TITLE: Justice League: War
WITH THE VOICE TALENTS OF: Jason O’Mara, Justin Kirk, Alan Tudyk, Michelle Monaghan, Shemar Moore
DIRECTOR: Jay Olivia
STUDIO: Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment
RUN TIME: 79 min
RELEASED: January 4, 2014
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Justice League: War is better than Justice League: Origin.
That’s right, people. It took them 18 films to do it, but the folks at Warner Premiere and DC Entertainment finally created an animated film that not only lived up to its source material, but surpassed it in terms of quality. However, it’s debatable how much of an achievement that actually is, when you consider the source material wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty in its own right, great art notwithstanding (I gave it a 6.5/10).
The basic story is the same. At a time when meta-humans (i.e. people with super powers) are just beginning to emerge, the tyrant Darkseid and his army of parademons are have slowly begun an invasion of Earth. To save the world, our greatest heroes must band together for the first time. But can Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Shazam, and the newcomer Cyborg come together as a team? Or is the world doomed to fall to Darkseid and his army from Apokolips?
The consistent complaint that I have with these DC animated movies is that they’re almost all too short to effectively flesh out the stories they’re based on. There’s a rushed feel to things, as we move from essential plot point to essential plot point without a lot of breathing room, or time to feel out the ramifications or complexities of what we’re seeing. Justice League: War doesn’t have this problem because, quite frankly, Origin didn’t have a lot of complexities. It’s essentially a story about superheroes fighting aliens, and bickering as they do so. So director Jay Olivia, screenwriter Heath Corson, and the rest of the filmmakers and performers were actually able to add layers on to the story, as opposed to cutting things out for the sake of time. Most of these additions are subtle, while a few are more prominent.
The film’s most obvious achievement in terms of layering comes via the dynamic between Cyborg and Shazam. The Shazam/Aquaman switcheroo (more on that later) notwithstanding, the film uses the fact that Billy Batson and Victor Stone are younger than their cohorts to create a bond between them, and as such offer further insight into their characters. When we first meet Billy Batson, he’s sneaking into one of “Victory” Stone’s football games, and throughout the movie he reminds both Cyborg and the audience that Victor is still very much human underneath his new armor. We see more emotional vulnerability from Victor here than we did in Origin, which is nice. He is fresh off a pretty intense trauma, after all.
“Douchebag Superman” is also thankfully absent from the film. One of my biggest complaints about Origin was that Superman and Aquaman came off looking like pretentious, douchebag jocks vying to be captain of the team. When we first meet New 52 Superman, he says things like “Talk, Batman. Before I won’t let you,” “Chains? You’re funny Green Lantern,” and “So, what can you do?” On paper, these lines make Superman look conceited and arrogant. But in War, Alan Tudyk is able to soften them a bit, and say them in a way that sounds like they would actually come from Superman. It’s still remarkably bad Superman dialogue, considering it was written by Geoff Johns. But at least War makes them somewhat believable.
As for the Aquaman/Shazam switch, this movie doesn’t go that far into the roots or origins of most of our heroes. Thus, taking Aquaman out and putting Shazam in really doesn’t cost the movie much. The only thing this film truly misses for him not being there is the ultra bad ass moment where he prompts a bunch of sharks to leap up from the water and gobble down some parademons. Seeing that animated would have been great. On the flip side, the biggest upside to his exclusion is we don’t have to listen to someone read his terrible introduction line from Justice League #3: “So who’s in charge here? I vote me.” In any event, as the mid-credits scene indicates, we’ll be seeing Aquaman soon enough…
There aren’t any major issues with the casting here. As the voice of Batman, Jason O’Mara is inevitably going to come under the most scrutiny because he’s not Kevin Conroy (But oh, how we wish he was…). His Batman is an acquired taste to be sure, but it’s acceptable. Sean Astin also fits well as the exuberant yet naive Shazam. The film jazzes up Darkseid’s voice a bit, making him sound like more of a cosmic entity, as opposed to just another villain.
Indeed, from a character standpoint, everybody’s favorite Apokoliptian tyrant comes out of Justice League: War looking very strong. While his face does look rather bland compared to what Jim Lee, Scott Williams and the colorists were able to do in Origin, the battle itself succeeds in making him look like a near invincible force that can only be matched by the combined power of all seven of our heroes. And even then, they can barely keep up with him at times. It’s particularly surprising that when our heroes attempt to blind Darkseid, we actually see him bleeding from his eye sockets. An added bonus for the kiddies, maybe? In any event, the movie does a much better job than the comic books do of making Darkseid, and the parademons for that matter, look like a force to be feared. As in, if they ever come back, run for the friggin’ hills!
Some Additional Origin vs. War Notes:
- For reasons never explained, in War Batman knows Superman is Clark Kent. If someone else, like the Flash or Green Lantern, had this knowledge, it would be an issue. But because it’s Batman, it works.
- In War, the Flash is brought into the mix via an already established relationship with Silas Stone and S.T.A.R. Labs, as opposed to a mid-battle phone call from Green Lantern. I get what Johns and Lee were going for with the phone call, but the film’s method works better.
- In Origin, Wonder Woman gets her first taste of ice cream from a young African American girl named Raquel. In War, it’s a young Caucasian girl named Hannah. Oddly, this switch bothered me more than the Aquaman/Shazam one.
Interestingly, Justice League: War apparently marks the start of a new DC animated universe roughly based on the New 52 continuity. Thus, each new DC animated movie won’t necessarily be a standalone story, and cast members may carry over from film to film. For instance, O’Mara will reprise his role as Batman in DC’s next animated feature, Son of Batman. The mid-credits scene is also an obvious indicator of what our next Justice League movie will be. It’s obviously nice to see an attempt at continuity, and it ties in nicely with the launch of the New 52. With luck, future films will be able to continue improving on some of the…*ehem*…missteps that have been made in the New 52 thus far, much like War did with Origin.
All in all, Justice League: War turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. The story itself isn’t a masterpiece by any means, and in the end, you can only shine it up so much. But the filmmakers still managed to give us a suspenseful, action-packed superhero adventure that improves on the source material. There’s definitely something to say for that.
Front page image from screened.com. Image 1 from comicbookmovie.com. Image 2 from comicvine.com. Image 3 from dcmovies.wikia.com. Image 4 from blogofoa.com.
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