The League Double Header
We are going to try something a little different this time seeing as how, oddly, two Justice League movies were released on the same day. Perhaps it made sense for a simultaneous release since one was released ubiquitously via iTunes only (for the next two weeks at least) and the other was released in sort of the opposite way, in a single brick and mortar chain without promotion as a "stealth release." Maybe the logic was that the two were not cannibalizing each other's sales since they were targeting different distribution streams or demographics. Well, jokes on them because I got both! On to the reviews.
Let’s just say, live action quagmire aside, it’s a good time to be a fan of DC movies. In fact, both movies were enjoyable, with their own shining points. Rather than declaring one the victor, I will lay out a few notes for each. In the end both deserve their place in the solid middle of the impressive pack of DC animated films.
JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time - Light, a la JLU season 3 with goofier humor but still legit action. Not what I want every time, but a nice change up in the animated movie formula. Focus on the younger heroes, but not at the expense of the grown-ups.
Justice League: War - Going for an Avengersy tone and probably more broadly appealing than some previous Justice League movies. Adding a mix of quipy humor and action with touches of more graphic violence. This reminds me of the Superman/Batman animated movies, but is more satisfying than either. Wall to wall action with highlights for each League member.
JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time - Although inspired by Secret Origins of the Super Friends, less rehash than one might expect.
Justice League: War - Fairly straight up adaptation of a fairly mediocre story. Better in motion than on the page. Some plot changes, the biggest of which being the addition of Shazam which I do think worked better for the movie.
JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time - League lineup: Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Where's Green Lantern? I was worried about the inclusion of Legion members Karate Kid and Dawnstar, but they were one of the movie's strengths - though other Legionnaire cameos would have been a treat. Classic Legion of Doomer's Lex Luthor, Solomon Grundy, Toyman, Captain Cold, Cheetah, Bizarro, Black Manta, and Gorilla Grodd were fine. Fine without Scarecrow, Riddler, Sinestro. Giganta, or Brainiac. Only gripe is if you add Cyborg to the League, there should be a new counterpart in the Legion.
Justice League: War - League lineup: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg Shazam Green Lantern. Where's Aquaman? But like I said, it worked without him. Villain: Darkseid. And as in the comic, he was not developed very well as a character beyond being a big physical threat.
-Designs and Animation-
JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time - Given the nature of the release I was expecting a low quality production reminiscent of an animated Happy Meal commercial tie-in. This actually looked pretty nice. The quality may not have been up to the level of other DC movies or even Young Justice, but in my opinion it looked better than any of the Justice League or JLU episodes.
Justice League: War - Very nicely animated. Perhaps the palate was a bit dark and gritty, similar to The Flashpoint Paradox, but it worked better in that movie.
JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time - Although there are some serious plot holes, there are also a fair share of clever ideas that sort of make sense if you don't overthink.
Justice League: War - Story?
JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time- Reminded me of the "Ape-raham Lincoln" ending of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, but better.
Justice League: War - Only good if you are familiar with the Justice League: Throne of Atlantis comic arc. If so, very tantalizing. If not, pretty lackluster. You might as well just have placed text on the screen saying, "The Justice League will return in Throne of Atlantis." In fact, they may have been better.
-Title Nonsense-JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time - No one actually got trapped anywhere. My cheesy alternative would be Peril of the Time Trapper.
Justice League: War - No war was officially declared. My copyright infringing title would be Justice League: Assemble.
Read on to see the new rankings
#27 Superman: Brainiac Attacks belongs at the bottom of any list as it is a horrible and horribly disappointing movie. The movie has plenty of punching but remains irritatingly boring. Lex Luthor is given one of the character's worst interpretations and most egregious, the movie used the look of the Superman: The Animated Series to try and sell a sub par and unrelated Superman story. Of all the movies on the list this is the one that really has no significant redeeming qualities.
#26 Batman: Gotham Knight at least has style on its side, but little else. Gotham Knight promised a mature bridge between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and delivered a hodgepodge of freakish Batman designs loosely connected with a story that doesn't deserve to be remembered. It pains me greatly that I didn't fall in love with this Batmanime, but try as I might, even on attempted repeat viewing I haven't been able to invest in this stylish mess.
