A few days before sitting down to write this review, I grabbed the "Tower of Babel" trade that Justice League: Doom uses as a springboard, and it's great. The premise is immediately compelling -- a schemer like Batman secretly plotting ways to disable or outright kill the people who trust him the most -- and the aftershock of the mistrust fostered by those contigency plans threaten to have a long-lasting impact. As much as I enjoyed those issues and as much of a fan as ever as I am of Mark Waid's writing, I was completely unprepared for how floored I'd be by Justice League: Doom. For what it's worth, this isn't at all a straight adaptation. The skeleton of its story, along with some of the general methods of disabling a couple members of the Justice League, are carried over, but most of what transpires here is unique to this movie. The League's roster has been pared down from Waid's storyline, here consisting of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, the Martian Manhunter, and Hal Jordan still carrying the mantle of Green Lantern. Cyborg makes his first animated appearance alongside the Justice League, and he's integral to the story despite not yet being a member of the team. The Tower of Babel that lent Waid's story its title has been replaced by a more directly brutal, genocidal scheme, and Ra's al Ghul and his mostly faceless henchmen make way for the far more cinematic Legion of Doom.
What really sets Justice League: Doom apart from the story that inspired it is...well, Dwayne McDuffie. This movie plays to just about all of the late writer's greatest strengths. In an animated movie with a lean runtime like this, every moment counts, and lesser writers would struggle to make the most of such a sprawling cast. McDuffie handles his character work with such brilliantly surgical precision, able to immediately establish who these heroes and villains are -- what makes them unique, what their temperments are, what their lives under the masks are like -- with just a few lines of dialogue a piece. Everyone has at least a couple of showcase moments that show off who they are and what they can do, and Justice League: Doom makes it a point to leverage their powers in inspired, wildly creative ways. It's hardly just a bunch of guys in tights punching each other and throwing stuff around. The relationships between the members of the Justice League are a defining element of this story, and the
Visually, Justice League: Doom is in the running as the strongest of DC's series of animated movies as well. The animation is dazzlingly fluid. I'm also impressed by how expressive the character designs are. There are so many flourishes that are expertly executed, such as an arm wrestling match with Superman where Ace's cybernetic arm slowly buckles and eventually shatters. I mean, it's a robot, for crying out loud, but the way it's drawn and animated still hurts to watch, and I mean that in the best possible way. The entire movie is propelled by a kinetic sense of energy that never lets up. The action sequences are intense enough to earn a PG-13 rating...not lazily exploitative or anything like that, but a few attacks do draw blood, and it's more that the fights don't pull their punches rather than revel in the sheer violence of it all. Minute for minute, I'd wouldn't be surprised if Justice League: Doom delivers more action than any of the other movies in this series to date. Again, the brawls are inspired, making the most of the heroes and villains' power sets with an aim to show viewers something they haven't seen time and time again. From the Martian Manhunter's shape-shifting battle royale in the climax to Wonder Woman unleashing some appropriately Greco-Roman wrestling moves, the action is just a blast to watch unfold. I mean, I could've watched that tremendous opening assault against the Royal Flush Gang for another twenty minutes, and it only gets better from there. Longtime fans of DC's animated universes will no doubt be thrilled to hear most of the Justice League's established vocal talent stepping in front of the mic again: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Michael Rosenbaum as the Flash, and Carl Lumbly as the Martian Manhunter. Nathan Fillion, who previously voiced Hal Jordan in Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, reprises the role again here. As well-crafted as Justice League: Doom is on so many levels, I don't think it would've been nearly as effective with a different slate of voice actors.
Justice League: Doom is about as perfect a comic book movie -- animated or otherwise -- as I could ever hope to see. It delivers a particularly inspired premise, a tremendous visual eye, a phenomenal balance between its dark storyline and an occasionally smirking sense of humor, a more robust sense of characterization than I ever would've thought possible with an ensemble this large, and a breathless onslaught of superheroic action. Setting All-Star Superman aside since it's such a different animal, I'd point to Justice League: Doom as far and away my favorite of DC's series of animated movies, and this is from someone who's given high marks to just about all of them too. Highly Recommended.
Justice League: Doom has a distinctly different look to it than the rest of DC's animated movies. Everything else up to this point has favored crisply-rendered linework, while Doom prefers
I've reviewed so many of DC's animated movies and have found myself making the same complaints in just about all of them. I thankfully get to break away from that somewhat this time. No banding or posterization ever caught my eye throughout Justice League: Doom. The bitrate is modestly higher than what these movies are usually saddled with, and I couldn't spot any compression artifacting at all from a traditional viewing distance. If I more closely examine framegrabs, the seams do start to show somewhat, but it's not at all a concern in normal viewing. The same goes for aliasing, which I can see in some of the screencaps I snapped but isn't a problem in motion.
The softer linework certainly took some getting used to, but after settling into that, I'm really not left with any significant complaints at all. It's certainly appreciated that Warner has started to address some of the most frequently raised complaints of the past, and hopefully the next DC animated release will boast stronger authoring still. Justice League: Doom is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on a single-layer Blu-ray disc, and it's been encoded with AVC. The second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD.
Justice League: Doom's 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack easily ranks as the best of these movies to date. The voice acting, as ever, is rendered with spectacular crispness and clarity, and the same holds true for every last element in the mix. A few stray lines do wind up sounding slightly difficult to discern -- I couldn't make out one whispered line that explains the torment that's about to be inflicted on the Martian Manhunter, for instance, which is kind of critical -- but that's not at all a constant nuisance. There's a very strong sense of imaging that takes full advantage of the multichannel setup, from Green Lantern flinging around large chunks of rubble in a frantic search for survivors all the way to something as simple as Alfred trotting across the Batcave. The use of the surround channels in general is more aggressive than any of DC's animated movies have been up to this point, brilliantly reinforcing the action while also fleshing out a strong sense of place. Bass response also snarls with an impressive ferocity, again outclassing everything else in this series of movies. Justice League: Doom's audio is by a considerable margin the most cinematic of DC's animated movies to date, and it's the first where a proper 5.1 setup is an essential part of the experience.
Justice League: Doom also includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in French as well as a Spanish Dolby Digital stereo track. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH) and Spanish.
Again, the second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD of Justice League: Doom, and a code to download or stream a digital copy of the movie has also been tucked inside.
The Final Word
Justice League: Doom delivers absolutely everything I want in a comic book brought to life: an inspired premise, dazzlingly fluid animation, a razor-sharp wit, skilled character work, and an unrelenting adrenaline rush of action. It's such a crushing disappointment that the life and career of Dwayne McDuffie was cut so short, but his many admirers can take heart that his final work with the Justice League is something so truly exceptional. Very Highly Recommended.