INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
(*1/2)-JIM RUTKOWSKI
"What begins as a thoughtful exploration of grief and rage turns into mindless blood sport"

Injustice For No One

(111221) It's no more mister nice guy as the Man of Steel drops the kid gloves and unleashes his wrath on Earth's evil-doers. Injustice is an animated adaptation of the wildly popular, cross-platform video game fighting series. The plot takes place in an alternate reality where the heinous Joker (Kevin Pollak) pushes Superman (Justin Hartley) to an unfathomable extreme. He becomes judge, jury, and executioner. Splitting the Justice League with his intractable take on guilt or innocence. Injustice has a passable first act, but unfortunately devolves into a rushed frenzy of carnage. What begins as a thoughtful exploration of grief and rage turns into mindless blood sport.

On a beautiful morning, Superman and Lois Lane (Laura Bailey) reach a critical juncture in their relationship. Their reverie is interrupted by a fracas with a trusted ally. Batman (Anson Mount) has followed the Joker and Harley Quinn (Gillian Jacobs) to Metropolis. He quickly realizes that Superman is the target of a vile plot. The Joker has tired of the usual games with the Dark Knight. The only way to foil Batman is to give him a truly formidable adversary.

The aftermath of the Joker's actions shatters Superman to the core. Wonder Woman (Janet Varney) feels his outrage. The time has come to annihilate villainy and end violence. Superman announces his intentions for peace through crushing force. Batman, Green Arrow (Reid Scott), and Nightwing (Derek Phillips) vehemently oppose Superman's tactics. But Wonder Woman, Cyborg (Brandon Michael Hall), and Robin (Zach Callison) support the stunning change. Former allies become bitter enemies as an unstoppable god imposes his will.

Injustice has a promising premise. How many innocent people could have been saved if Batman killed the Joker on day one? The catch and release silliness with a dangerous psychopath finally reaches a spectacularly horrifying conclusion. Batman's morality and sense of righteousness hits a Kryptonian brick wall. Bruce Wayne pretends to embody vengeance, but his unwillingness to kill invariably lets criminals escape. Superman's emotional breakdown leads to a clarity of purpose. Nothing can prevent him from pulverizing every baddie into worm food.

Injustice loses focus when Superman predictably becomes an unhinged tyrant. Absolute power corrupts absolutely yadda-yadda-yadda. The film needed to handle this change better than a superhero free for all. A bizarre series of goofy plot twists turns the film into a disappointing replica of the game it's based on. Characters kill each other to gory, exaggerated ends. The story crumbles apart and limps to a feeble conclusion.

The original Injustice: Gods Among Us "Year One" comic arc clocks in at a hefty 400+ pages, and DC's animated adaptation rolls the credits right around the 75-minute mark. There's simply nowhere near enough time -- during almost any scene, in fact -- that feels paced appropriately, with huge swaths of detail missing from critical moments that rob the story of emotional impact. This makes Injustice a fairly exhausting watch despite the short running time, as it's pretty well over-packed with action, drama, and black comedy. Some extra breathing room might have done wonders for its rushed pacing and resulting issues, such as the partial or complete removal of key characters like the Flash (who's here, but just barely), Black Canary, and Lex Luthor.

Under the hood, it's a mixed bag as well. The stiff and angular animation is, to put it gently, an acquired taste and undercuts some of the action, while its questionable muscle anatomy does some of the static frames no favors either. Voice acting is similarly spotty, with some main and supporting characters fitting right in (Anson Mount as Batman, Zach Callison as Damian), and others sticking out like a sore thumb (Justin Hartley of Smallville fame as Superman, Kevin Pollak as the Joker). But this also warrants another observation, and a possible reprieve: since these characters don't look or sound like the versions we see or hear in the video game (and the ending is quite different than the one in the original comics), it's obvious that the creative team was purposefully taking a different route here. From that admittedly narrow perspective, those who aren't looking for a faithful adaptation of Injustice: Gods Along Us may get some enjoyment out of this one. But since the fundamental problems are there (and pretty distracting), your mileage may indeed vary.

The sixteen films of the DC Animated Movie Universe set a pretty high standard. From
Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox to Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, they were gritty as hell, well animated, and took the time to build complex narratives. Injustice is a stand-alone adventure that had promise, but just doesn't measure up. It needed to advance the source material and not just emulate its violence. An opportunity was lost here to really challenge Batman and Superman's unyielding virtue.
 

Directed by:    Matt Peters
Written by:   Screenplay by: Ernie Altbacker. Based on the videogame developed by NetherRealm Studios and the DC graphic novel by Tom Taylor and Ian Rodgers
Starring the Voices Of:    Justin Hartley, Anson Mount, Laura Bailey
Released:    101921
Length:    78 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for bloody violence

INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US 2021 Warner Bros Pictures
Review 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.