Legion of Super-Heroes
Superman’s cousin, Kara aka Supergirl moves to the future in an attempt to find a place to belong in Jeff Wamester’s Legion of Super-Heroes.
The DC animated movies are worthy projects because they really dig into some of the stranger aspects of the universe and bring them to the attention of audiences. The Legion of Super-Heroes have been a prominent comic book mainstay for a long time but will be far from household names despite an earlier animated series as well as appearances in Smallville and Supergirl. Conceptually the idea of a future Justice League inspired by the example that Superman set is a simple one but there’s a lot of complexity to unpack within that.
This film focuses on Kara aka Supergirl (Meg Donnelly) who is struggling to feel at home on Earth due to how primitive it is compared to Krypton. Her lack of patience and frustration gets in her way meaning that she doesn’t give the new planet a chance nor does she alter her behaviour to fit her surroundings. After a conversation with her cousin Clark aka Superman (Darren Criss), she is taken to the future to see if she finds the Legion a better fit. Earth of the future is technologically closer to what she was used to on Krypton so it’s worth trying. It isn’t explicitly part of the conversation but there’s a suggestion that Clark has no idea how to handle his hotheaded cousin and takes the easy way out by making her someone else’s problem.
All of this happens very quickly. The film opens with Kara on Krypton racing her mother Alura (Jennifer Hale) right before the planet is destroyed. It sets up Kara’s competitive streak and shows her connection to all that she loses. An important part of Kara’s background is that, unlike Clark, she has clear memories of Krypton so her feelings of loss are more visceral because she had a home, a relationship with her family, friends, ambitions and everything else one could imagine. All of this is condensed into a brief display of her relationship with her mother and Kara’s grief is smartly built around this. It forms the core of her loss and fits the pace of the film.
Similarly, Kara’s conversation with Clark is brief and the decision to try living in the future happens abruptly but it doesn’t feel jarring because it fits Kara’s impulsive nature and script efficiently outlines the issues that lead to it seeming like a reasonable idea to give this a try. Kara’s snap decision to try this out being because she finds Mon’El (Yuri Lowenthal) attractive is amusing and perfectly in keeping with her character as written at that point.
Ultimately, Legion of Super-Heroes is a quest for belonging for Kara. She is established as being reckless, impatient and undisciplined which is brilliantly encapsulated in the way she conducts herself when performing heroics. An early fight results in a lot of collateral damage showing that she relies on brute strength to win. Part of her arc is learning finesse and that there is more to heroics than raw power, both of which are resolved in satisfying ways.
Kara being enrolled in Legion academy among other less obviously impressive heroes such as Bouncing Boy (Ely Henry) and Arms Fall off Boy (Ben Diskin) is an exercise in humility for her. There’s an undercurrent of arrogance in the way she conducts herself and a clear desire to skip all the learning to take her place among the pantheon of heroes as she feels she deserves. In short, she needs to learn to accept that she needs to learn and won’t be able to grow until she understands that. Unfortunately, there are too many characters in the group of fellow trainees for most of them to be anything more than surface level in the time allowed but the variety of characters and abilities included gives the film size and scope.
One character that receives the right amount of attention is Brainiac 5 (Harry Shum Jr.). He makes for an excellent foil for Kara as he constantly challenges her arrogance throughout. Their flirtatious dynamic works well and develops organically as they come to understand each other. Kara in particular comes to realise rthat he is as much of an outcast as she is and lives in the shadow of someone who came before him albeit in a very different way. Their relationship is engaging to watch and both actors sell the chemistry wonderfully.
The storytelling is at its best when focusing on the characters. Their arcs and relationships are interesting and develop naturally. It suffers most when developing the villain plot as it relies too much on exposition to explain the details of what is happening. This briefly upsets the pacing as the film stops to explain everything. It isn’t enough to damage the overall flow of the narrative but it does stand out and could have been achieved more efficiently.
Legion of Super-Heroes is visually impressive. The animation style will be familiar to those who have watched the recent films. It’s clean, colourful and clear. There are several set pieces that are very well put together and benefit from doing the work to build a strong emotional connection to those involved. In particular, Kara is shown to have developed through her approach to participating in the action sequences which means that they are far from being empty spectacle. When combined with the creative approach to visualising a given sequence the end result is something truly impressive.
A strong entry into the DC animated canon with excellent visuals, impressive characterisation and efficient pacing. Kara is an engaging character with a clear arc that progresses naturally. The film efficiently sets up her backstory to provide strong emotional grounding for her development. She has a number of things to overcome such as her arrogance and feeling a lack of belonging. The other Legion trainees help develop her exercise in humility and the number of characters gives the film size and scope. Brainiac 5 is an excellent foil for Kara. Their flirtatious dynamic works well and develops organically as they come to understand each other. Their relationship is engaging to watch and both actors sell the chemistry wonderfully. The storytelling is at its best when focusing on the characters. It suffers most when developing the villain plot as it relies too much on exposition to explain the details of what is happening. This briefly upsets the pacing as the film stops to explain everything. Legion of Super-Heroes is visually impressive and the set pieces take advantage of the character arcs which means they are far from being empty spectacle. When combined with the creative approach to visualising a given sequence the end result is something truly impressive.
- strong characterisation
- Kara and Brainiac 5’s flirtatious dynamic
- an impressive visual style
- set pieces informed by the character arcs
- impacting the pace by explaining the villain plot through exposition
- too many characters with many of them failing to rise above surface level traits
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