It seems we haven’t seen a good animated DC Universe movie for some time now. I liked Justice League: War in 2014, but Superman Unbound is probably the last one I would actually call good. In between we had the terrible Flashpoint Paradox, Throne of Atlantis and Son of Batman, the average Assault on Arkham and the middling Batman vs. Robin.
Justice League: Gods and Monsters is the one to turn the tide, and interestingly it’s the one that plays the loosest with established canon. This is basically an Elseworld or What If project. We have Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, but all with very different origins: Superman is Zod’s son, Wonder Woman hails from New Genesis (and boy is there a twist in her back story) and Batman is a real vampire.
Apart from being a vampire, the biggest change to Batman is that his entire backstory is completely different. Bruce Wayne has been replaced with Kirk Langstrom from man-bat fame, gone is the driven detective and instead we have an introverted scientist trying to live with his vampiric urges.
The thing I really like is how the movie plays into and then subverts the expectations of the hardcore DC audience, like with the backflash that reveals Wonder Woman’s origin. Right up to the moment that feels like its ripped right out of Game of Throne, you feel like you know what will happen and who the enemy is, and then it turns out you were wrong.
This is not the only time this will happen in the movie, for a long time I was expecting the super-villain to be a certain well-known enemy, but again my expectations were played against me. The final reveal of the real power behind everything comes a bit out of the blue, but it does make sense and it’s a great, mean twist.
Still, the good thing about Gods and Monsters is that it works even if you don’t know much or care about the DC universe. The main characters are well written, the pacing is brisk, the animation is great and the plot subverts your expectations (superhero deconstruction) while still delivering a great story. And it’s nice to see more violent, harsher versions of the DC trinity that still manages to come over as sort-of heroes, despite their obviously darker nature.