Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Film Review - 'Justice League: Doom'

In a world filled with super-powered individuals, it would be fair to think that a character like Batman would struggle for relevance. He is, after all, the token 'ordinary human' member of a team of heroes which includes an almost indestructible alien, an Amazonian demi-goddess, and the 'Fastest Man Alive'. Despite this, though, Batman is also a character with a long, and proud, history of proving that he is more than capable of holding his own.

Sure, you could argue that Batman's effectiveness is largely the result of contrived plotting from writers well aware of the fact that he is DC's most popular, and therefore most marketable, character - but, that's really beside the point. Within the context of the DC Universe, Batman has always been treated very much as an equal - and, the reason for that is fairly clear. Even beyond the impressive array of gadgets that he has at his disposal, and the extreme training that he has put himself through, the traits that make Batman so effective are his intelligence, and an obsession with planning and preparation that borders on paranoia.

As we see with Justice League: Doom (a very loose adaptation of the Tower of Babel story-arc, for fans of comics book trivia), though, there is also the possibility that his obsession with preparation could also prove to be Batman's greatest weakness.

When the greatest heroes that the DC Universe has to offer come together to form the Justice League, for example, Batman sees the clear potential for danger. In secret, Batman has studied each of his team-mates - learning their weaknesses, and developing contingency plans to deal with each, in the even that any of them become a threat. It's exactly the sort of behaviour that you might expect from a character as obsessive as Batman - but, when these plans are stolen, suddenly we have a team of super-villains fully capable of picking off the Justice League, one by one.

It was the immortal Vandal Savage, a long-time foe of each member of the Justice League, who was behind the theft of Batman's secret plans. He has plans of his own for the world - but, he knows that the Justice League will need to be dealt with, before they can be put into effect. So, gathering together a team of villains, Vandal Savage set out to do just that - offering each the chance to have their revenge on their most hated rivals, by making use of the Dark Knight's own plans.

Obviously, with a set-up like this, there is a fair amount of assumed knowledge, here. So much of the basic premise of this film, after all, is based on the antagonistic relationship between the members of the Justice League, and the villainous counterparts chosen by Vandal Savage to defeat them.

Despite the clear importance of these relationships, though, the film doesn't seem to feel any real need to provide any context. Clear, the audience is expected to either be already familiar with this characters, and the history they share, or to be able to pick up enough to go on, for themselves.

Thankfully, while this prior knowledge may be helpful, in many cases it isn't actually essential. Even if you are entirely new to the DC Universe, for example, it should be simple enough to pick up on the fact that Metallo hates Superman - and that, as a kryptonite-powered cyborg, he would pose a very genuine threat to the Man of Steel. In this case, it might have been nice if the film had found the time to go into Metallo's origin, but it's not really essential.

The same is also true with Batman and Bane. There is a single-line reference to the time that Bane 'broke the Bat' (referencing the time that Bane broke Batman's back) - and, that should be enough to go on. Wonder Woman and Cheetah find themselves in much the same position. They have clearly fought before - and, now they are fighting again. The Flash and Mirror Master? Well, Mirror Master is just a super-powered criminal that the Flash has encountered before.

In each case, some broader context might have been appreciated - but, as with Superman and Metallo, the lack of context doesn't feel like too much of a detriment to the film, as a whole. We know everything that we need to know.

Unfortunately, though, this isn't true of all of the film's 'hero versus villain' match-ups. Martian Manhunter is a character that I am just not too familiar with, in general - and, I know even less about Ma'alefa'ak. They are, clearly, two members of the same almost extinct alien species - but, the film gives us no real understanding of why they would be opposed to each other. It was, in fact, only after the film ended that I learned that the two of them are actually brothers - and, that was a result of my own research. Although, to be fair, their fight was also the most entertaining that the film had to offer - so, there is that, at least.

Things were much more problematic with the Green Lantern and Star Sapphire, though, Here, we are given some fairly clear hints about a long, and obviously very complex, relationship - one which even seems at a previous romantic element. It is something much more complicated than two long-time foes who have fought each other in the past - but, it receives no more attention than any of the other match-ups. Without any prior knowledge, the conflict between these two character stood out as a particularly confusing point, for me - which, given that this was clearly intended to be the film's most emotional and personal element, felt like a shame.

All of that aside, though, Justice League: Doom is still a film which goes out of its way to give the audience exactly what they want - a series of exciting battles between heroes and villains, and the sort of world-ending threat which would provide a challenge to a group like the Justice League. Admittedly, it does all build toward a climax that is pure comic-book silliness, as the details of Vandal Savage's ultimate plan are finally reveal - but, the journey to that point is still very entertaining. Each of the film's wide variety of action-sequences is very impressive - as well as providing a genuinely impressive show-case for the abilities of the character's involved. And sure, the film's final act might require some fairly significant suspension of the audience's disbelief - but, if you're a fan of comic-books, then you're probably already very familiar with that sort of thing.

Coming in at barely over an hour in length, though, Justice League: Doom is clearly one of those examples of a film which could have benefited from a longer running-time. There is, after all, absolutely no reason why the film couldn't have taken some extra time to provide some extra information about this group of villains, and their prior history with the Justice League. It just felt like a missed opportunity, to me - and, something which would have significantly improved the film, as a whole. As it stands, though, we are left with a film that is very entertaining, while it lasts, but which is ultimately a bit forgettable. It is still film filled with impressive animation, and moments of exciting action, though - so, it is definitely worth the time of any fan of DC's cast of characters.

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