The latest DC animated release details a scenario where Superman is consumed by loss and makes a decision to remove all the wrong in the world on his own terms in Matt Peters’ Injustice.
Injustice shares its title and premise with two video games that feature a fascistic Superman as the main antagonist. In the games -and this film- Superman (Justin Hartley) loses Lois Lane (Laura Bailey) and that loss sends him down a really dark path that has him using his powers to take control in ways that would seem unthinkable for Superman. In essence it’s a “What If?” scenario exploring what the world would be like if Superman had no respect for the systems are in place and used his powers to shape them as he sees fit.
The film plays out very differently to the video game with more focus on the viewer understanding Superman’s pain as the catalyst for these events. A quick scene establishes where he is in his relationship with Lois before the Joker (Kevin Pollack) carries out the plan that ends with Superman being tricked into killing Lois Lane. Following this he snaps and takes the Joker’s life which starts him down the campaign to making the world a safer place on his own terms.
Early on the film is focused on Superman’s grief with this being explored through how he interacts with various members of the Justice League. Batman (Anson Mount) and Wonder Woman (Janet Varney) embody the two main sides of the argument with Batman encouraging him not to let this destroy the man he is and Wonder Woman telling him that the pain needs to be felt. It works well enough to outline the issue at play but it also oversimplifies it. Much of the plot hinges on accepting these complex developments as being simple binary decisions which does a disservice to the characters and the gravity of the situation that surrounds them.
Justin Hartley is a good choice for the voice of Superman. He achieves the right mix of tenderness and authority with the grief prominently featured in the way he delivers his lines. His self doubt as he continues to question whether he’s going too far is well performed and there’s a lot of nuance to the performance that elevates the material he’s given. The emotional journey the character takes is far from organic and there’s a point he reaches that feels completely unearned before the film has to find a way to walk it back.
The story has major weaknesses in the way its told. There is an attempt to make it character driven and it is easy to follow but developments rely on the acceptance of significant logic leaps. Part of the problem is that there isn’t enough time to tell the story properly so it rushes through the various plot points until eventually reaching a half baked conclusion that is clumsily foreshadowed earlier.
At its core this is a film about morality and how that morality can be corrupted without being lost entirely. Superman hold onto his values for the most part but twists them to the extreme in order to make the world a safer place. It lacks a strong sense of established personality to the characters so there’s no choice but to accept heroes like Wonder Woman’s decision to support him at face value. If there’s any prior experience with the characters through other iterations then it will be very jarring and if the audience doesn’t have a connection to them from elsewhere then the film doesn’t do enough to justify most of the decisions being made.
Under the assumption that the viewer can simply accept what is presented to them the characters work well within their established roles. Batman is a great presence wonderfully performed by Anson Mount as the main oppositional force to Superman. Some of the film’s best moments come when Batman stands up to him and pledges to find a way to stop him. There’s a strong sense of friendship between the two characters and Batman is impressively characterised as the one who always has a plan under given circumstance. Showing him be overwhelmed when it comes to the prospect of stopping his friend who also happens to be the most powerful being on the planet carries so much of the plot and it’s engaging to watch.
Other aspects of the plot don’t work quite as well. It liberally draws from DC lore with some really outlandish concepts added to the narrative; some of which don’t contribute in major ways. Once again the audience is expected to accept a lot at face value and much of it clutters what could have been a fairly simple story if focused on the idea of Superman taking things too far. Given the running time the film lacks the scope to do everything it’s trying to do.
One thing the film does excel at is the action. There are a variety of action sequences including various combinations of characters and all of them are well executed. Superman’s raw power is firmly on display, there are hand to hand sequences featuring the non powered heroes that are really impressive and the climactic bout involving lots of characters could have been a mess but is incredibly coherent and wonderfully chaotic. One thing that the film really sells is how dangerous Superman can be when his powers are unrestrained but it’s let down by various shortcomings in the storytelling.
An uneven experience that boasts impressive spectacle but suffers in storytelling. The premise is very simple and sets up a character driven story about Superman going too far following a significant loss. The idea is oversimplified with Batman and Wonder Woman occupying each side of the argument and the development of Superman’s actions requires the acceptance of a lot of logic leaps. There isn’t time for the film to cover everything it presents in the necessary detail so the viewer is expected to accept everything at face value which may be a challenge. Assuming this is possible then the characters are presented well enough particularly when it comes to the friendship that exists between Batman and Superman. Other aspects of the plot don’t work quite as well especially when it draws on DC lore to add outlandish concepts to the narrative without exploring them. The film does excel when it comes to action with a wide variety of set pieces that use the involved characters well. If the storytelling had been stronger then the final product would have been far more satisfying.
- establishing Superman’s loss and the grief associated with it
- the clear presentation of the Batman/Superman friendship
- impressive set piece moments
- a strong cast
- not enough time to tell the story properly
- expecting the audience to accept everything at face value
- far too many logic leaps in order to make the story work as it does
- throwing in outlandish concepts from DC lore without developing them properly
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