REVIEW: “Justice League: Doom”
If you’ve been a fan of Warner Bros.’ direct-to-DVD DC Universe movies, you are no doubt eagerly awaiting the February 28th release of Justice League: Doom. ComicMix’s own Glenn Hauman and Mike Gold attended a press screening of the movie, along with the mandatory press conferences and post-game roundtable discussion. We decided to take a conversational approach to our preview – not quite a review, as we’re avoiding spoilers. Still, if you’re extraordinarily anal retentive (the fanboy/fangirl affliction), you might want to just look at the pictures.
Glenn: The story, and the universe, felt familiar – not just because we’ve known these characters forever, but because it was Dwayne McDuffie’s take on them, his POV from Justice League and from Justice League Unlimited. One of those “you don’t realize how much you miss it until it’s gone” things.
Mike: DC’s animated universe came about organically, from the original Fox Batman Adventures through Doom… with major exceptions like that Teen Titans and that unnecessary and initially unwatchable The Batman series a couple years ago. Dwayne played a major part in that Justice League animated universe to be sure, but those Batman and Superman series created the foundation of this universe, as well as the bouncing off point for many of the actors.
Glenn: Speaking of the DC animated universe: one thing that was weird for me, throwing a new bit of unexpected unfamiliarity, was meeting Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman for two decades, because he just doesn’t quite look the part in real life – he looks more like the Scarecrow. I found myself mentally covering up his face from his nose up, superimposing a cowl on him. Or am I just that weird?
Mike: Yeah, Conroy is pretty skinny and he’s got a great face. But I think he’d be perfect as Jason Blood or Orion of the New Gods.
Glenn: Conroy as Jason Blood, live action? Oh, that works really well.
Mike: Did you notice how they kept on repeating the multiple imagery ploy? Lots of Cheetahs, lots of Mirrors Master, lots of rockets hidden in the big rocket. That’s a stunt that works once; after that, it’s boring.
Glenn: Well, when you’ve got Mirror Master it’s very hard to avoid duplicates. I was about to say that they had to have that so it would be simpler for kids, but I don’t know if that’s the target audience. Who do you think this is aimed at?
Mike: Absolutely. Mirror Master is the one I’d have kept. The Cheetah sequence was very good, but since I’d only use that stunt once in the story, there were other ways to do the Wonder Woman/Cheetah scene. As you point out, it’s really Mirror Master’s act. I don’t think these D2DVDs are for the children’s market per se. They’re for the “whomever likes it” market – just like all other superhero movies these days.
Glenn: I would assume this is ostensibly for ten year old boys, but there are a few knowing winks for the old timers – most notably, the bad guy headquarters – and some slightly more adult themes than simple kiddie fare. But on the other hand, this seemed to have a bit more of an anime bent, so they may be overcompensating for the grown-up stuff.
Mike: Cartoon Network and Boomerang have a habit of also running DC animation in non-child friendly hours as well. As we learned back in the days of Rocky and Bullwinkle, you can work on both levels at the same time if you’re good.
Glenn: There are other continuity things that tickle the back of the brain – boy, Barry Allen sounds a lot like Wally West – but if we’re looking for hyper-rigid continuity, we’re in the wrong racket.
Mike: True. I love Michael Rosenbaum’s Flash, but more the wacky Wally-type than stick-up-the-ass Barry. Overall, the voice work was impeccable. It was impeccable when these actors played these characters before. And I think Andrea Romano could make even Marcel Marceau sound good… something William Castle couldn’t do.
Glenn: I will note it was a bit weird to hear Bane voiced by the same guy who voiced the Taco Bell Chihuahua.
Mike: Yow! Is that true? Bane was voiced by the doggie? I thought the last time I was at Taco Bell, I had him for lunch.
Glenn: Yep, same guy. Sadly, the effect sounded a bit like Puss In Boots when we really needed the Hulk. Or at least someone who could out-gravel Conroy.
Mike: We always need The Hulk. Now more than ever. Not knowing this bit of doggie business, I thought he was fine as Bane – who wasn’t used as much as I thought he would have been, given the next BatFilm. For me, Kevin Conroy is the definitive Batman actor. He’s done it longer than anybody – including Adam West and Matt Crowley, who voiced the Bat for years in the Superman radio show and starred in the failed (and really crappy) spin-off pilot. Bane stood up to him, vocally speaking.
Glenn: And although he’s played the role for a much shorter period of time, Nathan Fillion has nailed Hal Jordan’s swagger.
Mike: Fillion was a better Hal Jordan than just about anybody who’s had the part. I’d say I wish he was in the movie, but actually, I wish he was in a completely different Green Lantern movie. One that I could actually finish watching.
Glenn: Did you feel that the animation was a little weird in spots – most notably with Superman and the anime eyes?
Mike: Now that you mention it, I was riveted to the Big Red S symbol. It never looked right, but if did seem to change for scene to scene. Granted, it’s a bitch to animate, but so is the rest of this movie.
Glenn: We’ve danced around the story a bit – did you find it was a decent adaptation, or does that even matter for this story?
Mike: I don’t think the faithful adaptation aspect is critical here. It should stand on its own, and it wasn’t sold as an adaptation of a classic JLA graphic novel. The Return of The Dark Knight Returns would be a different matter, one that will show us how much they gear their work to the kid’s audience.
