Justice League vs. The Fatal Five
I had high hopes for the newest DC original animated movie, Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. It has two of my favorite DC things: the Legion of Super-Heroes and Jessica Cruz, Green Lantern. Plus, it had an intriguing theme, that of mental health and struggling with invisible illness.
(The studio provided a review copy. In addition to the physical media release, the movie can be seen on the DC Universe streaming service. Since they sell access to the digital copy for $15, $8 for a month of streaming seems like a pretty good deal if you just want to watch it.)
After being attacked by three of the Fatal Five, who steal a Legion time bubble, Star Boy (voiced by Elyes Gabel) follows them back to our time. Unfortunately, Star Boy needs his mental stabilization medicine (because he’s a paranoid schizophrenic), which doesn’t exist yet, so he winds up institutionalized, after trying to rob a pharmacy naked. (Some of the things that happen in this movie are not exactly subtle.)
Cut to a young Jessica Cruz (Diane Guerrero) watching her friends be murdered, which feels as though we’ve wandered into another kind of film. She is seeing a therapist because she suffers from anxiety. Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg) decides to encourage her to help as Green Lantern by attacking her with a giant sword. Around this point, I began thinking that, while the idea of tackling the challenges of mental conditions in a superhero context is fascinating, the execution might be a little ham-handed.
There’s a lot assumed about this story. The bad guys are just three vaguely robotic villains, one with an axe, until they finally introduce themselves about a third of the way in. It’s just names, though, without any clue of the scope of what they can do. (I kept thinking “Manos, the Hand of Fate” when Mano’s disintegrating hand would glow, but that’s another franchise entirely.) They previously appeared in a Justice League Unlimited episode (see below), so perhaps the filmmakers were assuming those interested in this movie were already familiar. That episode aired over a decade ago, though.
We aren’t told why Jessica is working with the Justice League, or how she gained the ring, when she clearly doesn’t want to be Green Lantern at all. (She also lives in Portland, Oregon, which of course she does.) The only clue we get as to how Star Boy is doing the many things he does is Batman’s passing mention of “controlling the mass of objects” (although sometimes he seems to have force blasts). It’s nice seeing the two bond, though.
The Justice League — Superman (George Newbern), Batman (Kevin Conroy), Miss Martian (Daniela Bobadilla), Mr. Terrific (Kevin Michael Richardson) — is made up of an odd mix of well-known and different characters, which is cool to see, but a bit unfamiliar with no explanation. I can guess why they’re there — Miss Martian is also young and less experienced, as Star Boy and Green Lantern are, while Mr. Terrific provides some well-needed diversity — but I would have appreciated some nod, some backstory mention in passing. Adding in Miss Martian did provide some fun seeing Batman grumble about working with teenagers while she wouldn’t take too much of his guff.
Fans will note the big three are the classic voices from Justice League Unlimited, which is really great to hear. Gabel and Guerrero also do an admirable job with the more challenging roles. I don’t bother talking about the animation because it’s serviceable but not impressive. Star Boy’s starfield costume is pretty cool to see, though.
It’s admirable to see superhero movies tackle something more than pounding on bad guys, but in this case, they’re hamstrung by the requisite “big fight every 15 minutes” plot structure and an unbelievable exaggeration of the young hero’s redemption arc. I like the goals of this film, but the execution isn’t as well-done as I hoped.
There is a flashback scene where the Legion fights the bad guys and we finally see why they’re called the Fatal *Five*. Legionnaires include Mon-El, Shadow Lass, Dawnstar, Chameleon, Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5, and what might be a revamped Tyroc. I don’t know, because the characters are never named, and since most of them don’t speak, there’s no voice credit or created by acknowledgement.
There are also two Halls of Fame stuffed with statues of both the LSH and the Justice League, which provided a few minutes of trivia fun. And apparently, everyone driving a large vehicle in this DCU, whether plane or train, must have a dark mustache.
There’s a nine-minute Sneak Peek at the next movie, Batman: Hush, promoting how many of Batman’s villains are included; teasing more romance with Catwoman; and discussing how important the visuals are and how influenced everyone was by Jim Lee’s art. They have to simplify it, of course, since all those little lines don’t translate well.
“Unity of Hero” is fifteen minutes about including more diverse heroes in the DCU while trying to move beyond tokenism. There’s a nice nod to Dwayne McDuffie as well as a clinical psychologist talking about the importance of representation. Marv Wolfman tells a story about Cyborg meeting a group of kids with prosthetics. That leads into a brief tour though DC’s attempts to expand their universe, with mentions of Static, Wonder Woman, Oracle, and Renee Montoya. This extra was worth getting the disc for.
“Battling the Invisible Menace” (8 minutes) deals with the portrayal of mental illness in the superhero realm. There’s also a commentary track with Bruce Timm (executive producer), Jim Krieg (co-producer and co-writer), Sam Liu (producer/director), and Eric Carrasco (co-writer).
Previews are included for Justice League Dark and Justice League vs. Teen Titans, and the cartoon episodes are “Man of Tomorrow” from Legion of Super Heroes and “Far From Home” from Justice League Unlimited, where the Legion and Fatal Five previously appeared.