Legion of Super-Heroes
"Legion of Super-Heroes" begins with Kara Zor-El, the cousin of Superman, struggling to fit in on Earth as a resident and as a super hero after she watched Krypton's final moments and being thrust into a weird, primitive society. Superman gets an idea to take her to a more suitable place: the 31st century, where she can train with her peers at the Legion of Super-Heroes' Legion Academy. Supergirl is taken in by a class of cadets but she soon becomes wrapped up in a plot by a terrorist organization known as the Dark Circle who has their eyes on the Legion's very well protected vault of confiscated artifacts. Complicating the matters is the presence of another cadet named Brainiac 5 who is trying to overcome his own family history and do the right thing even if everyone hates his cloned guts. They both have a lot to learn about themselves but the clock is ticking with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance. No big deal... "Legion of Super-Heroes" released on 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and digital on February 7, 2023 and will stream on HBO Max at a later date to be announced.
The movie's strong suit is it set up and paid off a clear story arc for Supergirl from start to finish. When we meet Kara Zor-El in the cold open, she's not very humble or is sorta doing what she thinks others want her to be, a promising military cadet following in her mother's footsteps. But all of a sudden it's all ripped from her and she's a refugee in both the physical and chronological sense. Thanks to the errant piece of debris, she's knocked off-course and lands on Earth decades from when she was supposed to. Like trying to copy her mom, she immediately tries to be a hero like her cousin Superman but things don't go very well to Batman's chagrin. Through the course of her time at the academy, Supergirl gets to grow up and discover who the real Kara Zor-El is and where she feels she belongs: a futuristic city where cute young men with superpowers live? Shrug.
Centering the movie on Supergirl was for the best as it anchors the central theme of legacy. In Brainiac 5, we meet another character who struggles to fit in but that is due to the criminal history of his ancestors. Rightly so, the movie plays up the contrast of him being a 12th level intellect yet totally incapable of social interaction, having to rely on deceit to get into the Legion because he concluded there was no other way to save the universe or for that matter didn't deduce learning about the plot was part of... the plot. And we also have the greater legacy of Brainiac and the creation of his Dark Circle but in stark contrast, instead of passing the baton, he literally assimilates his descendants into his cloned body and attempts to change the universe in his image.
Brainiac's return and Supergirl initially mistaking Brainiac 5 for him were both a nice callback to Justice Society: World War II. He wasn't just a one-and-done cameo in that movie after all. And perhaps taking a cue from the classic 1960s comics, Brainiac was often a plot device and never showed up until the end of the story. Sound familiar? But clearly the movie takes inspiration from one version of the Dark Circle in the comics led by Brainiac 4 and making it a twist that it was Brainiac all along.
It was a boon to the movie to have Jeff Wamester back again for consistency having directed the most recent canon movie Green Lantern: Beware My Power and also Justice Society: World War II. He and the story boarders clearly had some fun showcasing the Legionnaire's power sets like Dawnstar's wayfinding, how Bouncing Boy bounces and inflates, Arms Fall Off Boy taking out Dark Circle members and Triplicate Girl's agility and hand-to-hand capabilities. There is an equal share of tender moments like Alura and Kara's teary farewells or Superman and Supergirl's heart-to-heart in Smallville. In terms of animation, a critical eye may take issue with some inconsistency likely related to five overseas animation studios total having worked on this movie but overall the movie was a visual feast that worked off a mostly bright palette that debuted in Superman: Man of Tomorrow.
Arms Fall Off Boy, Dawnstar, Phantom Girl, Bouncing Boy, Invisible Kid, Mon-El and Triplicate Girl definitely felt like a writer's hand picks of the vast roster of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Although supporting cast, Josie Campbell really packed a lot of unique personality and quirks even though they didn't have as much screen time as Supergirl or Brainiac 5. But the writing is so good, the moments they have make an impact. Like Timber Wolf says what's on his mind and doesn't mince words. Or in the final act of the movie, the cadets get their time to shine as they mount a plan to take back the headquarters and save their comrades. Ant let's not forget Proty. Lovely little add from the 1960s Adventures Comics. Like with the core Legionnaires picked as cadets in this movie, the full roster of the Legion seen at the movie was a really cool who's who of the various Legion comic book eras. I'd never would have guessed we would see Gold Lantern, Atmos, Gates, Comet Queen, or Power Boy grace the screen. Hat tip to Campbell and/or whomever else got to get in their picks.
