Elseworlds, as they are known in the comics, are a long-standing tradition with DC. They provide creators a chance to explore the rich mythology and complex character relationships in standalone stories that can recontextualize the entirety of the character without infringing on the main continuity. Some of them are just bugnuts crazy like Batman as Victorian detective in Gotham by Gaslight, or Superman as Russian agent in Red Son, while others are epic visions of the final years of the universe like Kingdom Come.
Dark versions of the characters are a dime a dozen though, and darker versions of the Justice League in particular have been done to death. Several episodes of the Justice Leauge/Justice League Unlimited tackled the subject, so did Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Justice League: Gods and Monsters feels anemic in comparison. It also feels like it’s been seen and done before, which it has several times over. Maybe if it wasn’t a one-off I could get more excited about it all, but there’s little chance we’ll see these versions of the characters again.
Shame because these versions of the characters are interesting in the smaller moments that reveal their backgrounds. Superman and Batman are born from mistakes and violence, but it’s Wonder Woman that hits us hardest with her tragedy, vengeance, and tortured emotional state. It doesn’t hurt that Tamara Taylor’s voice work out paces both Michael C. Hall and Benjamin Bratt as the vampire Batman and Mexican immigrant Superman. Hall and Bratt are both a bit too stiff, and they fumble their emotional moments with their detached line readings.
There’s some good here, with Timm’s retro-futuristic designs and angular animation style making a welcome return, but the film relies so heavily on blood-letting and scenes of shocking violence that it all ends up feeling like it’s being edgy and dark just for the sake of it. Eventually all of the violent, gory scenes end up feeling dull and blurry into each other, but the scenes of emotional purging and character investment really linger. And the never-ending cameos from DC’s deep bench of characters, both known and obscure, are a treasure trove for any fan. I just wish Gods and Monsters added up to something better.