#24 Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman comes in as one of the less memorable Batman films. The actual mystery is somewhat interesting but the movie doesn't escape the feeling that it was stuck with leftover villains Penguin and Bane, two of Batman: The Animated Series weakest foes. The Dark Knight Rises may have propelled Bane to the A-list, but in this movie he will still seem like just a goon.
Not Without Their Charm
#23 Batman vs Dracula just may be the best thing that came out of The Batman. The movie has a surprisingly darker tone than the series and manages to pull off an interesting showdown with "the original Batman." The long capes and animation style also worked well here in a movie that should not just be written off by critics of The Batman.
#22 Superman Batman: Apocalypse was technically the first sequel in the DC animated movie line, but aside from few token bits of background there was really no connection to Public Enemies. This movie is essentially none of the fun of Public Enemies but twice the action. Apocalypse dropped the light camaraderie of Public Enemies in favor of serious and intense fight sequences. In fact, the movie plays more as a series of fantastic action sequences than as a story with any sort of emotional connection. In any case, this was certainly not a worthy follow up to the previous entry, Batman: Under the Red Hood, but hey, they cant all be home runs. Sometimes you have to settle for a solid double.
#21 Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero bests the similarly plotted Batman and Robin live action movie hands down. Having said that, the movie although enjoyable, doesn't quite seem to escape feeling like an extended episode of the TV series. Granted, the series was awesome, but this entry failed to raise the stakes to a whole new level.
Fun But Forgettable
#20 Superman: Unbound was fun but forgettable fluff. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the movie and it was a solid Superman adventure that deserves extra credit for its wonderful presentation of Supergirl. And yet, by the time the credits rolled I was left with the feeling that there should have been more to it. Unbound emphasized action over complex characters or story. And while Superman: Doomsday (another Superman movie with comparable action) tried to cram too much into its running time, this didn't cram quite enough.
#19 Superman Batman: Public Enemies though on the low side of the countdown was still an enjoyable romp. While Gotham Knight was just dumb, this is dumb fun. As an adaptation of the comic book, this was very faithful, maintaining many of even the most obscure cameos with designs that were spot on (for better or worse). While the story certainly wasn't deep, the movie delivered with one showdown after another. Actually, the plot points that deviated from the comic were welcome improvements. Consider this the Twinkie (or maybe the Suzy Q) of the DC line. I wouldn't want to eat seven of them in a row, but one now and then hits the spot. In fact, my appreciation for this movie has grown ever so slightly since its release while I still haven't found that soft spot for Apocalypse.
#18 Superman: Doomsday was awfully ambitious in trying to tell the whole death and return of Superman story in a single outing. While the death part was done well, the retelling of Rise of the Supermen arc felt like a cheat. Instead we were basically given a retooled Identity Crisis episode from Superman: The Animated Series. Having said that, without comparison to the original comic or comparison to the animated series tale, this story is enjoyable enough. I probably like this one more than most, maybe I just like mullet Superman. Or maybe it is just the epic way that the opening fight with Doomsday introduced DCs new line movies making me forget just how bad was Brainiac Attacks.
#17 Green Lantern: Emerald Knights feels more like a diversion than a complete movie. I really want to rank it higher, but although it was fantastic seeing so many Lanterns and amazing having some of the alien Lanterns finally getting their own focus, the anthology structure kept the movie from being as epic as First Flight. Great animation, choreography, and fan service make this a worthwhile film, but some of the segments were a lot better than other and without the heart of some of DC's greats, this one lands somewhere in the middle of the pack.
#16 Superman vs. The Elite succeeds where Superman: Doomsday failed in adapting one of The Man of Steel's banner stories. Rather than attempting to adapt an overstuffed saga, Elite explored and expounded upon the ideas at the core of a single landmark issue which asked the question if Superman was still relevant. I am not convinced the movie gives a definitive answer to the question, but it makes a strong case that the old-fashioned hero is exactly what the modern world needs. The movie never gets too cerebral and contains an abundance of well done action. On the other hand, in this film Superman fails to inspire at the level he did in his All-Star outing. But the movies' primary misstep is the coupling of adult themes and violence with overly cartoony designs and animation. For better or worse, this ain't your kids' Superman.