Glenn: Yes, the upcoming Dark Knight Returns will be an interesting test. We’ve already seen one pass on it about a decade ago, but this will be tricky to do. I agree with you on the adaptation aspect; ultimately, it has to stand on its own. This story certainly stands alone, you don’t have to know about current continuity or who’s against who – you get enough to figure things out, and we can already assume you know who Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are.
Mike: We shouldn’t assume the audience knows who the Family Jewels are. If your major exposure to them over the past five to ten years was the ever-changing, ever-contradicting, let’s kill ‘em over and over DCU, you really need to establish who these people are. You don’t have to get into the whole origin thing, and in Doom they rightfully avoided it. They didn’t explain what the JLA was all about, they just showed us. Overall, Marvel makes much better live action superhero movies (yeah, yeah, Batman, Joker, yadda yadda). But Warner Bros. makes much better animated movies. Sure, Bruce Timm and Dwayne and Paul Dini (who wasn’t involved in Doom) are critical and vital, but so are the voice talent and the voice director. Romano certainly deserves her plethora of Emmys. The animation directors have moved back and forth between Marvel and WB stuff; it’s the voice work and the writing that makes the difference. My only real problem with Justice League: Doom is that it wasn’t quite as sharply written as many of the others. I loved the Wonder Woman D2DVD; they tackled a huge sutra there and it came off great.
Glenn: I will assume that Dwayne would have given a final polish himself and couldn’t, and no one else could bring themselves to mess with his last work. But it does make me wonder… I have faith in Dini, Timm, etc. though. Amazingly, it’s now a recapitulation of whether you were a Disney cartoon or Warner Bros. cartoon fan when you were a kid. The comparison feels similar – a certain anarchy vs. calculation and precision. Only now it seems like the battle and style and corporate culture has trickled down to the respective comic companies.
Mike: As much as I respect Dwayne’s work, this is a public communication form and somebody talented should have done a final polish … assuming Dwayne didn’t do that himself. They recorded the audio over two years ago, and obviously had a finished script at that time. I’m a big fan of anarchy – Bob Clampett and Tex Avery are my favorite animation directors ever. But this isn’t a seven-minute cartoon: it’s, what, 80-odd minutes and needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Which it certainly does. What did you think about seeing Doom on the big-screen? Jaggies aside.
Glenn: I’m not sure it was that big a screen, certainly with home theaters nowadays what we saw was only different in that we were surrounded by an audience and we didn’t have the pause button. That said, it’s interesting to see how an audience reacts and laughs, particularly when it’s not really expected. And of course, Batman gets most of the good lines.
Mike: Hey, we didn’t have popcorn. I bitched about that at the outset. But it was a much bigger screen than one finds in most home theaters, my chiropractor not withstanding. It was fun sharing the experience with a large crowd – and us fanboys and fangirls were all real polite, too. Even though there was a commercial at the beginning; a PSA. You could feel the revulsion when they showed the new DC Entertainment logo.
Glenn: Except they didn’t have the new logo at the front of the movie itself.
Mike: Yes. That would have pissed off this crowd. And it will eventually. Say what you will about the swirl – and I already did that here on ComicMix – it looks great on the big screen. Which project is to be released next?
Glenn: I think it’s Superman: What So Funny About Truth, Justice, And The American Way? or The Dark Knight Returns. If you were a fan of Justice League Unlimited, particularly if you thought of it as Dwayne McDuffie’s Justice League, this was a satisfying capstone.
Mike: Except they didn’t have The Question.
Glenn: I’m sure if you pitched a Question animated series with Denny, you’d get a hearing.
Mike: Been there, done that. Although when Denys Cowan was doing all that animation work for BET … you know, like The Black Panther … that would have been fun. I hope they get Nick Lowe to write the theme song for the Superman D2DVD. After all, it’s a twist on his line.
Glenn: So what did you think of Justice League: Doom? Good beat, can you dance to it?
Mike: I recommend Justice League: Doom, to be sure. Not the best of the bunch, but absolutely fine with truly great elements. It’s easily worth the Blu-Ray price.
Glenn: The one thing that would make this better is if it was the season opener for the renewed Justice League cartoon. As it is, it’s great to visit with old friends again.
Justice League: Doom. An original animated movie from Warner Home Video on Blu-Ray and DVD to be released Tuesday, February 28 2012. $24.98 SRP.
Executive producers – Bruce Timm and Sam Register. Producers – Alan Burnett and Lauren Montgomery. Director – Lauren Montgomery. Voice Director and casting –Andrea Romano. Writer – Dwayne McDuffie. Based on JLA: Tower of Babel by Mark Waid, Dan Curtis Johnson, Howard Porter, and Drew Geraci.
Starring Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, Michael Rosenbaum as The Flash, Carl Lumbly as Martian Manhunter, Bumper Robinson as Cyborg, Phil Morris as Vandal Savage, Claudia Black as the Cheetah, Alexis Denisof as Mirror Master, Olivia d’Abo as Star Sapphire, Carlos Alazraqui as Bane, and Paul Blackthorne as Metallo.