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Justice League: War Review
It’s been almost two and a half years since the print debut of The New 52, DC Comics’ relaunch of their superhero universe, and now the New 52 will see its first adaptation in the ever successful DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. Justice League: War, screenplay by Heath Corson, is based off of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League: Origin. Retelling the origin story of the Justice League, JL:War brings with it plenty of action and world-class visuals that are a staple of Warner Bros. Animation, however, the overall film feels like it lacks a certain charm that should be felt when seeing these classic heroes come together and save the world.
The film starts with a news piece about “The Batman” kidnapping people in Gotham City, with video footage of a dark creature tackling and disappearing with someone from an ATM. The footage pauses and the shot pans out to two boys replaying the video on their tablet while talking about “The Batman” and how he’s a vampire who sucks blood. We then see “The Batman” kidnap a lady as she misses her bus only for Green Latern (Justin Kirk) to fly in and rescue her. Continuing his pursuit of “The Batman,” it is quickly revealed to Lantern that “The Batman” is really an unknown creature in high-tech armor, who proceeds to pound on Lantern. The real Batman (Jason O’Mara), who was also in pursuit of the creature, swoops in, attacking the creature.
After a brief interruption by the Gotham P.D., Batman and Green Lantern chase the creature together, reluctantly, through Gotham and into the sewers. Once in the sewers, Batman and Lantern see the creature planting what appears to be a bomb, and the creature blows itself up in an attempt to keep Batman and Lantern away, but not before screaming, “For Darkseid!” When analyzing the device, Lantern’s ring doesn’t recognize it and Batman’s technology doesn’t register it as a bomb, but as some sort of alien technology. Using this knowledge, Batman and Lantern head off to Metropolis to seek out another alien, Superman (Alan Tudyk).
In an attempt to keep myself from writing out scene by scene the rest of the movie, I’m going to sum up the remaining plot points here. The alien device Batman and Lantern found is actually a teleportation device, with hundreds placed around the world including places like Metropolis, Central City, and Washington, D.C. The device is meant to allow the villain Darkseid (Steven Blum) to transport him and his army to Earth so that he can harvest organic life and terraform the Earth. Eventually said teleportation happens, Darkseid begins attacking the Earth, kidnaps Superman, and a big brawl ensues between our heroes and Darkseid, with the words ‘big brawl’ being a massive understatement.
Prior to this, we meet up with the other members of the soon-to-be formed Justice League, consisting of Barry Allan/Flash (Christopher Gorham), Billy Bastion/Shazam (Zac Callison/Sean Astin), Victor Stone/Cyborg (Shemar Moore), and Wonder Woman (Michelle Monaghan). Each character and alter ego, minus Clark Kent, is given a small portion of individual screen time that allows for a hint of character development, but not much else. The only Justice League member whose origin story we see is Cyborg’s. Everyone else already has their abilities and just Batman explains, briefly, why he became Batman.
The majority of the film sees the Justice League split up into small groups or pairs rather than together as an entire team. This is actually a huge strength for the film as it allows for some terrific dialogue exchanges. Some examples include Green Lantern asking Batman if he’s just a man dressed as a bat, Superman (after beating up Green Lantern) saying to Batman, “So, what can you do,” and Wonder Woman and Superman eyeing each other up after saving the President, teasing a future relationship between the two. The best pairing of Leaguers, however, belongs to Victor/Cyborg and Billy/Shazam. If you were one of those upset by the exclusion of a certain sea-faring king, the inclusion of Shazam and the bond he and Cyborg form will certainly replace any anger you may be feeling.
The true meat of Justice League: War is in its fighting and action scenes. There are a few scenes early on in the film that feature some awkward 3D-esque type shots, but aside from that, Warner Bros. Animation continues to match their superb visually quality that DC’s animated films are legendary for. Coupled with excellent sound work, the battling amongst the heroes and against Darkseid is vibrant and visceral. There’s a clear Man of Steel vibe to the action, with some shots being very similar in style to Zach Snyder’s film. Action is frequent and heavy, a little too frequent and heavy actually, with very little downtime in between fight scenes.
This is where the film really loses the charm that’s found in other variations of Justice League media. Character interaction is quickly taken over by fighting, whether it’s amongst either other, Darkseid’s soilders, or Darkseid himself. A staple of the Justice League franchise is the constant interaction between our heroes. The character interaction that does exist is well done for the most part, but the film would have benefited from more dialogue between the team before jumping into the action. Brief dialogue exchanges separate scenes in the beginning and early middle of the film, but come late middle and at the end, it’s an all out war.
A serviceable amount of personality is given to most of the characters: Batman is somewhat brooding, Green Lantern is constantly rattling off zingers, Shazam retains Billy Bastion’s youthful exuberance, Cyborg is looking for his father’s attention, and Wonder Woman is eager for fighting. However, Flash, Superman, and Darkseid suffer from limited screen time, outside of fighting, preventing them from getting fleshed out personalities. Of those three, Superman has the most personality, which can be classified as a more arrogant Incredible Hulk, followed by Darkseid who wants to build an army and take over the universe, and finally Flash who is a crime scene investigator and follows the stories about Batman. The limited character development isn’t necessarily a problem for me, the Justice League: Origin comic suffered similar problems, but for those who want each character’s personality to stand out and to have some depth, you’ll be left wanting.
In conclusion, Justice League: War is a visual beauty, which has come to be expected of DC’s animated films. The story is solid, though it does take some liberties with the source material, and the characterization is serviceable. It isn’t an easy task to retell an origin story for a group that has such an extensive written and non-written history like that of the Justice League’s. For an audience that is newer to the world of comics and the Justice League, this is a solid starting point for them. Those who have grown up with the Justice League through all its various mediums, however, may be a bit disappointed in the overhaul of voice actors, the lack of depth given to these legendary characters, and an overabundance of action.
This is only the first of what is certain to be more stories told from the New 52 relaunch of the DC Universe. Directed by Jay Oliva and produced by Sam Register, James Tucker, and Alan Bunett, Justice League: War will be available on February 4, 2014.