The guardians of justice (will save you) is a pastiche and a tribute: it’s action and comedy, it’s live-action and animation, it’s frenetically beautiful trash and, ultimately, surprisingly thoughtful. It’s sharp but dirty, intentionally dirty and deliberately frayed to give the look and feel of old times and old technology. imagine if Turbo Child was based on a hodgepodge of Justice League and G.I. Joe instead of madmaxput it in a media jammer with an ensemble cast and a huge staff of animators, and allowed it to stretch its legs through seven relatively brief episodes while delivering the effect of a long-running franchise that had its many adaptations spliced together.
The Guardians of Justice takes place in an alternate version of the 1987 universe, 40 years after the appearance of a Superman-like figure who stopped World War III started by a cyborg-resurrected Hitler. The show begins with Knight Hawk (Diamond Dallas Page) investigating the apparent suicide of this wonderful man (Will Yun Lee). Knight Hawk suspects foul play and quickly casts suspicion on his fellow Guardians: The Speed (Sharni Vinson), Awesome Man (Derek Mears), Golden Goddess (Preeti Desai), Black Bow (Tiffany Hines), Blue-Scream ( Jackson Rathbone), and King Tsunami (Kellen Lutz). In addition to the narration, series creator Adi Shankar features twice as antagonists (billionaire weapons maker/skeptical superhero Logan Lockwood and supervillain terrorist The Scottish Skull) alongside Queen Anubis (Brigitte Nielsen leading a nation-state whose aesthetic is Cobra Command meets the KKK), and the enigmatic Addison Walker (Jane Seymour). Walker leads a global private military company concerned with economic stability and funded by corporations whose logos have replaced the stars on the American flag, a sort of fail-safe corporate robot army to prevent the nuclear war that seems imminent. after the disappearance of Marvelous Man.
As Dungeons and Dragons campaigns morphed into fantasy novel series and FromSoftware ‘Soulsborne’ games rely on director Hidetaka Miyazaki reading books beyond his childhood reading comprehension, it looks like a young teenager smashing action figures action together in a room or sandbox and making up a story to go along. It’s endearing like that, but I say adolescent rather than child because it’s a hyper-violent story whose characters experience drug use, homophobia, and the irreparably twisted police as they are on the precipice of Armageddon. The Guardians of Justice is gory and bloody, playing effectively for shock, maintaining a tone throughout that would allow the darkest of edge lords to move forward without thinking thematically, before an ending arc that revokes that privilege, paying for the plants , ironing out details and exacting the price of peace from its audience – perhaps a bit like another unorthodox superhero show.
The plot ends by going beyond the need to derive meaning from nonsense into a genuine commentary on American consumerism and militarism. It is a decidedly unfortunate end which could allow a second season but which does not require one. The Guardians of Justice uses spectacle to consider marketing and propaganda: his exaggerated and direct style is distracting enough to get ideas in front of his audience. Even if the themes fell flat from their unique packaging (and I don’t think they would), the show would still be worth considering because it’s visually bold, distinct even though it draws inspiration from many resumptions of the recognizable.
The abundance of traditional and nostalgic superhero entertainment is the second biggest wish of my childhood fulfilled by the monkey paw. While much of the genre’s mainstream has sanded edges, the buying public has no shortage of brutal or overly violent comic book adaptations. Netflix houses Jupiter’s Legacy and Umbrella Academy; Hulu has a Modok show and Hit-Monkey. On Amazon Prime, there are two brutal shows that deconstruct archetypes of Silver Age superheroism in The boys and Invinciblein addition to HBO Max Peacemaker, harley quinnand their 2019 adaptation/sequel watchmen. A new Batman film that positions itself as neo-noir is now in theaters. Yet even as these contributions debate the political ethos of superheroes or challenge the prevailing visual style, none of their creators attempted what Adi Shankar and his collaborators achieve here visually.
Few shows combine more than eight different art styles, interchanging different forms of retro arcade side-scrolling beat-em-ups with Claymation, stop-motion, CGI and drawn animation evoking series like great friends, Dragon Ball Z, and 1980s Marvel Comics, among others. There’s live action that looks contemporary and live action that looks like Batman ’66 and batman versus superman merged together. There are also laser guns that look like Halo battle rifles, a computer that combines the X-Men’s Cerebro with the DC villain Brainiac, and repeated references to mortal combat death. There are scenes taking place in first person with a shooter HUD highlighting close-up gun-kata and a character reminiscent of Snake Plissken. The Guardians of Justice imagine if Amalgam Comics met watchmen while being set to an electro pop/rock backdrop with visual effects that leaned towards camp. No less than five animation and graphics teams worked on this project.
