DISCLOSURE: BOF received a reviewing copy for reviewing purposes.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of the connected DC Animated Universe. They’ve been cool enough, but the tone and attitude have just seemed “off” to me.
The animation has been inconsistent, but that’s been true for a number of the DC animated projects we’ve gotten over the years.
The connected stuff has “connected” with me on occasion, but as a whole, I was a bit underwhelmed. This hasn’t been a surprise though as the shared animated universe draws so much inspiration from DC’s New 52, a publishing venture that I found to be largely a let down with a few shining exceptions (ok, pretty much just Batman.)
Interestingly enough, the New 52-ish animated universe seemed to be hitting it stride and posed for a “soft reboot” with some of its latest installments. Both The Death and Return of Superman and Batman: Hush seemed to make a point of moving their titular heroes closer to their more traditional depictions — all the way down to get them out of the over-piped and darker-hued costumes and into more classic garb. It seemed that the creators were going for a tonal shift and would continue on with this universe with an altered approach.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War makes it very clear that it is NOT the case.
Serving as a definitive conclusion to the 7-year, 15-movie universe that started with Justice League War, this film absolutely pulls no punches and it does pull way back on the traditional depictions of its lead heroes. From a de-powered Superman, to a Darkseid-minion Batman, to a Wonder Woman that…well you see for yourself, the characters are nearly unrecognizable throughout much of the film.
There is a level of violence and angst that we haven’t seen before in a setting where the entirety of existence is at risk.
It’s dark…really dark.
But it’s also pretty darn good.
JLDAW is a movie that is truly about the end of things. It’s a look at the end of the world, the last resort to win a war, the death of characters, and how heroes respond when hope has been seemingly extinguished. I mentioned the level of violence and I assure you that the R rating stamped on this film is deserved.
When you’re dealing with the conclusion of a shared universe no character is safe; and writers Ernie Altbacker, Christina Sotta and Mairghread Scott establish early on that you’re going to see somethings that are shocking. It’s a bold move to show beloved characters dismembered and suffering agonizing deaths, but an effective one. From the first act, the audience is keyed into a heightened sense of tension that hangs over the rest of the film. The rest of the film itself is more about struggling than it is about winning.
Do our heroes actually win in the end? And, if you believe they do, what is the cost of that victory? Who are the victors when the spoils are the rubble that remains after destruction? What would you be willing to sacrifice to hit the reset button and try to do it all over?
These questions fuel the movie just as much as the action and spectacle — of which there is plenty. Viewers will enjoy some awe-inspiring battle with parademons crossbred with Doomsday DNA, massive fight scenes with ninjas, criminal fight rings, and evil cyborg versions of fan-favorite heroes. There is a lot going on and there really isn’t a minute wasted in the hour and a half run time.
If anything, the biggest issue is how quickly things end.
Directors Matt Peters and Christina Sotta know the mission at hand is to deliver a big ol’ wallop of a film that ties off the loose ends of this universe. They deliver admirably on giving their key characters enough to do and allowing secondary characters to shine (I’m talking about you, Etrigan the Demon.) They take full advantage of the magical elements and give John Constantine a reason to feature prominently in the story along with Raven, something I was not expecting. Sticking the landing is the tricky part and I believe the coda at the end of this one will leave some viewers wanting.
Another criticism comes in something I’ve already mentioned: The animation quality is a bit spotty. Some scenes are rendered beautifully while others feel rough with a lack of fluidity and detail. Again, this has been par for the course and if it hasn’t bothered you to this point it likely won’t here.
The voice cast delivers some excellent work however as Jerry O’Connell, Jason O’Mara, and Marr Ryan all excel as Superman, Batman, and Constantine respectively. Rosario Dawson doesn’t have much to do as Wonder Woman, but is strong as ever while Rainn Wilson finally hits his stride as Luthor. The work is strong all around.
Overall Justice League Dark Apokolips War is a fitting end — and a finer than most — to the DC Animated Movie Universe. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is quite entertaining. – Garret Grev