Director Jay Olivia has been hard at work in the DC Animated Universe, bringing us titles such as Under the Red Hood, The Dark Knight Returns and Flashpoint Paradox. And he is back again with Justice Leauge: War, adapted from Geoff John’s Origin storyline which started The New 52 re-launch, and which also helps establish a shared continuity for future DC animated titles. Which is in interesting decision, considering most previous DCU films have been stand alone.
Darkseid’s (Steve Blum) invasion is the event responsible for bringing the world’s superhumans together prior to the formation of The Justice League. While we don’t get a lot of Darkseid’s motivation and/or background, the movie provides Victor Stone (Shemar Moore) a.k.a. Cyborg with an origin story, and fleshes out the relationship between him and his father Silas (Rocky Carroll) better than the comics ever did. And as our colorful heroes are introduced to one another for the first time and they will need to learn to work together if they plan on saving the world from Darkseid.
Much like Marvel’s The Avengers, the film has a good balance between its cast of characters. However, the main problem here lies with either the voice acting or the writing (or possibly a mixture of both). Casting Director Andrea Romano has always done a great job finding both voice actors and actress to bring the characters to life, but for whatever reason the performances here come off robotic and hollow, in particular the majority of Wonder Woman’s (Michelle Monaghan) lines.
There are moments where the voice acting works, but on these occasions it’s the dialogue that doesn’t appear organic. For instance, Green Lantern’s (Justin Kirk) interactions with Batman (Jason O’Mara) are supposed to be witty but end up feeling forced and filled with exposition. Other lines are lifted directly from the source material, and unfortunately what works in comics sometimes doesn’t translate well on screen. The confusing part is that the humor comes off childish at times, but the use swear words seems unnecessary and haphazardly thrown in for shock value. So be warned, this one isn’t for the younger kiddies.
The animation is much stronger this time around, particularly in terms of the redesign of the classic characters. The action sequences make great use of representing each character’s personality in their fighting styles. However, fans of The New 52 redesigns might find even more problems with the further alterations being made to the uniforms. Although the opening credits feature Jim Lee’s art work, it quickly shifts over to the anime style fans have come to expect from Olivia’s previous work. This movie isn’t lacking in the action department, and is undeniably violent, but the Parademon’s green blood makes it appear less graphic when compared to, say, Flashpoint Paradox.
The story replaces Aquaman with Shazam (Sean Astin); however Billy Batson’s (Zach Callison) inclusion is handled really well, even if it doesn’t provide a whole lot of information on the foster child’s history or Shazman’s origin. When Batman and Superman (Alan Tudyk) temporary leave the film, it allows the spotlight to shine on the other characters: Flash (Christopher Gorham), Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and Shazam as they duke it out with Darkseid, establishing their worth. And while the focus is on The US, it’s later stated that the invasion is happening all over the world, and if Aquaman was included he could have brought a larger perspective to the invasion.
All things considered, Justice League: War adequately introduces audiences to the DC Animated Universe, but its uneven tone makes it unclear as to who the demographic for this is supposed to be. Be sure to stick around after the credits though, because the button scene (or post credit scene) hints at the Throne of Atlantis story arc, which was as dark as Flashpoint. That said, JL: War’s campy humor, it’s unclear how they plan on telling that story.