In the 31st century, the Legion of Superheroes are fighting a desperate battle to keep their enemies, three of the Fatal Five, from travelling back in time. Unfortunately, the villains win the day and initiate their time jump, inadvertently bringing the hero Starboy along with them.
Arriving in modern day the villains are met with resistance from the Justice League. Meanwhile, Starboy is losing touch with reality and is checked into Arkham Asylum. When Batman realizes that the two events are connected he uses the Justice League’s help to discover Starboy’s strange origins and his link to the new threats. But, before the League can figure out the Fatal Five’s full plan, they manage to free their two companions locked up on the Green Lantern planet, Oa.
With the Fatal Five in full force, they now unleash their plan to destroy the sun so their enemies, the Legion of Superheroes, can never exist. It is up to Starboy and the Justice League to stop the fearsome fivesome before the whole solar system is destroyed forever.
Okay. Hold on. Before we get into this review, let me remind, or inform, those out there that this film was released on a monumental day. March 30th 2019 is Batman’s 80th birthday. Happy birthday, Batman, you’re looking great, better than ever even. However, I am also shocked to say that this film has no call out to the Bats, no special introduction, which is unnecessary, but it would have been cool considering it is the only Batman featured content to be released on his birthday considering it falls on a Saturday. Anyways, ce le vie.
Now, let’s get into this. The Fatal Five may be an obscure team to bring in for a feature-length film. In fact, chances are the majority of people reading this review have never heard of this villain team, or by the very least, have never read a comic book featuring the characters. And, I don’t blame you. The Fatal Five are the archenemies of the future version of the Legion of Superheroes. Not a great comic book team on their own, the Legion is basically a Justice League filled with teenage members a thousand years in the future. Arguably the best thing about this seldom heard of the team is their brutal enemies, the Fatal Five. So, we should almost be grateful that DC had the foresight to skip us a whole Legion of Superheroes movie and give us the best of that universe with the old faithful Justice League as our heroes.
Let’s get into breaking down some of our players because there are a lot of pieces at play here. The Fatal Five are initially introduced to us with three members. Each of them looks, and act, more deadly than the next, Tharok, Persuader, and the acting leader, Mano. They eventually manage to release two even more dangerous members in Validus, and the true leader, Empress. As obscure as this team of future villains may be, they do look awesome and have some exciting abilities including a machine that can make any form of weaponry, the sharpest ax ever, and the power to vaporize anything. A lot can be said about these baddies, but they are a worthy adversary for the Justice League.
The League itself plays around with the roster quite a bit more than we are used to. The big three are there. As I mentioned, Batman plays a role and is mostly the leader in this iteration. Wonder Woman is there, but in all honesty, she doesn’t have much influence, and I question why she was even in the story other than to have her be there. At least Superman is there to show us how badly the bad guys can beat up even the best of the League. In a rare appearance, we get Mr. Terrific, who is a fun replacement for a character like Cyborg or Martian Manhunter, who usually act as the team’s intel. And, for the strangest of additions, the teenage Ms. Martian is a member in training, with Batman playing her mentor, which does play for some of the more fun elements of the film.
The two major players of the film are Starboy and Green Lantern. Starboy is the hero from the future who has tangled with the Fatal Five before but is losing his memories due to some mental instability. He makes for an exciting addition to the story as he is not one of the big names from the Legion of Superheroes, but his flaws make for a challenging plot. This time around we get a younger Green Lantern known as Jessica Cruz. By including her damaged backstory, she truly is the hero of our quest, and she is integral to the villain’s plans and the hero’s victory. She was also my favourite new addition as she had such human struggles while being thrown into a world of gods and monsters.
There is also a plethora of references and appearances of characters all across the DC universe. That is something I do appreciate, these animated films do tend to play for comic enthusiasts more than the casual viewer. But the nerds do get a bit of everything. We have our visit to Arkham Asylum which shows off villains like Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Two-Face (played by Bruce Timm, which is an excellent move.). A trip to the Green Lantern planet Oa features a couple of bonus Lanterns like Kilowog, though I am surprised at the missed opportunity here to show some of the Lantern Corps’ rogue gallery. And, of course, we get a chance to see a few of the many, and I mean many, members of the Legion of Superheroes. I would struggle to name even half of these characters, but the big ones would be Saturn Girl and Brainiac 5. Maybe some fans are disappointed by the lack of Legion representation in this movie, but I think it is a smarter move to give us heroes we are more invested in.
Before I get into the plot and what worked and didn’t work, I did want to touch on a few odd decisions by the filmmakers. For one, this movie is animated much to the same vein of the 90’s-2000’s animated series’. Which I think is wonderful, it’s a fun, unique style, that even brings back some nostalgia. However, a lot of the old sound-bits and themes were also brought back, including a ripping guitar solo whenever Superman is on screen. Something about rock guitar and Superman doesn’t work for me, and it really pulls me out every time it happens.
The other thing I wanted to mention may be small, but it brought up a lot of questions. Batman, our beloved hero, and birthday boy advance himself through the battle enough to face off against one of the worst of the Fatal Five, Mano. The villain is illustrated with a skull that is encased in some kind of plasma or something. Regardless. As these two square off, Batman says to him, “bring it Skeletor.” … What? This baffles me in so many ways. First off, we are to understand that in the DC universe He-Man was still a beloved show that was on television in the ’80s? In a world where superheroes exist, He-Man was still relevant? And, not only did it exist, but Batman, the hardest of all superheroes ever, knows the show? And, knows it enough to be able to reference the main villain of the series and what he looks like. This may seem like an insignificant thing to mention, but I found it so confusing I am hoping that somebody will have some answers for me. Are they trying to make Batman more likable, and saw how Tony Stark used that Squidward reference in Infinity War, and so the writers were like “let’s try that.” But, they ended up failing miserably? Seriously, I need an answer, this is going to keep me up at night. Just don’t give Batman jokes, he doesn’t need them, and they hurt my head.
Back on point here, I generally enjoyed this action-packed superhero slugfest. As I mentioned, I think Jessica Cruz’s backstory added a lot of depth to the plot. And, the dynamic of this off-brand roster of the Justice League was kind of fun to watch. The villains were threatening and dangerous, which can be tough to accomplish when you put them against unstoppable heroes like Superman. And, for the majority of the movie the Five’s motives were intriguing. They just wanted their two other members back, but where were they and what were they going to bring to the table. Everything was set up really well and executed in high fashion. That is until the third act when things kind of fall apart.
When the Fatal Five are finally reunited, the Justice League is able to discern where they are going. And, like the good heroes they are, go to stop them before they travel back to their own time. However, instead of that being enough, the bad guys decide that before they go they are going to, get this, blow up the sun! Sure, this would assure that the heroes of the future would not exist, but also, where are they going to go home to then? Anyways, there is a fun battle featuring some great fights. But, the Empress does manage to initiate her bomb and cause the sun to begin to fracture. Starboy, who has the ability to change the density of objects, uses his powers on himself to become the new centre of our sun and save the solar system. I could have done with this whole element to the story and feel like the Justice League had enough motive to try and stop these guys from returning to the future unchecked.
Despite the confusing moments, like how Ms. Martian, who is still trying to get her permanent membership card to the league is for some reason absent from the last battle, I still very much enjoyed this movie. It was reminiscent of the Justice League cartoons that most of us grew up on, and was built by design for the super fans. If you’re not a major comic book nerd, then this movie probably isn’t for you. But, for those fans of the animated series, this is an excellent addition to the ongoing stories of the Justice League. This is not trying to be anything it’s not. It’s a fun action story with as many heroes and references it can pack in for the fans that want it. And, that is something to be appreciated.