Justice League: Gods and Monsters Blu-ray Review: A Lot of Sizzle Without a Lot at Stake

A dark and gritty alternative to the bleak and dreary comics.
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Justice League: Gods and Monsters is the all-new original movie that marks the return of Bruce Timm to the DC animated universe and features a version of the Justice League vastly different from the one we know. Imagine a brutal and violent Superman, an even more brutal and violent Batman who isn't Bruce Wayne, and a brutally violent Wonder Woman who wasn't forged from clay and you've got... well hey now, that actually doesn't sound all that different from the bleak and joyless characters currently being featured in DC films and comics, does it? Come to think of it, the tagline on the back of the package says "From dark heroes, justice will dawn".  Is this actually an alternate reality?

According to the text on the back of the box and the goatee that Superman is sporting, it most certainly is. In this reality, the Justice League is a trio of unlimited and unchecked powerhouses who strike fear not only in the hearts of the bad guys, but also in the average citizen. Just like the ones currently featured in DC films and comics, but totally different. When a group of prominent scientists start getting picked off one by one, the League are the prime suspects. It's a high stakes game of intrigue, mystery and action. That's what the back of the box says, anyway.

I believe it was Jon Bon Jovi who famously sang "It's all the same; only the names are changed." Obviously, he never saw Justice League: Gods and Monsters. In this film, the names are the only things that remain unchanged as the DC Universe is turned topsy turvy and familiar characters find themselves in unfamiliar situations. We're through the looking glass here, folks. White is black and up is down. So much so, in fact, that it becomes a constant distraction which takes you away from the plot of the film at every opportunity.

You love all those Easter eggs in the Marvel movies, right? Of course you do - they're awesome and they're the kind of stuff geeks like us live for. How sweet was it when you noticed Professor Phineas Horton's Synthetic Man in the first Captain America film, or Stilt Man's legs in that one episode of Daredevil? It was super sweet, of course! Now imagine, if you will, a 76-minute film that was made up of nothing but Easter eggs, only in this situation, all of the little nods and winks are altered into the complete opposite of what you're familiar with.

Now, I was one of those kids who had nearly every issue of Who's Who and was familiar with strange and obscure characters, as well as the minutiae of the DCU. And I'm a total sucker for alternate realities to boot.  So I'm not gonna lie here -  distracting as it was, it was still a blast catching all of those references and I definitely had a smile on my face seeing how the writers twisted the characters we've grown up with into something new that was familiar, yet vastly different at the same time. They didn't simply create a world where the good guys are evil and the bad guys are the heroes; they made a lot of interesting choices in order to recreate the DCU from the ground up and despite my misgivings, I'll admit that it was a lot of fun.

Sort of like how Taco Bell uses the same seven ingredients to create an entire menu of different meals. And yeah, it tastes pretty damn good when you're eating it, but after you're done, it kinda leaves a burny sensation in your gut. I mean, you're totally gonna eat it again; but you're not really sure if it's good for you or not. Or if it even qualifies as actual food, for that matter. But whatever - it was totally awesome in the moment.

So it was with Justice League: Gods and Monsters, which was very much a mixed bag for me. While I loved seeing all of these reinterpretations and I was absolutely drooling over the design work (Batman's costume is particularly awesome), it sorta felt like a lot of sizzle without a lot at stake. The plot didn't seem to drive the film as much as the shock factor did. And speaking of shocking, did I mention the League is brutal? Brutal and violent? And brutally violent? Hey, I'm not here to judge: I couldn't help but think of the first time my buddy Ben, who was big into anime back in high school, brought over his Guyver VHS tapes and while I can't remember much of the plot, I can still recall how we thrilled at the sight of aliens ripping the arms off of monsters while blood spurted everywhere. Yeah! This was radical stuff and totally adult because it was bloody and violent and brutal!

And that was awesome when I was 17. Hell, it was awesome last weekend when I watched Justice League: Gods and Monsters. But maybe I'm just a little burnt out on the grim and gritty of the current DCU and no matter how many times they tell me "This isn't just violence for the sake of violence" in the documentaries included on this Blu-ray... yeah, actually  it kind of is. Which is totally fine, but don't bullshit a bullshitter, y'know?

Did I enjoy it? Yup. Would I recommend it? I wouldn't not recommend it. Am I going to trade my review copy in at the local Disc Replay for a Disney Infinity figure? Depends on who they have in stock. Will you like it? I would guess so, but much like the Taco Bell meal I referenced earlier, maybe it's not exactly a well-rounded dinner. But hey, sometimes that's exactly what you need, right?

Justice League: Gods and Monsters is rated PG-13, is presented in 1080p High Definition with DTS-HD audio and looked pretty damn nice on my big ol' high-def TV screen. Several extras are included, like episodes of Superman: The Animated Series and Legion of Super Heroes, which feature alternate realities, as well as an all-too short feature on Jack Kirby's New Gods and a couple more about the making of Gods and Monsters and the various alternate realities featured in DC Comics stories over the years. That last one mostly just talks about Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and tries to convince you that this story is somehow in the same ballpark, totally missing the point of what a "mature" superhero story actually is.

Justice League: Gods & Monsters Clip:

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