Yet it’s only successful because it weaves together to feel like real experiences and interpretations of the characters; one of those side-scrolling sections is a security footage that another live character is watching. The actors play it straight, no matter how ridiculous they observe and experience. The performances seem serious, and in this Sharni Vinsnon stands out. Although not full of today’s stars, the series features the star of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Womanan iconic actress Rocky IV, and one of its protagonists is a wrestler who first came to the national scene in the late 1980s. While we don’t need to comb through everyone’s resume for Easter eggs, there are plenty of things to recognize for millennials and Gen-X’ers. Yet, like Lynda Carter and Bruce Campbell in sky highthe most iconic casting decisions serve to anchor the story in the middle of the world’s past rather than distract the audience.
In a November interview with PastryAdi Shankar said he aspired to be like Paul Verhoeven, and that legacy shines through in the business news segments of The Guardians of Justice. Just as the political experiences of the past two decades have called for a reassessment of Spaceship soldierIn the United States, a senselessly violent superhero mystery about the rising tide of fascism is poignant for an audience awash in superhero media, living in the heart of imperial “Western Civilization” amid rising international tensions. and ongoing conflicts that citizens are explicitly told about and implicitly to selectively tilt their attention to, though viewers outside the United States likely have context as well.
The Guardians of Justice doesn’t have the most sophisticated critique of political economy ever, but isn’t afraid to show that US President Nicolas E. Nukem (Christopher Judge) is more interested in maintaining power and blowing things up than the needs or interests of his people. He’s also not afraid to name fascism, although he talks about totalitarianism and authoritarianism non-specifically – audiences might assume that KKK lookalikes are fascists too, but there’s a lack of ideological clarity. It’s unlikely to trip the viewer, as it probably didn’t come The Guardians of Justice looking for an introduction to geopolitical game theory. Either way, the uncertainty over ideological lines reflects the propaganda war that takes place in the series. Its depiction of socialist leaders is, predictably, a little more flattering (like much bourgeois art preoccupied with liberal democracy giving way to fascism, it ignores that an alternative exists), highlighted by the idiot Soviet Prime Minister Boris Smirnoff (Eugène Alpere) and including Cuban and Chinese leaders who have the hammer and sickle on their flag despite hints of fissures between socialist states.
It’s a highly stylized show, and some depictions are thin enough to be offensive, though one could charitably interpret that as an implied commentary on the cartoons. Dr. Ravencroft (Jen-Kuo Sung Outerbridge) is the best example of this, as the most high-profile character portrayed by an actor of East Asian descent, besides Marvelous Man, is a floating psychic leading a destructive sex cult. There are plenty of monsters on the show, but this mystical pervert is the only one whose aesthetic stands out in a way that made me feel like I should warn people about racism. The Guardians of Justice doesn’t pretend to be nerd, which is part of why the ending was such a welcome surprise that it positively colors the entire show.
In his interview with Pastry, Shankar called this six-year project a vision of his frenetic memory, trying to share his experience while learning on the fly. Although he cast himself multiple times, the showrunner named 15 collaborators (including Page and Vinson) as co-creators in the credits. This passion project is the producer’s second show for Netflix, with five more based on video game properties in the works. Globally, The Guardians of Justice is bizarre, absurd and serious. If anyone has their tongue in their cheek, it’s behind the camera, not in front. It’s a mystery, but not a mystery box and. From five episodes that seem yes and with impersonations of superhero icons, it manages to be consistent enough to explicitly critique its genre and the culture that created it in the final two episodes. Whether or not audiences buy what the plot sells, the artistic grit and visual creativity are worth watching, provided viewers have a tolerance for intentional cheese and massive amounts of gore.
The Guardians of Justice is now available to stream on Netflix.
Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer, editor, and reviewer. He’s a former Paste intern with a master’s degree in history, who loves video games, movies, TV, and sports, and dreams of liberation. It can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.
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