Bruce Timm

155: Justice League vs. The Fatal Five Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Recently, in terms of quality, the DC brand has made a sudden course move to much better pastures. Sure, Aquaman is a bloated mess that felt like two movies in one, but it was such a blast to watch, and then Shazam! came out of nowhere, and was just an incredible movie. It’s easily my favorite superhero movie of 2019 so far, and I’m typing this as Avengers: Endgame comes out, so we will see how that ends up. Anyway, I’m happy that the company is doing a better job with its features, and I’m seeing some slight improvement in the animation department as well. While some of the films from last year were still okay at best, Batman Ninja was such an entertaining ride. It seems like whenever DC goes off the beaten path of something that’s not working correctly for them, they tend to get better results. For example, let’s see how Justice League vs. The Fatal Five does. Directed by Sam Liu, we see the return of not only Sam Liu as the director, but Bruce Timm as executive producer, and his designs take over the art direction of the film. This was also touted as the first DC-animated feature to deal with not only the Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, but also will be tackling characters with mental health challenges. So, how does it work juggling all of that? Well, let’s get started!

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The story sets us up in the future with the Legion of Superheroes, a “Justice League” of the future, to put it shortly. They are being attacked by three of a villain group known as The Fatal Five. The three members include Mano, voiced by Philip Anthony-Rodriguez, The Persuader, voiced by Matthew Yang King, and Tharok, voiced by Peter Jessop. So, what are they after? They are after a time machine to go into the past to get something. They get past Legion member Saturn Girl, voiced by Tara Strong, and Star Boy, voiced by Elyes Gabel. Fortunately, Star Boy ends up screwing up the three baddies’ plans, and ends up going into the past with them. Along the way, he encounters the current day’s Justice League members Batman, voiced by Kevin Conroy, Superman, voiced by George Newbern, Wonder Woman, voiced by Susan Eisenberg, Mr. Terrific, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson, and young hopeful Miss Martian,  voiced by Daniela Bobadilla. Another side of the story has a unknown player in the overall plot with Jessica Cruz, the current Earth’s Green Lantern, voiced by Diane Guerrero. Will the Justice League be able to stop three of the Fatal Five members while dealing with the mystery of Star Boy and Jessica Cruz’s connection?

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So, how about we talk about the elephant in the room? This film deals with two characters who have mental health issues. Star Boy has a drug in the future that he takes to prevent some kind of mental breakdown, which the film describes as  paranoid schizophrenic, but even then, it’s a doctor from the past that describes it, so who knows if that’s really what it is. They don’t say what Jessica Cruz suffers from, and I want to take a guess, but I don’t want to mislabel it. That’s a big risk to have a film that tackles those types of issues. You have to be respectful about it, and tread lightly with making sure these disorders or issues are treated with delicate hands. For the most part, I think they do handle their struggles with the proper weight of said challenges. They aren’t just added in for no reason to give the story some kind of artificial struggle. Jessica Cruz, after surviving a pretty traumatic experience, struggles with getting up and socializing with the rest of the world. I could see how going through what happened would close one’s self away from the world. While they don’t really go into full detail as to what exactly happened with Star Boy, he’s more interesting as a character with his struggle to be helpful. He also realizes how crippling his issues are that could hinder the League’s attempts to stop the Fatal Five. You get a lot of quiet moments between Star Boy, Jessica Cruz, and the other characters. It might be fairly action-packed, but it does pull back to let the characters talk. Speaking of the action, while it might seem kind of busted for two of the villains seen for most of the film being a cyborg and a guy with a sharp axe, the action is pretty good! It’s nice to see the Fatal Five, for the most part, treated as major threats, which usually doesn’t happen a lot with most superhero films. Granted, I have some issues with the villains, but we will save that for a later part of the review. Even someone who I was very afraid would get the short stick, in terms of being important to the plot, Mr. Terrific, gets some great lines and action beats.

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Animation-wise, this is becoming the most boring part to talk about with these DC-animated films. Not that it’s badly animated, but it’s like talking about the LEGO games from Travelers Tales; it’s pretty much on-par with the other films recently released by DC and Warner Bros. When the action kicks in, the animation is great! You can still tell where they lessen the frames of animation, and some very minute parts feel like they slowed-down the footage, but it’s all on par for these animated features. It doesn’t hurt that the Bruce Timm designs are still very iconic. The voice cast is also stellar. While it could be seen as fanservicey to bring back Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg, and George Newbern as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, I am always happy to hear those voices. The rest of the cast also pulls their weight, with newcomers Elyes Gabel and Diane Guerrero doing splendid jobs as Star Boy and Green Lantern Jessica Cruz. The villains are also threatening with Peter Jessop, Matthew Yang King, and Philip Anthony-Rodruiguez’s performances. It’s always nice to see Kevin Michael Richardson, and I would totally watch a Mr. Terrific TV series or DC-animated film with Kevin Michael Richardson as the lead voice actor.

