Injustice Animated Movie Review – IGN5 min read
This is a spoiler-free advance review of Injustice, which will be released on Blu-ray, DVD, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, and Digital HD on Tuesday, Oct. 19. And for more on Injustice, catch up on how Superman’s failure broke the DC Universe.
It’s not hard to understand the appeal of DC’s Injustice: Gods Among Us franchise. The original 2013 game introduced a fascinating alternate reality scenario where Superman snaps and becomes the tyrannical ruler of Earth, forcing Batman to spearhead an underground resistance. That premise has been greatly expanded upon through DC’s many Injustice prequel comics and the 2017 sequel game. It’s totally unsurprising to see the franchise expand into the animated movie realm. What is surprising, however, is how poorly that winning premise fares in the transition.
Injustice casts Smallville’s Justin Hartley as the Man of Steel and Star Trek: Discovery’s Anson Mount as the Dark Knight. The fact that the film avoids reusing the voice cast from the games should clue you into the fact that this is an adaptation, not an extension of that same continuity. The plot also draws heavily from the work of writers Tom Taylor and Brian Buccellato, who penned the numerous comics that flesh out the five years leading up to the events of the original Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Injustice Movie Images
The movie opens at the same spot as the first issue of the comic — on that fateful day where Joker’s monstrous attack on Metropolis sends a grieving Superman down a dark path towards tyranny. To say exactly how much of the series’ timeline the movie covers would be spoiling things, but suffice it to say it’s too much. Its cardinal sin is trying to cover too much ground and losing sight of the nuanced character work that makes the Injustice comics so memorable in the first place.
Here’s the thing about Injustice: it’s an inherently flawed story that requires a special brand of suspension of disbelief. Not just that Clark Kent can fly and move mountains with his bare hands, but that a hero this fundamentally decent could ever become so morally compromised. This is an alternate DC universe where the key difference is that Superman is fallible. Even the original game struggles to justify that central plot twist, but at least it has the comics as a backup. Taylor and Buccellato spent years painstakingly following Superman’s gradual downfall and reminding us that he at least started out with good intentions. Along the way, those books add fascinating new layers to all manner of supporting characters, from Harley Quinn to Black Canary to John Constantine. Heck, Injustice: Year Four Annual #1 is easily the best Plastic Man comic published in the last decade.
All of this is to say that the Injustice story really requires a certain level of breathing room in order for the premise to click. Without nuanced characters making believable choices, the story doesn’t resonate. Injustice is very much the DC version of Marvel’s Civil War in that regard. And that’s where the movie stumbles almost immediately. There’s little room to develop any of the film’s ensemble cast. Superman doesn’t undergo an evolution so much as he flips a mental switch and becomes evil. Major characters die or exit the conflict with zero fanfare. Wonder Woman arguably fares the worst, as the movie paints her as a ruthless cheerleader of Superman’s new cause with none of the compassion that defines Diana of Themyscira. In the mad rush to establish the playing board and line up the pieces, it never manages to generate any emotional weight around them. The movie becomes hollow in a way the games and comics most certainly aren’t.
It’s very telling that the most memorable scenes in Injustice are the ones that stick closest to that source material. Some key scenes from Injustice: Year One remain more or less intact, and there’s a certain thrill in seeing them play out in a new medium. Meanwhile, all of the changes the movie makes to the established story involve eliminating key characters and plot points for the sake of streamlining. Nothing is actually added to the formula, only taken away in order to squeeze a complex DC saga into a lean 75-minute movie. Many of these DC animated films have suffered in that regard, but never has it felt like so much was sacrificed in the process. Regardless of one’s prior exposure to the Injustice franchise, this is a film marred by underdeveloped characters and a lack of emotional stakes.
Will Injustice satisfy those DC fans only interested in watching colorful heroes punching other heroes? Maybe. The various fight scenes are suitably dynamic and large in scope. In some ways, the movie is more visually appealing than the game, as the garish, over-designed costumes have been somewhat toned down and simplified for the animated format. Still, there are a great many iconic match-ups from the source material that simply never happen. There’s too much missed potential when it comes to the “hero vs. hero” concept.
The voice cast is the one area where the movie truly excels. It was a risk tossing fan-favorites like Kevin Conroy and George Newbern aside in favor of new actors, but that risk pays off. Hartley does a particularly fine job of portraying a more weary, emotionally raw Superman, making the most of the limiting script. Faran Tahir’s Ra’s al Ghul is also an unexpected highlight. Even with actors like Gillian Jacobs (Harley Quinn) and Kevin Pollak (Joker), who stick pretty close to the Batman: The Animated Series playbook, the end result is effective. This is a talented cast deserving of a stronger film.
Or animated series, perhaps? There’s an argument to be made that a single Injustice movie was never going to work, regardless of how much of the series’ timeline it attempted to cover. This is a story that really needs a longer, serialized format to shine. Had Injustice been greenlit as an HBO Max series rather than a direct-to-DVD movie, maybe things would have turned out far differently.