Bravery is not the absence of fear, but acting despite it.
As much as Marvel deserves every accolade going for its cinematic universe (seriously Endgame was such a perfect culmination of the whole Infinity Saga and I’ve never had quite a cinema experience like it and maybe never will again), but it’s not the first company to put together a connected superhero universe outside of the comics. Let’s talk about the DCAU (DC Animated Universe), spanning across Batman the animated series, Superman the animated series, Batman Beyond, Static Shock and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (I get iffy with whether the Teen Titans should be included since it had a different style to it and they never got to do any crossovers with the other shows so I’ll leave them off the list for now), but the DCAU is the reason I love superheroes. The shows it encompasses were my introduction to superheroes and while I also watched all of the Marvel cartoons as well, these are the ones I keep coming back to (and the reason I’m a DC fanboy). Why am I rambling on about this instead of the movie I’m meant to be reviewing? Well, because to me, this film feels like a lost episode of Justice League Unlimited (with added swearing and a fair amount of blood, but I’ll come back to that) and I feel that was very much the intention.
The nostalgia is certainly strong with this one, outside of the fact that the art style is that of the DCAU with classic Bruce Timm designs, we’ve also got Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg and George Newbern reprising their roles as Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman respectively. Add on to that the soundtrack, which either outright plays the old themes or comes up with new arrangements of the classics, and I was a kid again, watching a brand new episode of Justice League Unlimited and I loved it. Seriously, after Batman the animated series, Justice League Unlimited was my favourite cartoon of the DCAU (the Cadmus arc is one of the finest story arcs in cartoon history as far as I’m concerned), with Batman Beyond and Static Shock close behind it. This film also follows in the spirit of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon and introduces us to a whole host of new heroes (some of whom I’ve never met before and am definitely going to look into more after watching this).
I suppose it’s about time I talked about the actual plot though and, as I mentioned it covers several areas of DC that I’m not that familiar with so forgive me if I get stuff wrong (I’m a DC fanboy but there’s only so much trivia I can store in my head, at least until I upload my consciousness to a supercomputer and absorb the internet and you will all bow before me! Sorry, went a bit super villain there, not sure why.) Anyway, we start off in the 31st century, where three members of the Fatal Five (including a guy who disintegrates everything he touches with his hand, a guy with an axe that can cut through anything and someone I have mentally dubbed ‘half-Metallo’) break into the headquarters of the Legion of Superheroes and steal a time machine. Luckily one of the Legionnaires, Star Boy, tags along for the ride and manages to seal the Fatal Five inside the time machine, on the downside, he’s now stuck in the past, a past that doesn’t have the medicine he uses to keep himself mentally stable. Oops. Luckily Star Boy runs into Batman. Unluckily he’s naked and going on about how he’s from the future, so he’s shipped straight to Arkham.
That brings us to our other starring hero, Jessica Cruz, Green Lantern. Now I’ll hold my hands up here and say that I know very little of Jessica Cruz, the fact that she’s a Green Lantern is about as far as my knowledge of her goes, I’ve never read a comic that features her before and after watching this movie, that feels like an oversight on my part. I have no idea how accurate the movie’s origin is for her, but the Jessica Cruz we get in this film is dealing with a whole heap of trauma and anxiety and it not only makes her a very sympathetic character, but it’s always good when mental health issues get talked about, we need more of this. Anyway, back to the plot, the Justice League accidentally releases the trapped Fatal Five, Oops, and they go after Jessica, wanting to use her to free the remaining two members of the Five, with Star Boy breaking out of Arkham to try to warn/help Jessica and convince her that, despite what she thinks of herself, she is quite possibly the bravest lantern going.
There’s a lot to love with this film for a DC fan like me, the animation is great, the characters are all on point and a lot of fun and the action is fantastic, however, that brings me to the problems with this film and, honestly, they’re the same problems that I have with the majority of DC’s original animated movies. One, it’s too short. I get these are done on a budget and it takes a lot of time and effort to animate stuff, but would an extra ten to twenty minutes really kill DC? Everything is there in the film, we see the bond develop between Jessica and Star Boy and they get a few minutes to mull over their issues, but that’s it. I just fell like the film needs a few extra minutes to breathe, to show us more of how Jessica and Star Boy cope, and it would make those moments were they shine all the more powerful.
Two, violence and language, now this film is by no way the worst offender, there’s only a couple of swear words and some of the more violent deaths are often quick or quickly moved off screen, but they are there (we see Superman lying in his own pool of blood). I’d be okay with this if it was necessary for the plot, but it’s not, so much of this film is trying to feel like the Justice League Unlimited cartoon and then Jessica will say s**t and I’m completely snapped out of the moment. Just because the main audience for this film is going to be fanboys like me who grew up on the cartoon doesn’t mean you need to insert blood and swearing to any decree, we get it, we’re an adult audience now, but inserting that stuff doesn’t make your product more adult, it makes it juvenile and frankly insulting so DC (and I know you’re reading this), stop it, just, stop it.
All in all though, I did enjoy Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, my small complaints about the language and violence aside, this film has been a great nostalgia trip for a fanboy. I’ve got to hang out with old friends I adore and got to meet some new icons who I hope to get to know better. If you’re a fan of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon or just fancy getting to meet a wider range of DC heroes then check this out.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.