Justice League: Doom (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + UltraViolet Digital Copy) (2012)

Actors: Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Susan Eisenberg, Nathan Fillion, Carl Lumbly
Director: Lauren Montgomery
Writers: Dwayne McDuffie
Producers: Lauren Montgomery, Bruce W. Timm
Format: Animated, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: February 28, 2012





Welcome back, DC comics animated features! The last few rounds have been awfully rough, with 2011 dominated by a trio of underwhelming entries . . .

The modestly entertaining Green Lantern: Emerald Knights was flanked by two major disappointments: All-Star Superman and Batman Year One, both of which utterly failed to capture the spirit of their celebrated source. It falls to a comparatively minor DC storyline to put the direct-to-DVD series back on track. With a few minor hitches, Justice League: Doom fulfills its task admirably.

The biggest problem concerns the animation design, which is serviceable but displays a noticeable decline in quality from earlier projects. The simplistic concepts rely too much on earlier notions without retaining their distinctiveness. Superman, for instance, is intended to look youthful and boyish here, but instead comes across as almost androgynous, while the characters' movements smack more of expedience than elegance. That makes the first few minutes fairly jarring, and even when we get into the story, the mediocre animation continues to tug at our attention.

Fortunately, the rest of the movie has a cure for that, starting with its exceptional vocal cast and continuing with a tight little storyline that holds us fast.

Most of the members of earlier DC animated series return to their established roles - topped by the legendary Kevin Conroy as Batman, but also including Tim Daly as Superman, Michael Rosenbaum as The Flash, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman and Carl Lumbly as the Martian Manhunter. Nathan Fillion reprises his Emerald Knights role as the Green Lantern and fits into the proceedings like a tailored glove.

With the cast primed and solid dialogue from late screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie, the characters themselves quickly overcome their uninspiring visual design.

They certainly face a task worthy of feature-length status. Unbeknownst to the rest of the Justice League, Batman has secretly created files detailing how to disable each and every one of them. The information is intended for use only if a team member falls under enemy control, but the villainous Vandal Savage has other ideas. He uses the Mirror Master to infiltrate the Batcave and download the files, then implements the plan with a gaggle of baddies who each have it in for a member of the League.

The scenario displays a great deal of complexity . . . and, frankly speaking, requires some background on the characters to work at its best. For example, a viewer who understands the tempestuous romantic history between Green Lantern and Star Sapphire will pick up the pertinent details more quickly than someone who needs a primer. Justice League: Doom errs on the side of omission rather than bogging the proceedings down with unnecessary exposition, and though newbies can easily catch the gist of it, the subtleties require an active fan's knowledge.

In exchange, however, Doom is remarkably light on its feet.

It moves quickly through an opening fight with the Royal Flush gang, Savage's recruitment of his fellow villains, the implementation of his plan, and the fallout when Batman's actions become known, all without feeling rushed or undernourished. The action stays strong while keeping the characters' psychological profiles intact to lend the conflict some depth.

Every key figure gets a diligent amount of screen time . . . no small feat when you consider six main JLA members, their corresponding nemeses, Savage, and key peripheral characters like Cyborg and Alfred Pennyworth. Most DC Animated films feel quite slight. This one plays like a much longer movie - even though it runs just 76 minutes - a fact attributable to the very efficient screenplay.

Those assets make a welcome return to form for a series that spent most of 2011 spinning its wheels.

Diminished expectations may have helped it, since the original Tower of Babel comic book story doesn't hold nearly the same reputation that, say, Year One does. Doom doesn't have to compete with Christopher Nolan and it doesn't need to reproduce the source material in exacting detail (one of the things that helped sink Year One).

Freed of those constraints, it finds the beating heart of these characters and provides a unique dilemma to show off their best (and worst) qualities. Had it improved its production values, it might have stood among the elites of this series. As it is, we're just glad to see it do right by the DC Universe. With the course corrected, we can hopefully expect DC's next round of animated films to follow its example.

THE DISC: The disc itself adheres to most aspects of the DC direct-to-DVD titles.

Image and sound quality are solid (though the animation on display means there's not much to enjoy) and the extra features are insightful and entertaining. The disc lacks the usual short film covering an unrelated DC hero - a real letdown considering how good previous entries have been - though the remaining features help make up the difference.

The high point is a memorial for McDuffie, recounting his contributions to the DC Universe. Other features include a lengthy piece on Batman's relation to the JLA, a discussion of Cyborg, and a preview of the next DC animated feature, Superman vs. The Elite.

WORTH IT? Yes. Newcomers to the story will enjoy the nuanced look at how tensions among superheroes play out, which DC Comics fans will appreciate the tight interpretation of a very good storyline.

RECOMMENDATION: The Tower of Babel comic has more time to delve into details on the scenario (as well as using Ra's al Ghul who is, frankly, a cooler villain than Savage), but this admittedly loose interpretation does honor to its ideas. It's also a fitting send-off for McDuffie, who died too soon and will definitely be missed.

- Rob Vaux



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