NetherRealm Studios made waves when they released Injustice: Gods Among Us back in 2013. A fighting game with DC’s top billed heroes and villains from the makers of Mortal Kombat was already enough to gain interest. It was a smashing success, and it not only spawned a sequel video game, but it even provided a fairly popular comic book run too. Now, Warner Bros. Animation has adapted the story into an animated film, simply titled Injustice, detailing the events leading up to the first game, or at least a variation of it. At least there are a few surprises for people that know the original story.
As mentioned, the story starts us on an alternate Earth where the Joker kidnaps Lois Lane, using Scarecrow’s fear toxin to trick Superman into killing her… and their unborn child. Her death also sets off a bomb in Metropolis, eliminating millions of people. In a fit of rage, Superman kills the Joker right in front of Batman’s eyes. This is the catalyst to the corruption of Earth’s greatest hero, leading him on a path he can’t return from. With Superman on a massive power trip, this leads heroes to side with either him or Batman’s resistance. The start of the story sticks pretty closely to the source material, but it quickly starts to diverge from there.
While many of the overall plot points remain, there’s a lot of changes in this version of Injustice. If you think some characters have plot armor due to the story of the game, you would be wrong. With that in mind, there are still many deaths in this story, and even one that changes quite drastically. I won’t spoil it for those wanting to witness it themselves, but while it takes a strange turn, it’s kind of a cool nod to another character. That being said, it’s a bit strange that they didn’t just include that character to begin with. Either way, I give props to the writers for trying something different, even though in the end, it feels mostly unnecessary.
Getting to the action, Injustice is jam-packed with fights among the most powerful beings on the planet. Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Cyborg, and many more go toe-to-toe in multiple brawls. One exceptional addition to that roster is actually a snub from the video game. Seriously though, Plastic Man is an MVP. With so much at stake, the world has to suffer as these titans make their problem a global crisis. Despite the stakes of the conflict however, there’s surprisingly not that much action to the fights. Many of these fights are pretty one-sided and end before they really even begin. Luckily, there’s still some really great battles to witness, even one including a super move from the first game.
Surprisingly, a lot of the events are more political, involving various governments in their response to Superman’s regime. While it makes sense to see how the world handles having Superman take charge, it takes away a lot of the focus. It’s these moments that really slow the pacing down, making the shortness of the action sequences all the more noticeable. Outside of the politics and action, I really wish we could have more time seeing some of the reactions to the deaths of our heroes. Only a couple of the deaths get a lot of attention, one of which really sticks the landing. Sadly, the majority of the other deaths get glossed over, never giving us the time to see the emotional impacts.
Another thing I found a bit jarring with the film is the art style. Usually, when Warner Bros. Animation tries to adapt a one-shot story, they try to match the art style to an extent. In this particular film, they go their own path, altering several of the character costume designs and using a bolder approach to the visuals. There’s a lot of strong use of black for shadows, developing an interesting contrast in the characters. Unfortunately, sometimes the characters get lost in the line details or even in the background colors, not visually popping enough. Some scenes are visually stunning, like the moment Superman finally confronts the Joker, but these moments are few and far between.
Arguably, the most disappointing thing about the Injustice movie is the way it handles the resolution. I don’t want to spoil the results, but it kind of shoots itself in the foot. It’s pretty unfortunate, and while it’s not a bad ending, I really wish it was handled differently. The Injustice comic books span across multiple years and deliver deep and complex stories. With the way things are in the film, it looks like we might not see those ideas come to fruition. Regardless, it’s nice to see the writers have some original ideas here, even if they don’t all work.
One of the big highlights of the movie is the performances, which does help to sell the story. While only a couple of the voice return from the games, neither of them reprise any roles. It’s unfortunate not to have Kevin Conroy’s Batman or George Newbern’s Superman, but Star Trek: Discovery’s Anson Mount and Smallville’s Justin Hartley do a solid job as replacements respectively, really making the roles their own. The Legend of Korra’s Janet Varney does great delivering the voice of Wonder Woman, though she feels underutilized. Finally, a big shout out to Fear Street’s Gillian Jacobs, who does an incredible impression of Tara Strong’s Harley Quinn. Overall, the voices are fantastic, and I couldn’t really complain about them.
Another thing to mention is the way the film handles violence. While Injustice holds an R rating, it’s surprisingly tame in comparison to some of the other DC animated films. Even though there are a lot of deaths in this film, the camera seems to avoid watching most of the brutal fatalities. It doesn’t hold back on the blood, but it tends to shy away from the act in general. Comparing to Justice League Dark: Apokolips War or even Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, it was shocking that we didn’t see the gruesome moments firsthand. Lately, DC hasn’t been holding back on the violence, but this movie might be a sign of change.
I really love the Injustice story in the games and the comics. While the film adaptation takes some liberties to try something new and starts off promising, it quickly becomes a different beast altogether. Even with some great performances, they unfortunately don’t save the pacing issues. The art style is a big departure from the source material, making things a bit muddier, and the toned down violence ultimately holds the film back from being more memorable. It’s really unfortunate, because there are some great things to appreciate here. Sadly, fans of the video game or comic may walk away with disappointment.
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