Speaking great callbacks to DC comics, "Legion of Super-Heroes" didn't show away from a couple. Notably Mon El mentions his home planet Daxam as does Triplicate Girl mentions hers, Cargg when they introduce themselves. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the governing body of the Legion era, the United Planets gets a mention. Also mentioned when where the Legion is are Durla, home planet to Chameleon Boy who has brief cameos in the movie, and Winath, home planet to Lightning Lad who is one of the Legion's founders and appears at the end of the movie. Naturally, Jor-El is mentioned in the cold open but a neat little reference was Alura's password being her maiden name In-Ze. Flash mentions he was in Star City, home city of Green Arrow who last appeared in Green Lantern: Beware My Power. During the first meeting between Brainiac 5 and Supergirl, she mentions the bullet that took out Brainiac in Justice Society: World War II. Some neat surprise mentions were the Legion of Substitute Heroes and Black Zero, traditionally a Kryptonian terrorist group. And given the Miracle Machine's origins in the comics, it was a given the Controllers and Oa would come up, too.
The movie concludes with Supergirl finding a place where she feels she belongs but that's not to say there are some intriguing threads left for fans to chew on. Brainiac did mention he foresaw "threats," plural, without going into any detail. For a DC continuity, sure, there's no shortage of threats. But given recent releases, could he have been alluding to the anti-matter wave we saw at the end of the Constantine: House of Mystery short? Or was it more related to the end tag of this movie? It appears something took Grundy then Superman and Batman. Something that very much looks like the Zeta Beam from Green Lantern: Beware My Power. The next canon movie appears to be Justice League: Warworld so perhaps the end tag is teasing Mongul gathering up worthy gladiators against their will.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the movie left me flummoxed. The title of the movie is about the same bait and switch this line of movies has to rely on to get past marketing and get a greenlight. While something in the vein of "Supergirl: Legion Academy" would have been more appropriate... for a movie called "Legion of Super-Heroes," the actual organization doesn't appear in full force until the end of the movie for a few seconds save for the three left in charge who totally botched that assignment and weren't reprimanded or even shown apologizing to Brainiac 5 for their prejudice. I don't know how dangerous that mission was, but it seemed incredibly foolish to leave only three fully fledged Legionnaires behind on Earth in charge of the Academy full of cadets who may or may not have a full grasp of their powers and potentially deal with whatever threats surface on the planet? But the Legion's absence totally helped out the Dark Circle and kept the plot of the movie going or it would have been a very short caper.
Granted there is only so much mileage in a 83 minute movie, Supergirl's struggles are summarized well enough but I still bugged by lack of what we would presume moments of Kara being haunted by the sight of Krypton's utter destruction and longing for her mother, the latter of which suddenly resurfaces in the finale. Or just in general more scenes like at the mall of her struggles to fit in could have helped but also could have hindered the pacing which on the flip side was great. There were no real slow moments at all that grinds the movie to a halt.
It was a little too painfully obvious from the start that Mon El was a double agent talking how he loved the purity and order of Krypton. There wasn't enough context in the cold open to explain what he meant by Krypton's society being a model of order so Mon El's words come off as incongruous. And insult to injury, how hammy his lines get once he shows his true colors. They didn't want to give him blond hair and a German accent, too? He was essentially the Act 3 traitor because the story needed someone to get punched around by Supergirl, you know, the lead of the movie, since willing away a deus ex machina doesn't quite have the panache of wanton violence! Plus we just had a traitor reveal in Green Lantern: Beware My Power so there is a slight issue of redundancy. I didn't really care for whole origin of the Dark Circle reveal either. Basically a Brainiac cult made in the early 11th century that somehow spread across planets and even in the 21st century made its way to Earth? Ooookay. Then there was Brainiac. Relegated to a generic bargain brand Darkseid wanting to force his vision of order on the universe who easily gets defeated with last minute wit and the cliché of letting the villains defeat each other. This take on Brainiac just seemed off. It can't be helped with the movies and not being able to cover everything but skipping over when Batman and Superman meet for the first time was a bit of a bummer. While that is not the first time in animation this was done, I was looking forward to see what the first meeting was like. Overall, like past movies in this continuity, Legion of Super-Heroes does suffer from some occasional logic gaps, over reliance on ambiguity as a narrative tool, and blazing into the third act but is balanced out by an obvious love of the source material, rom-com set up, strong character arcs, and concise and clear themes.
The movie's special features are a set of four informative featurettes that focus on the Legion of Super-Heroes, Supergirl, and Brainiac. Producer Jim Krieg, writer Josie Campbell, and actors Meg Donnelly and Yuri Lowenthal appear throughout. The Legion Behind the Legion clocks in at a brief 4:40 and talks about the making of the movie and the crew's affinity for Legion of Super-Heroes. A combination of finished footage, storyboards, interviews and many, many note cards, it begins with Jim Krieg recruiting Josie Campbell, coming up with a movie for Legion fans and for those coming in fresh with no idea about it, Campbell developing ideas after talking to Krieg and building up a board of note cards, matching the 31st century look with retro-style of Metropolis in the present, the process of making the movie, and Campbell talks about getting notes (and doodles) from Butch Lukic on the first or second draft. Meg Donnelly talks about the big responsibility of voicing Supergirl while Yuri Lowenthal talks about being cast as Mon El because he is known for voicing nice guys and recording during the pandemic. It ends on Krieg and Campbell reflecting on the themes of hope and belonging in the movie.
