A year ago this month the comic book and cartoon world lost a phenomenal man in Dwayne McDuffie. If you don’t know who he is, Google him. You’ll be astounded by the amount of projects he was involved with that you’ve undoubtedly either read or watched. To say his absence has left a ginormous gaping hole in DC’s creative talent is an understatement.
Yesterday saw the release of the latest DC Animated Film, Justice League: DOOM, with a screenplay written by McDuffie, his last project before his death. DOOM is also a reunion for a majority of the vocal cast from the celebrated Justice League cartoon, making this film of great importance to those kids raised with DC’s cartoons of the 90s and early 2000s. Meaning, me. Did DOOM live up to my dreams of being the ultimate Justice League team-up? Sort of. DOOM is action-packed with great humorous moments but it never fully explores the complex relationships between the League’s most famous members. There’s no deeper meanings here, just one hell of a fun adventure.
Saying that, upon my initial viewing I was disappointed there wasn’t more to DOOM. Having known the script would be coming from McDuffie and my favorite actors were returning to voice the League, I believe my anticipation clouded my expectations and my hopes might have been too high. Upon my second viewing I got over myself and really enjoyed DOOM. Loosely based on Mark Waid‘s “Tower of Babel” storyline from Justice League of America, DOOM finds each of our heroes targeted and neutralized thanks to some expertly designed schemes. Each plan perfectly attacks their weaknesses, almost as if they were designed by someone who knows them really well. Turns out they were, by Batman himself! Batman had created contingency plans for each of the Justice League members just in case one were to go rogue or be mind controlled into doing villainous acts. Then these plans were stolen. D’oh! Smooth move, Bats.
Justice League: DOOM reunites Kevin Conroy (Batman), Tim Daly (Superman), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), Carl Lumbly (Martian Manhunter), and Michael Rosenbaum (The Flash, though this time he’s Barry Allen not Wally West), considered by many to be these character’s most iconic voices. Joining them is Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, last heard in Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, and I know I’m repeating myself here, but Fillion is the greatest thing to ever happen to Hal Jordan. He imbues the character with the right balance of pretentiousness and caring. To put it bluntly, Fillion makes me actually like Hal. Rounding out our heroes is Cyborg voiced by Bumper Robinson, though he’s not a fully-fledged League member. I can’t confirm whether or not his inclusion was to create some kind of continuity with the now rebooted Justice League comic, which has Cyborg as a founding member of the League, but it seems likely. And he’s a welcomed addition. Usually Batman or Flash are shown to be the tech-y members but Cyborg literally is technology and his skills are a great asset to the team.
To face-off against this impressive roster of heroes you’ll be needing an equally impressive roster of villains. Meet the Legion of Doom: Vandal Savage (Phil Morris), Bane (Carlos Alazraqui), Cheetah (Claudia Black), Metallo (Paul Blackthorne), Star Sapphire (Olivia d’Abo), Mirror Master (Alexis Denisof) and Ma’alefa’ak (Who I had to look up since I’d never heard of him. He’s J’onn’s evil twin and he’s also voice by Carl Lumbly). Props to both Claudia Black and Alexis Denisof because I feel their performances were very well matched to their characters. Not that everyone else was terrible, but these guys really shine.
Each of these villains has a personal vendetta against our heroes, except for Savage. Sure he’s evil and hates the League but his real motivation is a mystery. It’s Savage who gathers the villains together with the promise they will finally defeat the Justice League. They meet at the Hall of Doom which is exactly how you remember it from the old Super Friends cartoons and form the Legion of Doom. No matter how you present a league of evil villains it always comes off campy so I’m happy to say DOOM didn’t shy away from that aspect. At one point all the villains are gathered sipping champagne and boisterously celebrating their victory over the League. It’s so diabolically over the top you can’t help but laugh.
[Psst, things will probably get pretty spoilery from here on out.]