#15 Justice League: War serves up fan service in the form of hero vs hero showdowns, quipy dialogue, and an emphasis on flashy action over depth of plot. This is Justice League in for the Avengers generation and a origin tale vastly superior to the animated Justice League: Secret Origins. Sure, Darkseid could have been better established as a maniacal villain, but who cares. This movie is more about the team coming together than it is about the reason for the team-up. In any case, even a two-dimensional Darkseid is an upgrade over a world conquering starfish or a generic alien invasion fleet.
#14 JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time is throwback fun offering an original time traveling escapade, light-hearted tone and paradoxes galore. This movie rekindles that Saturday morning cartoon feeling, presenting Super Friends the way I only remember it in my nostalgic mind. The plot isn’t air tight, but it also isn’t stupid. It just does its job in setting the stage for updated versions of colorful heroes and villains to engage in some well animated action that does not overstay its welcome.
#12 Justice League: Doom pays homage not only to the classic Tower of Babel comic arc, but to the classic TV series Challenge of the Super Friends. At its core, that's what this movie is, an epic League versus Legion tale. Particularly compelling was the dismantling of the League but just as satisfying was the League's rising back to the challenge.The film is down a couple of ticks because the resolution of the hero contingency plans just doesn't play out as well on repeat viewings.
#10 Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker can make a believer out of those who say Batman Beyond is a lame concept. What would Batman be without The Joker? This movie shows how the Joker legacy haunted Bruce Wayne even after his apparent death and gave the new hero a chance to prove his worthiness of the title of Batman. Plus, there were plenty of flashbacks to the good ol' Batman and Robin days as well.
#9 Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths offered a a briskly paced alternate reality adventure. Highlights of the film were pretty much everything to do with Owlman including his diabolical scheme, his jet, and his main squeeze. Also enjoyable were the evil versions of heroes, particularly notoriously unpopular members of the Justice League Detroit.
#7 Green Lantern: First Flight finally gave the Green Lantern his own title and proved that GL deserves to be up there front and center. This space based action movie has a setting distinct from the other DC and even Marvel DVDs and in my opinion is begging for a sequel. Nevertheless, this movie felt like more than just a setup for another movie, a trap that many origin stories fall into. I would have liked a few more minutes of setup at the beginning giving Hal Jordan a bit more character, but overall this was a solid and polished movie.
#6 Batman: Year One is a masterful adaptation of one of the greatest Batman stories ever told and a great cop story. Before he had Bat-jets, satellites, and sidekicks, Batman was an underdog just like his unlikely partner, Jim Gordon. Sure, the source material has been mined to death by other adaptations, but this is quintessential Batman, without all the frills.
#5 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 adapts the landmark (even if overrated) graphic novel which redefined Batman as a dark hero leading into the "dark age" of comics. Thank goodness the 4-part tale was not crammed into a single film; instead this gritty story was given the time it needed to breathe, bringing to life a brilliant adaptation which outshined even the source material and set the stage for a part 2 which upped the ante to even higher levels.
#4 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 even if there are flaws with the story or a dated quality to this retro futuristic take on the 80's, the movies intensity pushes those criticisms aside leaving an engaging, high stakes movie with Batman overcoming overwhelming odds in the form his greatest enemy and greatest rival. But Batman does more than just fight, he inspired those around him to do good in spite of all the evil around them. Perhaps I am taking the movie too seriously, but I think that is how it wants to be taken.
#3 All Star Superman oozes reverence for the Man of Steel. Fans are going to gripe that their favorite scene from the graphic novel didn't make the cut, but what did make it into this film is the novel's ability to give Superman humanity. Its not just what Superman can do, but what he inspires in others that places him at the top of the pantheon of heroes. And in the end, even Lex Luthor learns that lesson. Just like Under the Red Hood captures the essence of Batman, All Star Superman is the quintessential Superman story, and the best Superman movie in at least 30 years.
#1 Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox remains the reigning champ. Although there was surely plenty of fan service, there was also a great story. A fully realized alternate timeline, plenty of characters, some ultra violence, and a heartfelt ending combined in perfect doses to form an exquisite experience.