The 8:21 "Down to Earth: The Story of Supergirl" centers on Supergirl. Campbell talks about how Supergirl's story differs from Superman's because she is a refugee and a woman displaced, the cold opening setting up Supergirl's arc and making sure Alura's compassion translates. Campbell, Donnelly, and Krieg comment on how she's trying to figure things out both as a civilian and a superhero, her lack of awareness about how the 21st century differs from Krypton, feeling alone, and not being an oddity in the 31st century. Campbell and Lowenthal talk about Mon El's love of old Krypton. Campbell likens Supergirl to the eyes of the audience in the 31st century and have things explained and grow to like it. Krieg talks about the moral of not judging on first appearances, case in point with Mon El and Brainiac 5. They talk about how Supergirl's fighting goes from brute force against Grundy, to dealing with Brainiac 5, and by the end using her powers to stop the Dark Circle and ultimately leaving Krypton behind and forging her own path. Donnelly concludes the featurette with Supergirl learning to be part of the change.
The 9:24 "Meet The Legionnaires" starts with some trademark Jim Krieg cosplay then segways into a primer about the Legion starting with Legion Academy and how graduate(s) are chosen to join the team and how they come from different worlds to help keep the universe safe. The first Legionnaire talked about is Timber Wolf and how the most impatient person was chosen to watch a bunch of teenagers. Next is Chemical King who is more trusting and is about reigning in the cadets. Shadow Lass is cool and collected and Campbell thinks she has the best powers. Dawnstar is said to be the most enthusiastic and a ray of light. Bouncing Boy makes a lot of mischief, Triplicate Girl is a little snappy and sassy but deep down she cares about the Legion, Invisible Kid and the gag of being confident, cool, and collected but still has to figure out his powers, Phantom Girl's arc is coming out of her shell, Arms Fall Off Boy was always going to be in the movie according to Campbell and by the end becomes a MVP, Mon-El is part of Supergirl's arc of moving on from the past, using her to get closer to Superman in a sense, Krieg admits turning Mon-El into the bad guy will probably not be liked by fans, and his desire for things to be orderly again, and Brainiac 5 is the most oddball of the students because of the chip on his shoulder, has an ulterior motive, being smart yet sarcastic, and being the red herring. Campbell hightlights the movie is about a bunch of weirdos coming together to save the world.
The 8:14 "Brainiac Attack: The Intellect Behind The Super-Villain" delves into Brainiac 5 coming from a bad place and trying to do good despite going to a place where nobody wants him, likes him, and still doing the right thing. The featurette shifts to Brainiac's plan about remaking the universe in his image and his descendants. The question becomes where does Brainiac 5's heart come from and not being a carbon copy is also discussed. The Dark Circle is discussed next. Campbell recalls bringing up a comic book cover featuring the Dark Circle staring out at you in a sinister manner. Campbell details how they are a terrorist organization working behind the scenes for centuries at the behest of Brainiac. Campbell comments on Brainiac 5's moment at the end and the pointlessness of who is greater and making sure he is seen as a good guy and a hero for what he really is. Krieg comments on the right decision to initially making him so suspicious rather than making him likable from the start. Krieg and Campbell discuss how opposites attract with Supergirl and Brainiac 5 and how they're both trying to be better people but their connection strengthens each other: she ends up having to think more around her and Brainiac 5 gets a bit more impulsive around her.
It is a let down there are no commentary track or even a sneak peak of the next movie. For the first time, there's no sneak peek?! It is possible the former will be mitigated with a watch party online somewhere like Twitter Spaces which Jeremy Adams recently held for Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons. It is always baffling why staple parts of the special features suddenly vanish but overall the four featurettes do summarize some of the cast and crew's thoughts on key aspects of the movie.
Supergirl and Brainiac 5 in "Legion of Super-Heroes" presents an interesting and engaging take on legacy and self-discovery to audiences. Agreeably another fast paced, quirky, and entertaining entry in the in-continuity DC Universe Movie line, "Legion of Super-Heroes" does hamper itself with skipping over too much context, generic villains, and an unnecessary traitor twist. All in all, a solid cast, great interpersonal dynamics, a clear story arc from start to finish, good animation, entertaining fights, and coming of age comedy make this a recommended purchase.
Main Feature: 4 out of 5
Special Features: 3 out of 5
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5