As many of you may know by now, I’m a huge DC fan. But as huge a fan as I am, the now half-decade old line of DC original animated movies usually don’t inspire much more than a shrug of indifference from me. While quite a few of the films are solid enough in their own right, most of the time the potential exists for them to be something even better. The latest installment in the line, Justice League Doom, released last month on Blu-Ray and DVD, stands as yet another example of one such run-of-the-mill adaptation of a great comic book.
Produced by DC animation mainstay Bruce Timm, written by the late Dwayne McDuffie, and based on Mark Waid’s beloved “Tower of Babel” arc, Doom finds the heroes of the Justice League under attack by the immortal Vandal Savage and his Legion of Doom. The Legion organizes a plan to exploit the weaknesses of each JLA member in ways that only the League’s closest allies would know about. The Leaguers soon discover that Batman secretly devised plans to neutralize each of them, which then fell into the wrong hands. The League must pull together, overcome their weaknesses, and defeat Savage and the Legion, but will they ever be able to trust one another again?
Much of Doom’s appeal is getting to hear the voices of Tim Daly (playing Superman), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), Michael Rosenbaum (The Flash), and Carl Lumby (Martian Manhunter) filling their former roles from Bruce Timm’s old Justice League TV series. Fan-favorite Nathan Fillion returns from his turn in last year’s Green Lantern: Emerald Knights to voice Green Lantern Hal Jordan again, though Fillion has a ways to go before he’ll be as accomplished as his fellow cast members.
If only the animation could better support such talent. Cutting corners with an anime-style design, characters’ eyes never move, their mouths move in two repeated frames, etc. This technique works when it’s executed properly, but here, it just looks cheap. Faltering sales in these direct-to-DVD films are likely a contributing factor, but perhaps sales wouldn’t be down in the first place if the creative team consistently went the extra mile in its visuals.
While there’s always a certain amount of awkward, pulpy dialogue in these movies, Doom seems keen to amp the cheese factor significantly. There’s a scene when Vandal Savage and the Legion of Doom laugh and celebrate the destruction of the Justice League together which probably should’ve been prefaced by this:
Superfriends jokes aside, where both Tower of Babel and Doom shine is in their creative ways of neutralizing the individual Leaguers, giving the League’s greatest enemies a way to pinpoint each Leaguer’s weaknesses in his/her powers and personalities. Babel’s traps were a bit more effective, shocking, and seemingly long-term, whereas Doom, suffering from a criminally short runtime, features more generic, run-of-the-mill, and easily undone traps. For one, Superman is taken out by a Kryptonite bullet, something we’ve seen in various media several times before.
I especially didn’t care for the way Green Lantern was handled. In Tower of Babel, Kyle Rayner (Green Lantern at the time) is blinded and, as a painter by trade, cannot visualize the images he wants the ring to form, rendering it useless to him. In Doom, the villain Star Sapphire leads Hal Jordan into a mine and ends up killing a hostage, telling him he could’ve saved her and that he’s unworthy of the ring. Hal simply drops the ring and seems to completely give up hope, thus disabling him. Quite the contrast…is this really the best the team behind Doom could come up with? All Hal needs is a good pep talk, what villain would seriously think this was a good solution for eliminating Green Lantern? The film later tacks on an explanation for Hal’s behavior, but it’s flimsy and doesn’t excuse what is, frankly, poor writing. Simply put, a mere hour-and-fifteen minutes isn’t enough time to get this story across with the amount of weight and thoughtfulness it deserves.
As with any adaptation, Doom takes a few liberties with the source material. Among the deviations from Tower of Babel are replacing Ra’s Al Ghul with Vandal Savage and the Legion of Doom, or at least, a version of the Legion that’s limited to an obscure member of each Leaguer’s respective rogue’s gallery. One subplot involving Batman’s parents being removed from their graves is altered for Doom, but without revealing anything, Ra’s purpose for doing so in Tower of Babel was far more sinister and compelling.
Doom also chooses to stick longtime Teen Titan Cyborg into the JLA to reflect the hero’s Leaguer status in the New 52 initiative going on in the comics right now. It also changes Kyle Rayner and Wally West, the Green Lantern and Flash during Tower of Babel, to the original members to hold their respective mantles, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, which again reflects the current comic status. The latter two changes I don’t particularly mind, but Cyborg is incredibly out of place here, included only as a cheap promotional tool for the New 52.
Budget constraints result in Doom not being able to realize its full potential, bringing nothing new to the table and failing to come close to the effectiveness of the original Tower of Babel. It’s also more tailored to casual fans of the DC Universe, non-comic readers with only a passing familiarity of the mythology, rather than diehard fans who will probably be just as nitpicky over the details of the film as I was. Overall though, Justice League Doom is still a decent enough addition to DC’s recent animated adaptations. With a great premise and a familiar, perfectly-cast ensemble, the film is certainly worth checking out for fans of the characters or prospective audiences interested in the universe.