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So, where does this film fall flat? It’s funny how many people complain about the third act in Marvel films, and while some of them are definitely not handled the best, I would take the least liked third act of any of the Marvel films over the wonky and surprisingly sloppy third act of this movie. The plans the villains follow at first is pretty great as you find out why the Fatal Five went back in time, but then you find out about the actual plan, and it’s really stupid. I want to really talk about it, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. My opinion on the overall third act had me asking too many questions, and maybe some of it is my lack of knowledge of certain characters, but I just couldn’t fully get into it outside of the ending.  I also wish Miss Martian was not in the film. It’s not that she isn’t entertaining, voiced well, and so on, but she felt out of place with the other characters. I don’t know, maybe I’m too caught up with how Young Justice handles her character on that show.

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Still, despite my gripe with the third act, I did find myself enjoying Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. It’s a film I can see myself rewatching more than other DC-animated features and other animated features overall. It also makes me wish they would reboot and make a new League of Superheroes show or series of films. It’s a cool premise, and the original series was pretty decent. Maybe we will see more of these futuristic heroes in the future, but for now, I recommend Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. Now then, we shall move from superheroes dealing with complex issues, to a film about a brand of toys that haven’t been popular in years. Next time, we dive into the world of the UglyDolls movie. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 108: Batman & Harley Quinn Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, after a year of nothing, but positive reviews for a project, DC finally has what could be considered their worst outing of the year so far. Well, at least in the animation scene (I do know Justice League is not doing well). I mean, it’s bound to happen to some companies. Even GKids, Disney, and A24 will have a dud or a film that isn’t as good as their other offerings. I think it’s more disappointing, since DC has been really good so far this year. I enjoyed LEGO Batman, Justice League Dark, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, and even though I haven’t seen it yet, Wonder Woman is one of the more important films of the year. Too bad that winning streak had to come to a halt with Batman and Harley Quinn. Probably one of the more hyped direct-to-video films from DC, this was promising from every aspect. It had Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester returning as Batman and Nightwing, Kevin Michael Richardson as one of the villains, and it was going to be this big comedic action film with Batman fighting alongside Harley Quinn, one of the most popular comic characters of all time. Sadly, as anyone can tell you by now, this film was not well received, and it was just another disappointment from DC’s animation front. Let’s dive into this Sam Liu-directed experience, and see what went wrong.

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The plot starts us off with Poison Ivy, voiced by Paget Brewster, teaming up with a rather low-key DC villain, Floronic Man, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. They break into a lab, and take a scientist hostage to unleash their evil plan. Batman, voiced by Kevin Conroy, teams up with Nightwing, voiced by Loren Lester, to find out what exactly is going on, and what specifically did the two plant villains steal. Unfortunately, if they want to find out about anything, they need to get in touch with Ivy’s long lost friend, Harley Quinn, this time voiced by Melissa Raunch of Big Bang Theory fame. Can they find Harley, and team up with her to stop Poison Ivy and Floronic Man?

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It’s really hard to talk about this film, and not bring up one of the biggest elephants in the room/problems with the film, Harley Quinn herself. She has been everywhere, and has enjoyed critical acclaim from all fandoms of DC. Sadly, she is incredibly hit-and-miss with this film. I don’t want to be too harsh on Melissa Rauch, because I know she has gotten the most criticism out of a lot of reviews, but she is part of the problem. Her voice for the character sounds like an incredibly obnoxious parody of how Tara Strong or Arleen Sorkin voiced her. It got grating quickly with her forced accent. I mean, she would be fine if the script and story did more with her than to be a sex icon. Listen, she is a very lovely character, but a lot of the jokes and scenes with her are focused around sex appeal, and I’m not some teen anymore. Her relationship with the Joker ruins any kind of sex appeal, due to how horrifying and damaging it was. The film just decides to give her a one-night-stand with Nightwing, and some scenes of fan service. Again, I wouldn’t mind a more mature edge to everything in this movie, if it didn’t clash with the more comedic tone of the film. This film is probably one of the more violent DC animated films. You will see blood, and the Floronic Man kills multiple people in the movie. The sleaze and the violence would have been better if the jokes landed. Sadly, the jokes don’t always land, and rarely did I laugh in the movie. The film tries out a lot of childish humor, adult humor, and clever humor, but it felt like too many people were trying to make the film’s comedy work. For example, they have a fun scene with Rob Paulsen playing two characters singing a country song, but then do full-on Harley Quinn fanservice, and it makes the fun part lose some weight. Also, does DC have something against Swamp Thing? This is the second film from DC this year with Swamp Thing, and he only appears in the last five minutes, and does nothing. He just spouts some philosophical garbage, and then says “peace!”, and sinks back into the swamp. Now, part of that is very funny, but at the same time, why have him in the movie if he isn’t going to do anything?

