Every year at WonderCon, Warner Bros screens one of its animated titles. Last year saw us watch the deliciously demented Batman Ninja, where Batman, his family/friends, and rogues gallery got transported to feudal Japan. This year was more of a return to normalcy with Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. Normal doesn’t mean boring though, as the movie’s action and deeper themes make an interesting entry in the DC Animation canon.
Justice League vs. The Fatal Five starts way in the future as three members of the evil group are attacking a starbase. Star Boy, a future superhero, along with two compatriots try and stop them before they can get to a time machine. He fails but at the last second manages to lock the members in the machine and transport them all the way into our present. The Justice League of our time (Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern, Mr. Terrific, and a recruit Miss Martian) is on the case, especially as the villains make it clear they are after Jessica to help them enact a sinister plan. With Star Boy and Jessica both facing the toughest test of their lives, the movie ramps up to a crazy conclusion.
What I truly enjoyed about this movie was the animation and the movie’s deeper themes. This animation style is a throwback to Batman the Animated Series and Superman of the 90s, and it is nice to be back in that world and interpretation of characters. It gave the movie a comforting feel, even as the movie gives us an untraditional team (Mr. Terrific and Ms. Martian are on the team). This is great because it allows us to be grounded as we are introduced to Jessica Cruz, a new Green Lantern in a long line of Green Lanterns. Jessica, however, has a pretty harrowing backstory and this is where I felt the movie set itself apart from other animated films. Superhero movies have tackled the weight of being a hero but this movie delved into mental illness in a way I hadn’t seen. Jessica’s trauma is not just washed away because she’s a hero, she wrestle with it the entire film, even going to therapy. Same with Star Boy, who loses his medication and has to battle through his mind fracturing. Neither hero is made to be less than because of their mental situations, instead it’s just allowed to be another character point.
Because of this deep exploration the movie does, it makes it harder to swallow the parts that feel less formed. The villain’s ultimate plan is sound, but the how of how it’s revealed and enacted is less so. This leads to the climax of the film feeling hefty but also kind of detached. The “I’ve won but at what cost” meme seems perfectly suited for this film.
Justice League vs. The Fatal Five drops on DC Universe on April 16.