The highly anticipated animated adaptation of the popular gaming franchise, Injustice, and comic book series is here…and boy do I have some thoughts.
I want to kick this off by saying I am a big fan of Injustice. 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us was one of the first games that truly kicked off my love of gaming and NetherRealm. With the approach of the second game in 2017, I read the entire Tom Taylor comic adaptation and again absolutely adored it. It’s a brutal yet emotionally engaging DC story that has some of my favourite moments with some of DC’s biggest characters.
The second game arrived and surprise, surprise, I loved that too. While some elements like the gear system were somewhat over ambitious and missed a bit, it was a ton of fun and I still go back to it on occasion. So, with my fandom in my mind, I might have a bias that led to my feelings on this film.
However, I want to also clarify I do not think changing things for an adaptation is bad. Many projects made some massive changes to the source material but it worked. Invincible, for example, shifted the continuity of events significantly which altered how certain characters developed, and characterizations are also quite different in some cases. However, that did not impact my enjoyment, it was an exceptional adaptation of the source material while still having some big differences.
Long story short, Injustice is not a good adaptation. Hell, it’s not even much of a standalone animated movie. What looked to be a compelling take on the Injustice: Gods Among Us Year One comic, actually condenses a story that spans half a decade into an 80-minute film that spans weeks. It’s a wildly ambitious move that had little to no chance of succeeding, and it’s pretty baffling they tried.
I had assumed that this was planned to be a new animated continuity and that DC would progressively produce installments that would cover the larger story told in the comics and eventually the game’s sequel. While an Injustice 2 adaptation could still happen, the rest of the story is awkwardly mushed together in this messily put together compilation of the Injustice Best Moments.
The references to the comic books and games feel more like checking boxes at a certain point rather than a genuine attempt at a cohesive narrative. While it’s great as a fan of the comics to see the iconic scenes ripped straight from pages, there’s almost no substance behind any of it.
Injustice primarily revolves around the downfall of Superman; the gradual but inevitable descent from a paragon of hope to a godlike tyrant. The power and strength of the comic is the fleshing out of his fall from grace. In Year One he is extreme in his methods but there are lines he still will not cross. He’s a Superman that will kill but he is not a merciless maniac at that point in the story. In the movie here, he just straight up kills some teenagers who idolize the Joker.
They are wildly misguided, but for Superman to go this extreme without any of the character development feels weak. At the very least, it takes a complex/compelling story and dumbs it down.
A scene ripped straight from the comic features Superman in an ideological debate over a game of chess. Rather than the super speed games with The Flash (from the comics) it’s with Mr Terrific. While the dialogue is still great, it’s a prime example of another issue with the adaptation: Brutality over substance.
Tthe earliest instance of this is the death of The Flash; a character who has one of the most significant arcs in the comics and game. As one of the only characters whose power rivals Superman’s, his role in the Regime is one of choice rather than fear. Throughout the comic, Flash develops in interesting ways, which ultimately results in his defection during Injustice: Gods Among Us.
The film, however, kills him off rather early! In doing so, they also managed to kill a significant plotline. The decision shows they were not interested in adapting The Flash’s story. This isn’t inherently bad, but when you then adapt the iconic chess scene but now use a different character, it proves that the creators do realize that Flash had an important role in the book because they still bothered to adapt the scene.
Green Arrow’s death is also a case of nuance being lost in place of shock factor regardless of the version Green Arrows death is a big moment that Injustice kept in its animated adaptation but with a lot of the emotional weight somewhat lacking.
In both versions, Batman’s group of heroes head to the Fortress of Solitude to secure some technology they need in their effort against Superman. In the end, Green Arrow is the last man standing while the others have escaped. That’s where things start to change.
In the comic he has nothing but his regular arrows. He knows it’s hopeless but he can’t do anything but fight. It’s a last stand that shows his strength as a hero as he works to keep Superman distracted for as long as possible. Unfortunately, an arrow bounces off Superman into his father (Superman’s parents were being kept there for safety). The shot doesn’t kill him but it’s enough to enrage Superman to kill Green Arrow.
It plays out similarly in the film, but arrow Green Arrow shoots at Superman is Kryptonite (again undermining the heroic sacrifice element of the comics version). This time, the deflected arrow kills Superman’s father, resulting in the Man of Steel using heat vision to literally melt off Arrow’s face…
His death in the comic is less brutal and more tragic. As Superman strikes at him in rage, the last we see of Green Arrow is a view through his eyes, his last thoughts being of Black Canary.
In the comic Black Canary is a major player who serves as a grounded perspective on the loss of Green Arrow as the reader has an attachment to their romantic relationship. The film’s lack of this fails to grant the viewer a decent emotional reference on the character’s demise other than a tenuous link with Harley Quinn who does not have the same relationship with Green Arrow in the film as the comic even if they did include some scenes.
Lex Luthor is also a major player who gets completely omitted. In the world of Injustice he is Clark’s best friend and his greatest threat. As the smartest man in the world, he spends his time as a double agent helping Batman’s forces in secret while deceiving his friend. It creates an interesting dynamic with Batman who also considered Clark a dear friend till his recent wrongdoings.
Eliminating Flash, Black Canary, and Lex Luthor from the plot is a bizarre move. Even so, it might have made more sense if other elements of the story were fleshed out or developed in more meaningful ways.
The Injustice universe is a dark and twisted iteration of the DC universe we know, but it has never been without its nuance. Its animated counterpart, however, abandons this in order to fast track to the evil Superman the game is known for.
By the end, the film it jumps straight to the game, bringing over an alternate Superman to defeat the Injustice version. It comes out of nowhere with practically no setup established for it. Hell, we never even got the chance to MEET this alternate Superman before his arrival; so there’s no story/emotional connection to be had.
I don’t particularly enjoy being this negative. I was genuinely excited for this film as a fan of the comics and games. By the halfway mark of the movie, I began to realise that what I was enjoying were simply the scenes taken from the comic. As a clip show, it works. As a story that stands on its own…The writing simply can’t hold it together.
Ultimately, I think trying to adapt such a huge story into a film was a massive swing that was bound to miss. A series would have fit the bill wonderfully but it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. I think a more direct adaptation of the first game could have worked well. It’s also a much more straightforward plot compared to the amazing but packed story of the Tom Taylor story.
While this was a disappointment, I have no doubt Injustice will continue to release great content. With Ed Boon’s appearance at this year’s DC Fandome, I’m hoping we will be seeing the announcement of a third great game soon.