Unfortunately, Justice League VS The Fatal Five is a somewhat regrettable return to the beloved DC Animated Universe. Fans hoping to be treated to another stellar instalment to Bruce Timm’s iconic series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, should temper their expectations.
Justice League VS The Fatal Five may feature the animation style, character designs and even voice cast of Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, but the film possesses little of the storytelling magic which propelled its predecessors into the pop-culture zeitgeist. Iconic voice actors, Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg and George Newbern reprise their roles as the core member’s of DC’s premier team. Their return to the roles of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman, in conjunction with the DCAU’s signature animation style provides the bulk of Justice League VS The Fatal Five‘s connectivity. Previous plot threads and character relationships are completely disregarded (including the the Fatal Five’s previous appearance). The films somewhat murky connection to the classic animated series is further hampered by its harder edge, adult tone and largely revamped character lineup. As a result of these changes, the film feels almost successfully recreates the feeling of the original series. However, it is the overhauled roster which simultaneously provides the film with both its biggest obstacle in terms connectivity to its predecessor and the progenitor of the films most interesting components.
The returning cast members (the DC Trinity) are largely relegated to supporting cast/mentorship roles, leaving the majority of the core Justice League members bereft of any semblance of a character arc. With the exception of Batman, DC’s trinity are largely reduced to glorified plot tools through which the writers are able to advance the plot and facilitate a number of enjoyable fight sequences. While the story attempts to give Batman some semblance of an arc through his relationship with newcomer Miss Martian, the narratives attention during their pairings is quite clearly placed centred on Miss Martians struggle to prove herself to Batman. As such, Batman is forced to take a more passive role within the narrative and is mostly demoted to something shy of a spectator. While he’s involved in a number of key scenes and action sequences, he’s never the driving force behind any of the narrative choices, but merely a vehicle through which the writers are able to make ends meet and divert some of the narrative/audiences attention toward Miss Martian. Such choices result in Justice League VS The Fatal Five failing to live up to the implicit promise spurred by its inclusion of the DCAU’s animation style and reunion of the classic voice actors for DC’s trinity. Justice League VS The Fatal Five feels less like an organic continuation of the DCAU and more like cheap fan service/ a clumsy attempt to capitalise on the marketability of DC’s former offerings.
Whilst the films lack of concern for its returning cast is disappointing, to say the least, the shift in narrative focus offers a host of compelling (if not mildly intriguing) narrative choices. Despite all its faults, Justice League VS The Fatal Five is galvanised by decision to focus its attention on newcomers such as rookie Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, a time displaced Starboy and Miss Martian. Although the film often stumble in its execution of the intriguing stories it wishes to tell, its decision to commitment to spotlighting newer/more obscure characters, make this outing a worthwhile, if not necessary endeavour.
Justice League VS The Fatal Five decision to promote Jessica Cruz and Starboy to co-leads, results in the facilitation of much needed conversation within the superhero genre. As both our lead heroes battle with their mental health/mental illnesses (and all the subsequent challenges which accompany such afflictions), naturally the story hinges itself on the struggles of two heroes who are locked in a continuous war with their own consciousness. The pair a placed on inverse paths; with Jessica Cruz’s journey being centred on her daily struggle with her anxiety/ptsd and the small victories which she is afforded, whereas Starboys tragic story of an incredibly powerful and capable hero who’s obstructed from accomplishing his mission by the rapid decline of his mental faculties. Despite all of it’s faults, Justice League VS The Fatal Five must be commended for its ambitious willingness to broach such a delicate subject and the accuracy/detail in which it portrays a number of the symptoms associated with each characters mental health struggles/mental illness. Whilst exploring mental health/mental illnesses through the lens of the Superhero genre is not exactly a new idea, Justice League VS The Fatal Five reinvigorates the conversation by broaching the subject without resorting to the vilification or those afflicted by mental health issues/mental illnesses. Although mental health/mental illness has long been a topic explored by comics and comic book related media, such discussion are usually portrayed through the association of mental health/mental illness with comic book villainy, immorality or a heroes fall from grace. Justice League VS The Fatal Five breaks the mould by circumventing this tried and tested path, instead the movie portrays our central heroes as two immutably good/moral characters who happen to be locked in a continual battle with their mental health/mental illness. Their’s is a tale of heroism, or rather the difficulties of performing functional super-heroics and fulfilling their duties, whilst simultaneously fighting for control over their own minds. Whilst the movie achieves varying levels of success when attempting to present this struggle, no one can deny their ambition.
