Legion of Super-Heroes Review: Bystanders in a Supergirl Story

Warning: There are some spoilers ahead for Legion of Super-Heroes!

If you were waiting for a true Legion of Super-Heroes movie, then keep waiting. The newly released animated film, Legion of Super-Heroes, is actually a Supergirl movie, with Brainiac 5 as a costar and most of the other Legionnaires placed into supporting roles. It begins with Krypton exploding yet again, then features Batman, Superman, and the Flash in the obligatory way live-action movies normally try to shoehorn them in. By the end of the first act, Supergirl’s finally in the 31st century, and embroiled in a plot that links the past and the future.

Supergirl (Meg Donnelly) is portrayed here as having been a teen when Krypton died, who came to Earth at a different rate than Superman. She’s still young, and more a refugee than an immigrant. Frustrated with Earth’s backwards technology, Kara is also prone to destructive mood swings. That gives Kara’s big cousin the idea to send her into the far future to master her powers in a time when technology on Earth has caught up to what she is used to,

When Kara first encounters Brainiac 5 (Harry Shum Jr.), she assumes that he’s a villain. To be fair, he does look a lot more like the evil Brainiac in this version, He is also sufficiently self-righteous that he would rather win a fight than explain himself. It’s a different take on the character, combining several aspects of different interpretations, and ultimately presenting Brainy like he’s on the autism spectrum. He is initially so literal-minded about his own IQ that he comes off as insufferable. But he’s also pretty obviously being set up for a redemption arc and for Supergirl to learn a lesson about being quick to judge. Less obvious is the fact that the movie essentially becomes a rom-com between the two.

Is that what you wanted from a movie called Legion of Super-Heroes? There’s nothing inherently wrong with it as a premise, and there is some precedent for their romance in the comics. But it’s not really what Legion fans might expect. There is also a drastic change to one Legion member that may feel like a betrayal. However, this feels like a pilot for a potential spinoff show, albeit one with a villain who has some major body horror elements at play. Presumably the only reason this managed a PG-13 rating is the longstanding Alien vs. Predator rule that aliens, even humanoid ones, are allowed to be disemboweled and torn apart in grotesque ways so long as they don’t bleed red.

The movie continues the “Tomorrow-verse” animation style, although this time around it feels like there’s a tiny bit more manga-esque stylization, almost as if the studio knows that the anime-style Supergirl is a favorite with fans. It also includes several visual nods to the Richard Donner Superman, including some parts of Krypton, Supergirl’s space journey, and the giant rotating rings-around-a-platform design. In an attempt to give these movies more linkage, which James Gunn and Peter Safran may nix down the line, a post-credits teaser links back once again to, of course, Batman and Superman. Heaven forbid this story actually lead into a full Legion sequel.

Some short bonus featurettes break down the premise of the Legion and the making of the movie, mostly with the filmmakers talking about their favorite parts. It’s perfunctory stuff, along with the usual two bonus cartoons, this time Supergirl-themed.

There’s boldness to making Supergirl and Brainiac 5 a fighting couple; less boldness in not calling it what it is, which is a Supergirl movie. Still, it’s reasonably fun, if slight. Maybe a full Supergirl story in the present day should have come first.

Legion of Super-Heroes debuts on Blu-ray, 4K and digital on Tuesday, February 7.

Grade: 2.5 out of 5.

Recommended Reading: Supergirl Vol. 1: Reign of the Cyborg Supermen (Rebirth)

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