Justice League vs The Fatal Five Review

The hype for Justice League vs. The Fatal Five was real from the moment DC and Warner Bros. Animation announced that they had three of their most celebrated voice actors working on the film. Almost 13 years after the end of their show Justice League Unlimited, Kevin Conroy (Batman), George Newbern (Superman), and Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman) returned to reprise their roles together as DC’s Trinity. I never expected the gambit to pay off as well as it did, but now that I’ve seen the movie following its digital release, I’m happy to eat crow.

In 77 minutes, less than the length of a four-episode JLU arc, Justice League vs. The Fatal Five proves itself rich and engrossing, partly by side-lining its three veteran capes. This is a bombastic, fisticuff-filled superhero movie that makes time for serious meditations on mortality, legacy, and—most surprisingly—mental health. The best part about this movie is that it gives us a fan service rush while proving over and over again that it’d be perfectly fine with punting that stuff into the sun and flying on the story’s own merits.

Some light spoilers follow.

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This article contains spoilers for Akira and the Batman-centric DCAU films and TV shows.

A giant explosion of light and sound. Biker gangs and crime-ridden streets. A city run by crooked politicians and a militarized police force. A flawed hero who operates outside the law and is pitted against a villain who thrives on chaos. All these make Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the spinoff film of Batman: The Animated Series, one of the most iconic representations of the DC Comics hero ever put to a screen, but they’re also major parts of what make the legendary anime film Akira tick, too.

Both films celebrated big anniversaries last year — Phantasm turned 25 on December 25, and Akira crested its 30th birthday on July 16 — and they’re both still widely respected as classics of their respective art forms. It’s not an exaggeration to say Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the Akira manga and director of the film, influenced a generation of artists around the world, and you can say the same for the film’s version of Batman created by Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, and Alan Burnett.

What’s harder to pin down is what the two iconic movies have in common. While they couldn’t be more different plotwise, both films share a lot of DNA that showed up not just Phantasm‘s source TV series Batman: The Animated Series, but the rest of the DC Animated Universe properties for years to come. There’s clear homage to Akira, yes, but over the years the B:TAS spinoff properties have also borrowed its animators and — most importantly — ideas that enrich how we understand the character today.

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