After a rocky start, the post-New 52 era Justice League films have been pretty good with some strong adaptations of popular DC stories. That’s why it was a little surprising that Warner Bros. Animated opted to set its latest film, Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, in the Bruce Timm universe.
Timm was the chief architect for the massively successful Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond and Justice League series. If any creator can pick and choose his DC projects it should be Timm. Besides, his last out of nowhere project, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, was pretty great. Justice League vs. The Fatal Five doesn’t reach that threshold, but will be more than good enough for fans of the Timm style JL.
In this adventure, Legion of Super Heroes member Star Boy (Elyes Gabel) is stranded in the present day after stopping an attack from The Fatal Five in the future. Well, three actually as Tharok (Peter Jessop), The Persuader (Matthew Yang Jang) and Mano (Phillip Anthony-Rodriguez) are on a mission to rescue their captive members, Emerald Empress (Sumalee Montano) and Validus (Timm).
Caught in the middle is the Justice League as they try to make sense of these powerful beings from the future. This isn’t the usual Justice League team as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are joined by Mr. Terrific (Kevin Michael Richardson), Jessica Cruz (Diane Guerrero) and Miss Martian (Daniela Bobadilla). The inclusion of Miss Martian is odd since she’s a prominent member of the Young Justice series.
It’s hard to complain too much when the film reunites the Timm-verse Big Three of Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg and George Newbern, but it would have been nice to see other Justice Leaguers less likely to dominate the spotlight from the other heroes.
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Miss Martian fills the role of the eager rookie looking to impress Batman and the other veterans. Mr. Terrific is somewhat underwritten as he’s an established hero and used with a similar technology focus as Cyborg.
Jessica has a far more interesting arc as she’s dealing with a crippling anxiety after a traumatic experience that makes getting out of her house a challenge. Jessica has been one of the better additions to the DC Comics roster so it was great seeing her get another spotlight. She also bonds with Star Boy, who is dealing with his own mental issues after his medicine gets destroyed in his time travel.
The script is credited to Alan Burnett, Eric Carrasco and James Krieg. They take some questionable liberties with the source material particularly regarding Superman and the Legion. In the acclaimed Justice Society run by Geoff Johns, Star Boy was the unhinged team member who frequently worked alongside Mr. Terrific.
Timm has never been a big fan of the Green Lantern Corps and constantly makes them out to be losers in every situation so it wasn’t surprising that their cameo led to them getting trounced thoroughly.
There’s something weird about watching a Bruce Timm style Justice League adventure with foul language, bloody violence and death. The kiddie-style doesn’t mesh as well with the more serious subject matter.
The screenwriting team did a great job in its presentation of mental illness. It’s something that carries such a stigma to the point that people who deal with it are embarrassed. One of the best aspects of the film is that the screenwriters don’t treat it like a disease worthy of being ostracized or worst be used for comedic purposes. It’s a thoughtful look at something we rarely see in cartoons.
My highlight of the film is the far too brief battle pitting the Legion of Super Heroes against The Fatal Five. Besides a better than expected cartoon that ran for a couple of seasons and an episode of Justice League, the Legion doesn’t get a lot of love in the animated world. Seeing them in action made me wish they could get their own dedicated film at some point.
I didn’t love the final act as it neutered the Fatal Five out of convenience and overpowered Jessica. Not that it’s a travesty to actually show a competent Green Lantern, but in the process, the writers casually brush aside Cruz’s journey through the film seemingly because time was running short.
The direction by Sam Liu (Reign of the Supermen) was solid with nice, dynamic action sequences with easy to follow battles. Liu always does a great job on that front and I love seeing how easily he balances the fights so every character gets big moments to shine without ever feeling too chaotic.
Justice League vs. The Fatal Five might not be the best Timm-verse effort, but fans of that throwback style should enjoy what’s essentially a bonus episode of Justice League Unlimited.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment