Injustice

4K ULTRA HD REVIEW:

Warner;
Animated;
$29.98 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for bloody violence.
Voices of Justin Hartley, Anson Mount, Laura Bailey, Zach Callison, Brian T. Delaney, Brandon Micheal Hall, Edwin Hodge, Oliver Hudson, Gillian Jacobs, Yuri Lowenthal, Derek Phillips, Kevin Pollak, Anika Noni Rose, Reid Scott, Faran Tahir, Fred Tatasciore, Janet Varney. 

While comic book superheroes have been likened to a modern form of mythology, stories about the characters tend to be constrained by a desire for them to inhabit a reality that for the most part mirrors our own.

This needs stems mostly from the nature of a recurring medium that allows the storytelling to remain topical to the times. Rather than exploring how the heroes could use their powers to impact problems on a global scale, most stories tend toward the heroes fighting evil counterparts of themselves, the supervillains, whose defeat allows humanity to continue along its own course while giving the heroes something to do.

Occasionally, though, the writers of these stories do explore how such characters could change the world if they were real, usually in the form of one-off adventures outside of ongoing continuity.

Marvel famously did this on a regular basis with the “What If…?” comics that were adapted into the Disney+ animated series. DC Comics did something similar with its “Elseworlds” branding, which had been preceded decades earlier by the “imaginary story” that put its characters in situations that didn’t have to return to the status quo for the next month.

Along those lines, Injustice asks what if the superpowered heroes of DC Comics decided to impose their own sense of justice upon the world.

The animated movie is based on the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us and its comic book tie-ins, the plot serving essentially as an excuse for a versus game that allowed various DC heroes to fight each other “Mortal Kombat” style.

The hero at the center of the story of Injustice is Superman, who learns Lois is pregnant with his child. Before he can celebrate, however, the Joker unleashes a scheme that involves tricking Superman into killing Lois and setting of a nuclear bomb that destroys Metropolis.

Consumed by the grief of losing his true love, Superman (voiced by Justin Hartley) and declares his intentions to impose order on the world so that such acts of evil can never happen again. Giving into his anger, Superman begins a killing spree against the Justice League’s enemies, anointing himself the world’s judge, jury and executioner and setting him down the path of tyranny. His change in philosophy fractures this Justice League, with some joining him on his new mission, while others, led by Batman (Anson Mount) vow to stop him.

The ensuing conflict is brutal, as the film earns its ‘R’ rating with bloody fight sequences that yield a high body count of heroes that normally couldn’t be killed off so casually.

Fans of the Injustice games and comics have voiced misgivings over the way the movie omitted many storylines and changed others while cramming as much as it could into a 78-minute running time. Those who are able to engage the film on its own merits, however, might find it to be an engaging superhero allegory that speaks to the heated political times in which we live.

The story plays into an underlying debate over security vs. freedom that has some obvious real-world parallels. At various points in the story, Superman decides to implement covert surveillance on all of humanity, while demanding an extreme version of gun control.

While the film isn’t afraid to go dark, it’s not without its lighter side and the occasional moment of levity. One highlight is the pairing of Harley Quinn (Gillian Jacobs) with Green Arrow (Reid Scott) in an oddly effecting partnership.

The Blu-ray includes one featurette, the half-hour “Adventures in Storytelling: Injustice — Crisis and Conflict,” a roundtable discussion of some of the films’ creators talking about the source material and the different themes explored by the story.

Also included is the two-part “Injustice for All” two-part episode of the “Justice League” animated series that originally aired in 2002.

Batman Ninja

BLU-RAY REVIEW

Street 5/8/18;
Warner;
Anime;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray, $29.98 Steelbook Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, and for some suggestive material.
Voices of Roger Craig Smith, Tony Hale, Grey Griffin, Tara Strong, Fred Tatasciore, Yuri Lowenthal, Adam Croasdell, Will Friedle, Tom Kenny, Eric Bauza.

Batman Ninja isn’t just another high-concept direct-to-video animated movie with a fun premise to guide the characters’ latest adventure. This is a full-on anime experience that blends traditional notions of Batman with many of the genre’s tropes. When the movie’s plot involves Batman has to call upon an army of monkeys to fight a giant robot, you know you’re in for a wild ride.

The concept is best summed up by one of the filmmakers in the Blu-ray’s bonus materials: it’s not Japan through the eyes of Batman, but Batman through the eyes of Japan.

This isn’t just an Elseworlds concept that re-imagines the Batman characters into similar roles in a historical setting. Rather, the story finds Batman, along with his allies and enemies, transported from present-day Gotham City to Feudal Japan, where the villains begin to take over different territories.

Though Batman has friends to fight alongside him, he finds his many gadgets are useless in the past, forcing him to adapt to the fighting styles of the day if he is to round up the bad guys and return to modern times.

The animation is complex but beautiful, shifting styles at times to reflect the tone of the scene. The colors are vivid, and the look, feel and plotting of the piece is distinctly Japanese in its craftsmanship. The Blu-ray includes both the original Japanese audio with subtitles, and an English audio track with an American cast, highlighted by a manic Joker performance from Tony Hale (“Veep,” “Arrested Development”).

Fans of the project will also find many interesting behind-the-scenes details revealed on the Blu-ray, especially in a 49-minute video of the film’s 2017 New York Comic Con panel discussion with the filmmakers (before any of the cast was announced).

There are also a couple of more traditional making-of featurettes, with “Batman: Made in Japan” clocking in at 14 minutes, as well as the 17-and-a-half minute “East/West Batman,” which delves into the cultural impacts of Batman and anime and why they were a natural fit for each other.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Animated;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for some violence.
Voices of Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, John DiMaggio, Grey DeLisle, Scott Patterson, William Salyers, Yuri Lowenthal, Anthony Head, Tara Strong, Kari Wuhrer.

The idea of exploring familiar characters in alternate realities has become a staple of storytelling. This is especially true in comic books, where characters must constantly be updated and often re-defined for new eras and generations.

The medium of comics naturally lends itself to presenting “what if” stories that shed new light on the characters without subjecting them to situations that would hinder or alter their ongoing storylines. Decades ago, they were called “imaginary stories.” In 1989, DC Comics started calling them “Elseworlds.”

The first of the Elseworlds brand was that year’s Gotham by Gaslight, which re-imagined Batman as a vigilante detective at the turn of the 19th century confronting Jack the Ripper. That was the conceit of Elseworlds: to put superheroes and their supporting cast in alternate timelines, either by exploring them in different eras, or changing something in their own personal history to create a ripple effect (a later story that often gets mentioned for potential adaptation found Superman raised as a hero of the Soviet Union).

The latest entry of the animated DC Universe is loosely based on the Gotham by Gaslight on-shot graphic novel, while also drawing heavily upon its sequel, 1991’s Master of the Future. In deconstructing the original story, the filmmakers have given the concept a new life, presenting a satisfying mystery that plays out quite differently from the book. This lets the film stand quite well as its own thing while honoring the spirit of the books, allowing longtime fans to watch without any fear of spoilers.

The animation is distinctive and beautiful, and the screenplay is filled with fun nods to Batman lore that fans should appreciate.

The Blu-ray includes a 20-minute featurette about the original graphic novel, as well as a nice audio commentary from the filmmakers. Both delve into just why Gotham by Gaslight has become an iconic Batman story.

The Blu-ray also includes an eight-and-a-half-minute preview of the next DC Universe animated movie, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, plus some bonus cartoons from animated Batman TV shows.