Legion of Super-Heroes review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Even though I’m a DC Comics fan, I must admit that the Legion of Superheroes never appealed to me. The futuristic ensemble of the Justice League of the 31st century seemed to have too much lore behind it ever to be all that invested. That said, animated adaptations have faired well, as with the solid Justice League Unlimited episode and the good-but-not-great animated series for Legion. Now comes the direct-to-video animated movie, which makes me more eager to crack open some Legion comics and give it another chance.
The movie makes the smart call by making this a story of Supergirl. We get the origins of the superhero Kara, learning about her brief time in Argo City before it was obliterated in the destruction of Krypton. Having been taken under the wing of Superman on Earth, she hasn’t adjusted well to Earth. Figuring Kara needs a change of scenery to get used to her powers, he sends her on a field trip to the 31st century to visit his old (or young?) buddies from the Legion.
There, Kara finds herself studying alongside her peers, even if she regrets being paired up with the lesser heroes in training. Among the heroes of this timeline is Brainaic-5, an iteration of the Superman villain that has grown beyond the evil intentions of his previous robot lineage. Though intelligent, he lacks the emotional core to handle certain situations, including the dark history of the Brainac title. He’s the perfect partner for Supergirl, strategically and romantically.
The story becomes far more interesting when a major threat befalls Earth, and the Legion in training are the only ones who can stop it. At the heart of this evil scheme is a Kryptonian fascist who directly challenges Kara’s outsider nature and Frankenstein’s monster version of old Braniacs bonded together and bound by ego. These two villains make for the perfect challenge for our two leads in how they have to fight off the problems of the past to ensure their future as individuals.
The animation reflects the same style that’s been in past DCAU movies, that is, the bold outlines and fairly neutral color palette. It still works here and leads to some stunning fight sequences, especially for featuring such animation-friendly characters as Bouncing Boy and Triplicate Girl. The film also doesn’t shy away from cracking jokes about these absurd characters. How could you not when you have team members like Invisible Kid, Shadow Lass, and Arm-Fall-Off?
This film stands well enough on its own for taking place in a fairly fresh animated movie universe. The familiar interpretations of Superman, Batman, and The Flash briefly appear in this film. Unlike many cinematic universes, the luxury of animation allows these many characters to drop in and out of stories when it's convenient. A lesser film might’ve entirely cut out Superman, referred to him in name only, or concealed him in wonky CGI. A lesser film might’ve also tried to wrap more of Superman into this story that is clearly more interesting for the Supergirl/Brainiac romance than forcing a tenuous connection to the Man of Steel.
Legion of Superheroes does a great job of making me care about a comic book series that never gelled with me. Perhaps it’s just the firmer focus on combatting fascism, nature vs. nurture, and the importance of teamwork that makes this futuristic tale far less convoluted, but this movie just worked. I can only imagine how much more pleasing it is for fans of Legion. Among the current run of the connected DCAU, this is one of my favorites in what has so far been a lukewarm saga of movies.