Justice League: Doom - DC's Best Animated Movie Yet?

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DC’s latest animated film is possibly also their best.

A sucker for DC Comics, at least prior to The New 52, as well as DVD bonus features and faithful film adaptations, has meant that I have seen every one of these films, and always look forward to the next one.

Justice League: Doom is based on one of the best JLA stories in recent years; 2000’s Tower of Babel storyline from JLA #43-#46. Written by Mark Waid, with art by Howard Porter and Steve Scott, it focused on the believable scenario that Batman maintains secret plans to neutralize his powerful team-mates should they ever go rogue, or become mind controlled. This is understandable, seeing as both events have happened to the JLA members in the past, but Batman’s best intentions go awry when his plans are stolen and put into effect by Ra’s al Ghul. The storyline had a lasting impact on the League and several follow-ups to Batman’s actions have been explored over the years.

Whereas the original tale was much larger in scope, the film chooses a narrower focus. There are a few changes, primarily from switching the villain from Ghul to the immortal Vandal Savage, and the method of taking out the League members. Only the plan of attack on Batman by stealing the corpses of his parents survives the transition from page to screen. The characters in the film also vary. Gone are Plastic Man and Aquaman from Tower of Babel, with Cyborg taking prominence, in a new (and his best yet) costume, and the inclusion of a new version of the League of Doom. The cast is far from sprawling and unmanageable though, with each of the Leaguers getting taken down by their opposing opposite, so Cheetah takes on Wonder Woman, Mirror Master tackles Flash and in a pleasant surprise, Ma’alefa’ak battles his twin brother Martian Manhunter. Metallo, and Star Sapphire round out this version of the League of Doom.

It’s all grand, and the individual battles go beyond the simple “I’m stronger and faster than you” variety into tailored fights which the League must do their best to recover from, with Wonder Woman’s desperate and deluded fight, and Flash’s sacrifice from Mirror Master’s trap being the most dramatic.

The voice cast will get the thumbs up from fans of the Justice League cartoon, as the actors return to their heroic roles, and Nathan Fillion voices Hal Jordan, as he did in Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. There’s great interplay between the superpowered friends as long time allies, and Vandal’s crew show the selfish villainy of their personalities, with Cheetah even going so far as to prove Savage’s immortality in the film’s bloodiest scene.

The film looks great, and features varied locations. It features the same character designs of Crisis on Two Earths, and we also get to see most of the Leaguers in their civilian identities, such as Barry Allen at a crime scene, and John Jones in a bar celebrating his birthday with friends.

Screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie has crafted an accessible, enjoyable film that doesn’t lack action or characterization, which is no mean feat with such a large cast, and the last half really ramps up the intensity with the League’s now uncertain attitude towards Batman, and Savage’s desperation to enact his use of solar flares to destroy most of the Earth’s population.

Batman’s stubborness, (even in the brief scene in the Batcave with Alfred) Wonder Woman’s compassion and Manhunter’s stoic nature are all revealed through their dialogue, and the larger DCU is hinted at, with references to Robin, Bane’s crippling of Batman, plus Lois and Jimmy cameos. The opener is also a battle with the Royal Flush Gang.

Savage’s evil scheme is of the typical megalomaniac variety, but also one which is unique and makes sense for the character. Plus, as a nod to the classic Super Friends cartoon, his Hall of Doom is an updated skull in a swamp.

This is the 6th DC film Lauren Montgomery has either directed or co-directed, and brings a superb balance between the action and the personalities of the superheroes and villains behind them. As with all of these animated projects, there is some assumed DCU knowledge on the part of the viewer, but as the title suggests, the well known Justice League receive most of the screen time, followed by Savage, but I’d like to think that these films act as gateways to the comics.

DC and Warner Bros. always go all out in their special features, making the Blu-Ray the more tantalizing option. On that format you get a few exclusive bonuses, which include looks at how Batman relates to the JLA (with the usual psychological examinations of fictional characters and even a brief look at the history of American politics), a look at Cyborg’s history with interviews with Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman, a commentary and -- unfortunately-- a measly two page preview of the first issue of Tower of Babel. However, with automatic panel navigation it is easy to read, and it does have an ad for DC’s digital comics store.

Also included are the DVD extras, which are the usual Bruce Timm Presents feature, which here offers the two-parter Royal Flush Gang/Joker-centric Wild Cards from Justice League Unlimited. Also included is a look at the next animated film, Superman vs The Elite, and a rather touching documentary on the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, who wrote many comics and cartoons.

When I first became aware of the changes this made to the fantastic source material, I was skeptical, but this stands alone as an outstanding entry, fit for fans and newbies alike. This is the kind of superhero film that I wish we could enjoy as a live action extravaganza. Hopefully when Warner Bros. notices the haul that The Avengers takes on its first weekend, they’ll get inspired to make it a reality.

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