Despite Justice League VS The Fatal Five ‘s ambitious narrative intentions and intriguing premise, the film struggles in its execution of Jessica Cruz’s character arc. Although Justice League VS The Fatal Five presents the audience with an accurate depiction of the symptoms of ptsd and anxiety, much of the effects which these mental health disorders have on Jessica’s life are largely communicated through conversation or references offscreen events, rather than through any visual language or onscreen moments. Justice League VS The Fatal Five even skirts past the traumatic experience which spawns Jessica Cruz’s development of mental health disorders in a one-and-done scene, the rest of the film later unfolds without even so much as even a reference to the traumatic root of her mental health issues. This lack of recurrence of the origins of Jessica’s trauma set’s the tone for the films handling of Jessica’s struggle.
Once Justice League VS The Fatal Five moves past the set-up stage, the film fails to push its exploration of Jessica’s mental health challenges far enough to do anything truly meaningful. As such Jessica’s anxiety and ptsd rarely interferes with her effectiveness as a hero, nor is her heroism placed in diametric opposition with her desire to overcome her anxiety/ptsd. In failing to place Jessica Cruz’s heroism and mental health on concurrent paths, the film abandons the meatiest portion of her comic book counterparts character arc. Unlike Jessica’s depiction in the New 52 and DC Rebirth, Jessica’s anxiety and ptsd never really encroach on her willpower and subsequently have little to no-impact on capacity to control her abilities and create the Green Lantern Corps signature constructs. As such, the chracter is never placed in a position where she forced to overcome her anxiety/ptsd and organically earn her hero moment. While Justice League VS The Fatal Five does indeed present Jessica with a hero moment, the scene which she achieves this feels rather generic and inauthentic to the chracter struggle movie sets up in its first act.
Instead, Jessica’s anxiety and ptsd is sidelined in favour of developing the relationship between Jessica Cruz and Starboy. While the film flounders in its depiction of Jessica’s mental health struggles and its effects on her dual identity. Justice League VS The Fatal Five avoids repeating the same mistakes in its exploration of Starboy’s schizophrenia. Throughout the entirety if the movie, Starboys mental illness is used to great effect. Not only does it provide the character with a need/obstacle to overcome in order to necessitate change and achieve his goals, but it also provides the character with a desire that stands in direct opposition with the goals he strives to achieve.
This internal conflict provides the Justice League VS The Fatal Five with the crux of the main plot. Starboy’s debilitating and deteriorating condition hinders, the otherwise incredibly and insanely power time-displaced hero from accomplishing his mission solo, thus requiring the assistance of the Justice League. Starboy’s provides the necessary set up for films central premise and conceit, whilst also providing the movie with a tragic counterpoint to the more hopeful conclusion to Jessica’s Cruz’s character arch. Ironically, the two heroes character arcs placed even placed on opposite trajectories quality-wise. Whilst Jessica Cruz fails to earn her heroic moment due to the films failure to present her mental health challenges as a relevant obstacle to the characters heroism, Starboy attains an organic/authentic hero moment as a result of his continuous struggle with his deteriorating mental faculties and the effects which his mental illness has on ability to fulfil his heroic duties. This continuous struggle yields the movies most poignant and emotionally charged moment, as his struggle culminates in one final opportunity to accomplish his fulfil his heroic duties, which is accompanied by a hefty price.