The following will go into detail about the Injustice film’s deviations from the source material.
I knew the animated adaptation of Injustice wasn’t going to be great, but I was wholly unprepared for the specific way it was going to be bad. The movie was positioned as an adaptation of the Year One comic series. This was the first of the five years that would lead into the Injustice: Gods Among Us fighting game, in which Superman has gone from the idealistic boy scout we know into a tyrant enforcing a police state across Earth. These comics cover five years because they show that Superman’s radicalization was slow and happened bit by bit as his principles were chipped away with each perceived betrayal of heroes like Batman who pushed against him. And for about 85 minutes of the movie’s roughly 90-minute runtime, that’s about what Injustice feels like. That is, until it takes a hard right turn that is so sudden and jarring it felt like the wind was knocked out of me.
The entire premise of the Injustice subseries is predicated on the multiverse. It’s set primarily in a version of the DC universe where The Joker tricks Superman into killing his pregnant wife Lois Lane through the use of hallucinogens, activating a bomb in his city of Metropolis linked to her heartbeat. The damage is incalculable, and it pushes Superman to use his overwhelming power to force peace upon Earth. Some heroes, such as Wonder Woman and Cyborg, side with the Man of Steel, while others like Batman and Green Arrow lead a resistance.
Anyone familiar with the source material will know that, in the comics and video games that followed, Superman’s reign lasted for about five years and resulted in the death of many of DC Comics’ best and brightest. Then, Batman uses the multiverse to bring in the more traditional versions of our heroes to help fight against Superman and his cohorts. It’s a long, arduous few years for Batman and co., but the series touches on how Supermans’ new paradigm is affecting just about every other side of the DC universe. Even a good Injustice adaptation would have its work cut out for it if it wanted to properly adapt everything that happens in Year One alone. I had already resigned myself to expecting the movie wouldn’t be able to touch on everything. But it wasn’t until the movie neared its end that I realized just how much it was skipping over, because the turn the movie takes in its eleventh hour made me realize how much was missing from the source material.
Despite being presented as a Year One adaptation, this one movie ends up closing the storyline of over a hundred comics and a video game all in the span of 90 minutes. In the closing battle, Batman and friends bring over the “canon” version of Superman through the multiverse to talk sense into his Injustice counterpart. This is a tactic that Batman uses in the fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us, and is presented as a last-ditch effort, years in the making. The two fight, but the hero-turned-dictator wins in the end. But then, another multiverse representative is brought through the void to talk some sense into him: a pregnant Lois Lane who lost her own Superman in a battle this universe has yet to see. Superman, finally understanding what he’s done, agrees to be imprisoned for everyone’s safety. Up until this point, I felt the Injustice movie was a mostly mediocre recreation of the beginning of one of my favorite DC stories. But its last five minutes showed that it’s actually a hyper condensed version of a story that’s strength is in watching a force like the Justice League slowly crumble then build itself back up again.
Once I finally saw its conclusion, the turns it took suddenly made more sense. Why keep characters like The Flash and Cyborg, who were central to the conflicts that would follow, alive if you don’t plan on ever making movies that will delve into how Superman’s regime would escalate tensions that would boil over into the very fabric of the Justice League? Characters were killed off without even giving me time to process it — I assumed this was a bait and switch for an emotional reaction, as their plotlines from the comics and games hadn’t yet manifested. It was only when Superman was brought through the multiverse to fight his doppelganger that I finally understood that those plotlines were never coming.
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That isn’t to say that the Injustice movie does poorly by everybody. The Green Arrow and Harley Quinn subplot, in which the emerald archer is protecting the Joker’s loyal follower so Superman can’t find and kill her, is a pretty faithful and funny recreation of their dynamic in the Injustice comics. Despite all the time constraints, it’s one of the only parts of the comics that makes it into the movie’s 90-minute runtime pretty much unscathed. And as a Green Arrow fan, I was happy to see it treated with the care it deserved.
The relationship between Dick Grayson and Damien Wayne as Batman’s sidekicks Nightwing and Robin also has its high points. Much of the early movie has them acting as foils for each other in Superman and Batman’s conflict, but when their dispute reaches tragic ends, it feels more pronounced than a lot of the death (and there’s a lot of it) that’s happening in Superman’s wake. By the end, it’s not even about Superman and Batman’s war — it’s about how they were both caught up in it and blinded by it. The movie ends on a hopeful note that they can be better.
But overall, the standout segments just bring attention to how much everything else in the story is rushed. Injustice’s scathing critique of its own heroes and the drama that follows was never something that could have been reasonably wrapped up in an hour-and-a-half movie. And given that there’s so much material to work with, I’m mainly surprised that DC tried to do that in the first place. This could have been the setup for a series of movies, which would have done better by its story and given DC more animated movies to sell. So all we’re left with is a worst-case scenario of how the company could have handled adapting a stellar story in its universe. I hope that this isn’t indicative of a broader lack of investment in the Injustice subseries on DC’s part, because this (and other sources) makes me less hopeful that we’ll see a third fighting game in the future.