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The jokes and the action would probably be better as well, if the animation was better. At times, the animation is typical straight-to-video quality, but some scenes will dip in frames, and it’s really obvious that they spent more money on some scenes than others. It’s such a shame because they are using the old 90s animated series style. You know they can make that style work for multiple projects. I even noticed some weird details, like you can see Nightwing’s eyes through his mask, and you don’t know why they did that. His eyes are already super expressive with the mask on.

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So, what is great about this movie? Well, the voice cast is pretty outstanding. While I know I dragged Melissa Rauch through the ringer, the rest of the voice cast does a great job bringing their characters to life. Kevin Conroy, Kevin Michael Richardson, Paget Brewster, John DiMaggio, Rob Paulsen, and Loren Lester all have great performances. One of my favorite scenes is actually the scene I talked about above this sentence, where Paulsen plays twins singing a great country song. While the comedy doesn’t always land, when it does, the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, though if you want a funny DC-animated film, you should just pick up The LEGO Batman Movie. Still, the comedy does work when the scenes line up with everything going on.

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Batman & Harley Quinn is a huge disappointment, and it doesn’t help Bruce Timm’s later work, since his reputation was hit with The Killing Joke last year. Like I said above, if you want a more comedy-focused DC animated film, you are better off getting The LEGO Batman Movie or Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. It’s honestly a shame this didn’t work out as well as it could have, because the idea is really good. A dark comedy Batman movie. That sounds like it would sell well. However, if this is the best they could do, then maybe it’s best they stick to more serious stories. Not the worst of the year, but it’s still not that great. Well, let’s jump into the countdown to 110 reviews, and check out Leap! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 49: Batman: The Killing Joke Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

PARENTAL WARNING/HEADS UP: This film is not for younger audiences. It has cursing, brutal violence, and scenes of consensual sex, and applied sexual assault. It is not for a young viewing audience, and you should definitely skip out on this if you plan on watching it with your kids. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

This is going to be an interesting topic to talk about, due to today’s review. Have you ever watched a movie that you either love, enjoy, or hate, but then find that one scene that everyone talks about or notices about the film at hand, and it hurts the movie on many different levels? For example, the ending to From Up on Poppy Hill bothers me, even though I love the entire movie. The conclusion is so abrupt, and has no real closure for the viewers. They get the answer to their long requested, well, question, and then the credits roll. Heck, a lot of Japanese animated films do these abrupt endings, and it’s incredibly distracting, like in The Secret World of Arrietty, REDLINE, and Whisper of the Heart. The Wings of Honneamise has an incredibly uncomfortable moment that is essentially the male lead almost assaulting the female lead, and then the movie tries to paint it like it’s the female lead’s fault that it happened. Yeah, when you spot these moments, they can lead to a lot of problems in terms of the execution of said scenes, and how they impact the overall film. That’s why I decided to talk about the recently released (digitally at least) Batman: The Killing Joke. Directed by Sam Liu, produced by Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, with a script and story written by Brian Azzarello, The Killing Joke was definitely one of the more infamous events during the San Diego Comic Con of this year, with the controversy of the additional 30 minutes of story added to the original 45 minute run-time. It also got a lot of heat for a specific scene 19 minutes into the movie where Batgirl and Batman have sex. Yeah, we will get to that part in due time and talk about it. The overall reception of its release digitally (physical release in August) has definitely been mixed with much criticism aimed at the additional 30 minutes and the apparent sex scene. Anyway, what do I think of it? Well, let’s find out.

The Killing Joke is based off of the 20 or so paged graphical novel of the same name, revolving around The Joker, voiced by the always amazing Mark Hamill, essentially ruining the life of Batgirl aka Barbara Gordon, voiced by the also always amazing Tara Strong. The Joker essentially shoots Batgirl in the spine, causing her to be paralyzed, and kidnaps her father. It’s up to Batman, voiced by the also excellent Kevin Conroy, to stop The Joker and his schemes. The 30 minutes of additional footage are essentially about Batgirl taking down a sociopathic thug that has become obsessed with her while Batman attempts to teach Batgirl about not taking certain situations too far.

