If you simply can’t wait to see DC’s most famous superheroes team up to do battle on the big screen, then you’ll want to check out Justice League: War, the latest effort from Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment. The animated feature adaptation of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s 2011 “Justice League: Origin” storyline finds the famous heroes battling crime separately before they officially team up. When a powerful new threat invades the Earth, the heroes must put aside their differences in order to work together and save the world. It’s a worthy addition to the series of animated features, and a great place-holder between live-action movies.
Featuring the voices of Alan Tudyk, Jason O’Mara, Michelle Monaghan, Christopher Gorham, Justin Kirk, Shemar Moore, and Sean Astin, Justice League: War is now available on Blu-ray. Hit the jump for my review.
If you’re a fan of Johns and Lee’s original arc, there’s a good chance you’ll be pleased with this 79-minute animated take on the story. However, if you’re familiar with “Justice League: Origin” from DC’s New 52, but you’re not a fan of the work, then you might want to pass on this one as it stays relatively faithful to the source material.
We are introduced to the world of Justice League: War by way of Gotham, where Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan iteration) tracks a caped kidnapper who has been plaguing the city. Both the local news and the ring-bearing superhero appear to be in the dark about the true nature of Batman, revealing this world to be one that exists before the Justice League. Batman and Green Lantern enter into an awkward team-up that tracks the mysterious villain across the city, discovering its identity as a Parademon, a minion of the incredibly powerful Darkseid. The villain then launches an invasion with the intent to terraform the Earth.
That’s pretty much all you need to know for the main plot, as the heroes then have to work out their various disagreements in order to defeat Darkseid. Most of the feature is dedicated to an almost non-stop fight sequence, but plenty of screentime is doled out to each character in order to give them individual arcs. Here’s where fans of Johns writing will be pleased, while detractors might be relatively unhappy. Johns’ Superman is decidedly less of a Boy Scout than fans may be used to, coming across as cold, aggressive and incredibly conceited. The trade off here is that this Superman is nigh unstoppable, as seen by an early skirmish against both Green Lantern and Batman himself. (Who needs Batman vs Superman anyway?)
Although Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Captain Marvel/Shazam (more on him in a moment) come fully formed, Cyborg aka Victor Stone gets his very own origin story here (along with a variety of costume changes). Lantern struggles with confidence issues, Shazam wrestles with his immaturity, and there’s a strange attempt made to give Wonder Woman some sort of quirky personality. At worst the characters are two-dimension, and at best, they leave you wanting to see more. When they’re all on screen together, it’s a dysfunctional family to be sure, with Batman as the nucleus, attempting to hold together these disparate (and often childish) personalities. It’s clearly a foundation for future films to build on, giving the characters plenty of room to grow as the newly formed Justice League learns to get along.
Now, some fans of the comic might be wondering what happened to Aquaman. Though he appeared in the comic, he’s been replaced by Shazam in the movie. Why? Well, Billy Batson’s appropriate immaturity may have served as a distraction to some of the adult members’ less-than-charitable behavior. Without giving anything away, fans of the ruler of Atlantis might want to give Justice League: War a try anyway; just stick around until the credits!
Jay Oliva’s direction in the film is admirable, especially when it comes to the fighting scenes, of which there are many. Although our heroes spend quite a bit of time fighting Parademons or squaring off against Darkseid himself, none of the conflicts ever feel forced, rushed, or stale. Every hero gets a few signature moments and there are plenty of team-ups to be seen. The bold character design is a joy to behold and the animation absolutely leaps off of the screen. It runs a tad on the short side, but it’s an economical approach that gets to the action right off the bat (no pun intended).
That being said, I do have two minor issues with Justice League: War. I’m pretty neutral on the Johns/Lee “Origin” arc specifically (even if I am a fan of Lee’s artwork), so it’s not their characterizations that bothered me. The normally spot-on voice direction of Andrea Romano was a little off the mark this time around. Maybe it was the actors’ performances, maybe it’s just that I’m used to Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly. It might be a nitpick, but I found the voices distracting. Another nitpick is the PG-13 rating, which I found to be unnecessary. One instance of bloodshed could have been circumvented, while the rough language simply wasn’t needed. Even if the dialogue was pulled straight from the comic, Justice League: War is a worthy adaptation on its own; the foul language only serves to bring it down a peg.
Other than that, Justice League: War is a fun foray into the DC universe, and a great way to see your favorite heroes in action while you’re waiting for the live-action movies to get off the ground. This one’s a definite rent and a possible buy depending on how much you like special features and/or completing your DCU collection.
Creating Heroes: The Life and Art of Jim Lee (~30 minutes) – A great look at the career of artist Jim Lee, from his very earliest days to his most recent creations. This special alone makes the Blu-ray worth picking up, especially if you’re a fan of Lee’s work.
Justice League :War Act D – From Animatic to Pencil Test (~20 minutes) – A behind-the-scenes look at the final act of the film in both rough animatic and pencil test stages, with commentary from Oliva about the movie-making process.
From the DC Comics Vault (4 classic episodes):
- Justice League Unlimited – Season 3 – The Destroyer
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold – Season 2 – The Malicious Mr. Mind!
- Young Justice: Invasion – Destiny Calling: Season 2, Part 1: Happy New Year
- Young Justice: Invasion – Destiny Calling: Season 2, Part 1: Earthlings
A sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie: Son of Batman – (This looks awesome!)