Earth based story, so much feels like throwaway content. It might be necessary content to develop Hal’s character, in theory, but so much fails to have any worth. The girlfriend is the girlfriend. Carol Ferris provides the usual emotional support, and she has some amusing moments. However, I failed to see much depth in the character. She fulfills a role in the story, but there doesn’t appear to be much potential for her to be more than that. She’s also the damsel in distress that the hero must save because she must be used as a hostage for the useless villain in Hector Hammond. Peter Sarsgaard certainly does an excellent job with the quirky, bizarre, and twisted Hammond. Everything he does is great and dead on the mark, but Hector really has no purpose in the story. His sinister actions do add a certain dynamic to this part of the story as he slowly mutates into this whacked out super powered agent of Parallax. It creates conflict amongst a few ancillary characters, but his inclusion gives way to a bunch of unnecessary elements that get in the way of the main plot. There was no need for the covert organization Checkmate or Amanda Waller in this story. They exist here only as a conduit for Hammond to become accidentally infected by the yellow fear entity via an autopsy on Abin Sur. Waller herself is not presented well. Angela Bassett has all the skills to bring Waller to powerful life, but she’s not given enough meat to sink her teeth into. Pam Grier did a perfect job with Waller on Smallville, but Bassett could’ve given her an impeccable performance to rival. Still, what matters here is that the story of Hal Jordan becoming a hero and defeating Parallax requires neither the presence of Hector Hammond, Amanda Waller, or Checkmate. Hammond is there as a physical adversary for Hal to combat until Parallax actually arrives on Earth, but once that occurs, Hammond is disposed of promptly. While he does a serve a purpose in attracting Parallax to Earth, a creative screenwriter could’ve easily reworked plot elements to achieve that same result if Hammond were excised from the film. I feel it would’ve been wiser to save Hammond for a more focused story in a later sequel. Frankly, all of these extraneous elements only serve to chop up the story, creating more fundamental problems. There are too many subplots going on detracting from the potential streamlined flow of the main plot.
The unevenness of the movie is further attributed to the more lackadaisical pace of the Earth-based story. While there is impending doom tearing through the universe, Hal Jordan returns to Earth to talk with his jokey friend, deal with his girlfriend, and have some fun being a superhero. No dramatic pressure is put on Jordan until the final act when Parallax diverts to Earth because of its link to Hector Hammond calling him there. This should’ve happened much sooner in the film. If so, it would’ve put that needed pressure on Jordan to overcome his fears in face of an inevitable doom over a longer period of time, and thus, creating a correlating urgency with the rest of the film. As it is, the fear element in Hal’s character evolution is not well executed, and the ending feels weak and rushed.
I can’t help but compare Green Lantern to Batman Begins due to this similar theme of fear. Where Batman Begins explored the concept very thoroughly as both an internal conflict for Bruce Wayne to overcome, and then, an external element to be utilized and combated, Green Lantern just kind of talks about it over and over again. Nothing is really explored or exploited. You never see Hal actually be defeated by or struggle with fear. It is something talked about. He talks about being afraid, and others talk about him having the courage to overcome it. You don’t see the struggle he has to face to actually triumph over those things. It should have been a weakness that takes away his confidence while battling an enemy. It would force him to face a crushing defeat that would motivate Hal to rise back up as a confident hero by the end, but it hardly happens. There should be emotional conflict to punctuate this story element, considering it is fear. Batman Begins showed us, in many ways, how Bruce Wayne confronted fear, overcame it, and was able to turn it back around as a weapon against his foes. There is not enough adversity thrown at Hal Jordan either by his own internal struggles, or anything external to really build up dramatic suspense or tension in his ascension to superhero.
Breaking away from plot elements, I do want to credit the score by the always impressive James Newton Howard. It truly gives the film the big, epic scale it demanded with some strong and mysterious themes. Everything Howard seems to do is sure gold, and he truly reaches for the stars on this one. Like all great film composers, he is able to adapt himself to the needs of the picture pulling on all his diverse musical skills to create a unique experience. It is surely one constant throughout the film that did not falter.
Action sequences are nicely handled. Martin Campbell has done two James Bond films before along with other rousing action pictures, and so, he has the skills to put together coherent action sequences. Dion Beebe’s cinematography maintains an integrity throughout by not giving into clichés of the genre. His cameras hold to the grand scope of the story by giving us shots with depth and patience. This is a stark contrast to the work he did on the mostly handheld digital video-shot Michael Mann movies Collateral and Miami Vice. As with Howard, it seems Beebe is able to adapt his style to the needs of the picture.
Making my final story related notes, there is a lot of repetitive dialogue reiterating exposition as if we didn’t get it the first or second time. The script really could’ve been tighten up to make way for more poignant character or story elements to be fleshed out. Not to mention, tightening the script could’ve balanced out the urgency of the plot. The character stuff is very drawn out, and the plot elements are very short. The good things were really good, but too much of the film is too light and clunky for the good elements to win out. It was enjoyable, but it’s a little too forgettable. I don’t think it has anything to do with Ryan Reynolds. It’s all in the script and direction. Reynolds can pull off the kind of performance this film needed, but he either just wasn’t pushed into it or the script didn’t call for it. The movie needed more dramatic momentum to make itself work right. Director Martin Campbell has had many excellent and successful films to his credit including GoldenEye, Casino Royale, & The Mask of Zorro. Of course, he has the off-the-mark Mel Gibson revenge thriller Edge of Darkness more recently to his credit, but Green Lantern is even further from the mark. It really is a combination of an unrefined screenplay, loose editing of the various plotlines, and his direction that leave the movie feeling lopsided and ineffective.
Green Lantern had the makings of a really good movie, but it didn’t go deep enough with the characters to make Hal Jordan’s ascension and success epic enough. It had potential, but it was too uneven to succeed. There are other bits and pieces I could criticize, but they are pretty inconsequential when there are such larger problems to address.