Before I get to the best moments let’s focus on a few of the film’s problems, because no matter how excellent the voice acting is or how good the script is overall, there are weak points. I mentioned the premise relies on Batman’s contingency plans to neutralize the League being stolen, and y’know big surprise, but the Legion of Doom is behind the theft. They take Batman’s plans and alter them to become deadly. At least that’s what I thought because Batman makes a point of his original plans being non-lethal. And I believe him, Batman might be a grumpy, un-trusting bastard but he doesn’t kill. So when we see these “death traps” in action only some of them appear to actually be lethal. For example, Superman is shot with a Kryptonite bullet, this would kill him. Green Lantern on the other hand is drugged with the Scarecrow’s fear toxin and placed in a situation where he fails to save someone (Who just happens to be a dead ringer for his ex, Carol Ferris, also known as Star Sapphire). The fear toxin plus the failure makes him lose his willpower and therefor he’s unable to wield his ring. He then gets really sad and cries, and I guess we’re to assume he would be crying over it forever and never resume his duties as a Green Lantern. Which is stupid. I get the emotional turmoil they put Hal through, it does make it one of the more interesting “death traps”, but I don’t get how it’s very deadly. Is he just supposed to be sad and alone forever?
And speaking of Green Lantern and Star Sapphire, they’re obviously set up to be antagonists but the way in which Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire manipulates Hal references their past a lot but never fully explains it. I know they’re past lovers, then Hal spurned her or something and she was chosen to be a Star Sapphire, but even my poor understanding of their past didn’t give me much insight into what was happening between them in DOOM. They shouldn’t have chosen to introduce this complex and honestly confusing Green Lantern/Star Sapphire thing if they weren’t going to properly explain it. I’m sure there was another Green Lantern villain who could have filled the spot. Which makes me think they only chose Star Sapphire to up the amount of female characters, and usually I’d love that, but only if it was well thought out.
They also don’t address any of the collateral damage caused by some of these attacks. Wonder Woman is drugged to think everyone she sees is Cheetah and begins beating up everyone she encounters. Civilians, police officers and eventually Cyborg, whose arm she rips off. Now he’s mostly robot so no big deal, but what about the innocent people she just beat the living shit out of? She could have killed someone! And the authorities seem to have no problem at all with this once she’s cured. It was a few plot issues like this that bothered me and removed me from the film. I understand the movie is under an hour and a half but I know DC, and in particular McDuffie, are capable of better crafted features.
Oh, and what is with Bane’s costume? His plunging waist line rivals Star Sapphire’s!
With those points out of the way what did I find enjoyable? Basically every thing else. As we’ve come to expect the animation is top notch. They didn’t choose to adapt either producer Bruce Timm‘s style or even try and translate the style from its comic book inspiration. The style of DOOM is very clean and almost anime-ish, particularly when it came to their action sequences which were handled marvelously. And that’s what is so great about DOOM, it really is almost nonstop action. We begin with a show down between the League and The Royal Flush Gang which gives each member a moment to shine then we almost immediately switch to the League being hunted down, one by one. There’s a wonderful sequence after Superman is shot where he slow motion falls from the roof of The Daily Planet (Because important things only happen to Superman on the roof of The Daily Planet). While that’s happening they inter cut the moments of the other League members suffering. Its cheesy, a little heavy-handed on the metaphor of “United we stand, divided we fall,” but it still manages to be a compelling scene.
I mentioned the film has a good sense of humor and there are moments where the League members come off as more than fellow super heroes, but friends. Some of the funniest dialogue comes though comes from Alfred, Batman’s trusty butler, who’s only in the movie for minutes. The rapport between the two of them is hilarious and so true to their characters. Check it out in a clip below.
DOOM marks the third time directing for Lauren Montgomery, well, sixth if we count her co-directing credits on both Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Batman: Year One. And when it comes to pacing this film is perfect. We’ve got action scene after action scene, quieter and funnier moments intermixed, and no character feels wasted. All in all, DOOM isn’t their best animated offering, but it’s still damn good. If you’re looking for a quick visit back to the glory of the old Justice League cartoon, this is it. In fact that good be the film’s problem, it does play out like a good Justice League episode, but maybe not the ultimate Justice League team-up movie we were looking for.