Yeah, let’s get to the biggest problem with this film, the additional 30 minutes. They have no reason to be there since they don’t connect to the main story. The thug Batgirl has to deal with is never brought up, or those incidences are never mentioned again from within the main plot of the film. They essentially said that they wanted to add more to Batgirl’s character so she isn’t just a plot item in the original story. I can respect that, but they don’t find a way to make it interesting enough to make the tragic thing that happens to her mean more. Instead of connecting the new footage and story with the obvious main villain, The Joker, they instead waste our time with what feels like a lost episode to one of the many Batman animated cartoons. They throw in this sociopath thug that has no real weight to the second half of the story. I have talked to a few people, saying that the thug is essentially Batgirl’s version of The Joker, but still. Not to say what happens to Batgirl and this thug wasn’t deep and scary, but if you are going to simply dump him in the second half, then why have him at all? Why not do what Jessica Jones did with Jessica and Purple Man? That could have given the reason for  The Joker to be obsessed with wanting to partly ruin her life in the main story. Have her humiliate The Joker in one of his heists, and then have him escape and cause the deed that made the original story infamous, or have The Joker be humiliated by the Gotham police which triggers him to “do the deed”. I know giving  The Joker logical thinking would be odd, but hearing him talk in this film made him seem like a logical individual (even if he is still a bit nutty). Now then, let’s talk about the notorious scene of Batgirl and Batman having sex on a rooftop. Thankfully, she is of legal age so it doesn’t get too creepy, but I have seen this happen a couple of times in the comics, and once in Batman Beyond, and, well, I don’t think it works. I never thought it worked having Batgirl be romantically tied to Batman. I can see her being sort of fan-girlish around him or like a daughter he never had, but sexually tied? Yeah, no. Also, it’s never mentioned again when the actual plot happens. It’s so infuriating to watch this movie, knowing that the additional footage really doesn’t do anything new with the actual plot, because there is some real good stuff in the later part of the film. They don’t even fix the main problem with The Killing Joke, where the incident of Batgirl getting shot and worse (I won’t say what was suggested happened to her), with how she was more of a plot element than an actual character or have any major reason to be there. They call this “Stuffed into the Fridge”. Essentially, something bad happens to a character just because they wanted it to happen.

By the way, this film got an R rating, and it really didn’t earn it. This is no more edgy than a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or Criminal Minds episode. This has to stop, really. Unless your movie deserves it, don’t think giving it an R rating is going to make it any more desirable. Just because Deadpool and Batman v Superman made it cool, doesn’t mean every movie needs to be doing it. Sometimes, having creative limitations can make you work harder on making a better product within the barrier. And whoever says you should enjoy this as two movies needs to go rework their logic. I don’t agree with that statement that you should enjoy both plots individually. The additional 30 minutes should have been connected to the main story, and it isn’t.

The animation and art is also a mixed bag. The designs of the characters are fine, and the voice work is excellent, but the animation itself is super janky. It feels very cheap. It comes off like the film’s budget went towards the action sequences and the voice actors. It’s definitely very distracting to see clunky animation for such a famous story in comic books. Even with some of the technical problems Justice League vs Teen Titans had, it still looks good in terms of animation.

So, what is good about this movie? Well, when you get to the actual plot, the story is creepy, atmospheric, and dark. Even though we have seen dark Batman and Joker storylines in animated form, like Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, this is probably one of the creepier stories with how far The Joker goes to break Commissioner Gordon. It’s easily one of the darkest moments ever in DC animation. The voice work is also excellent. It shouldn’t be a surprise with Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Tara Strong delivering great performances. The two scens of The Joker talking to Gordon, and the ending conversation between Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy are easily some of the best moments of DC animation.

I was hugely underwhelmed and annoyed by this movie. If the 30 minutes were done better, the Joker had more of a presence in the beginning with Batgirl, take out the pointless sex scene, and they fix the elements of the original story to be better, I think we could have one of the darkest and best written DC animated films around. I don’t agree with what Bruce Timm said in terms of defending what happens in the movie, and I think they should be ashamed they couldn’t find a better way to make the end product fantastic, which is a word I can’t use on any of the DC animated films that came out this year. If you love the original book or want to own every animated film made by DC, then by all means get it, but I can’t see myself buying this movie physically in the future. I have had a hard time thinking about where I would put this in terms of films, from worst to best of this year. I could argue and point out how terrible the first 30 minutes are, but could put it up in the middle ground area because the second half, while still having problems, is pretty fantastic. I guess I would just say to see it for yourself, and you tell me what you think. I might not like this movie, but believe me, I would rather watch Batman: The Killing Joke over and over, instead of what will be the 50th animation review. Thank you for reading, and see you all next time.

Rating: Lackluster