With Wonder Woman hitting theaters soon, fans of the DC Comics universe are waiting with bated breath to see if the masterminds at Warner Bros. can finally strike gold with a superhero film. Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were all revealed with ample hype, but ultimately let fans down on their promises.
But maybe, just maybe, the best gritty and mature (since that's the motif we're going with) DC Comics 'movie' has been here all along, and its sequel just released last week.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Injustice: Gods Among Us and the first chapter of Injustice 2.
The story so far
Injustice 2, the follow-up to 2011's Injustice: Gods Among Us, is a fighting game for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One from NetherRealm Studios (the team behind Mortal Kombat) centered around brisk and brutal battles in the DC Universe. The first game's grim story begins with Superman accidentally killing his wife and unborn child, in turn leading to the nuclear devastation of Metropolis.
The culprit of this madness? Well, that'd be none other than the Joker, and the world of Injustice pulls us in when Superman breaks his code and punches straight through the Joker, killing him. As you can guess, Batman wasn't too happy about that.
Long story short, Superman forms The Regime, a dictatorial team of supers to keep the violence of the world in check. The Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman join The Regime as the fall of Superman's morality and the rise of Batman's 'insurgency' has them thinking they're on the right side. Supes teams up with Black Adam, Sinestro and a slew of other villains and is eventually taken down by Batman, but not without the help of a Justice League from an alternate dimension and his own crew of super villains, because comic books! The game ends with Superman and friends locked in a cell that dampens their powers. Roll credits.
Right off the bat, Injustice 2 had its work cut out for it. How do you follow-up a Civil War-style story without retreading the same ground? So, the team at NetherRealm decided not to, and instead they doubled-down on the distraught world from the first game and introduced a bigger bad, Braniac, who travels the galaxy in search of worlds and cities to collect. The game then has the pleasure of reuniting the sides of Batman and Superman, along with the timely arrival of Supes' moral opposite, Supergirl, to take down the greater of two evils.
Why 'Injustice 2' works
The game is absolutely stunning, with seamless transitions between fully-rendered cut scenes and battles, poignant dialogue and what may be the best facial motion capture ever in a video game. For all intents and purposes, this is an interactive animated film, and a damn good one at that.
'Injustice 2', despite its unbelievably grim setup, has plenty of heart and a dash of humor, something the films centered around even just one character (see: Man of Steel) lack completely. Sure, the sequel has the benefit of setup from the first game, but let's be honest, that didn't do Batman v. Superman any favors. Injustice can drop in and pull out characters on a whim, and as players we're still invested in where they go and what they do. A talking gorilla with telekinetic powers? We're in. A rage monster with a blood-vomiting cat as its ward? Sign us up.
The films of the DC Comics Extended Universe are fun and frantic, sure, but its hard to see simple things like motive or drive. From the moment Injustice: Gods Among Us introduced players to a murderous Superman, we knew the ethical waters would be muddied. This might not be a fight one can take sides on, a la Captain America: Civil War, and seeing the Big Blue Boy Scout actually kill people for the "greater good" is legitimately uncomfortable to watch, almost cringe-worthy.
Despite Injustice 2's introduction of Braniac, the end of the game will still leave players wondering whether the choice they just made (offered at the end of the game) was really the right one. The game begs a real, societally-relevant question of us, teaching us about the word of friends and adopted family. "Every Battle Defines Us" is the game's tag, so its heroes ask us: "When is enough, enough?"
So what's next?
DC is no strangers to succeeding in realms outside of the silver screen. Its animated outingshave been nothing short of spectacular, with Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Animated Series and Young Justice all gaining critical acclaim during their runs on television, and for good reason. These series embrace the weird and wild of the DC Universe, something the DCEU films lack.
DC's comics publishing line has also been stellar as-of late, with its DC Rebirth initiative and series like Superman, Green Lanterns and Green Arrow reminding us why we care about these characters in the first place. Even the Injustice comics, set between the events of each game, reveal plot points and build character for almost every hero even referenced in the games. That's dedication.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel, and with Wonder Woman already receiving favorable impressions, maybe the DCEU films are on the up-and-up. One thing is for sure though, that Warner Bros. could take a note from NetherRealm and its work on the Injustice series. The games are dark, brutal and brooding, and we love every second of them.