Home Entertainment Review: Justice League: WAR (Warner)

Back in 2004, when Identity Crisis was on it’s way to becoming one of the most important comic books in history, Green Arrow gave us a personal insight in to […]

Back in 2004, when Identity Crisis was on it’s way to becoming one of the most important comic books in history, Green Arrow gave us a personal insight in to what it meant to be a Leaguer.

“Like I always say, the JSA may teach you how to be a hero, and the Titans may teach you to be a family, But the League…sure, it teaches you how to protect, but from the very start…The League teaches you how to fight.”

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And what a fight it’s been. The Justice League is a group of seasoned, heavily burdened, and sometimes cynical warriors that have seen and done everything the universe has to offer, and lost even more. The cost of doing what they do is a large part of their appeal, and the reason I was pulled in to comics in the first place. So when DC comics basically called for a do-over, I was opposed. To celebrate 75 years of incredible storytelling, and an expansive and diverse fictional history filled with love, pain, loss, death, power, rage, magic, and joy, they had decided to erase it all and start fresh. Like most comic book nerds, I was furious. I had put in my time. I had gotten up to date and lost quite a bit of time and money on the trip; and soon, it wasn’t going to amount to anything. But sometimes it takes a wildfire to make the flowers grow, so along came Justice League: Origin, to wipe away everything we knew to make room for something new to grow in it’s place. It’s not just a story about super friends taking on a great evil, but strangers thrown in to a battle they couldn’t understand, and forced to depend on one another for survival or victory. Justice League Origin brought us back to the ground floor, but rode with us all the way to the top. More than just an introduction, but a character study on who these characters would be to each other without all their history. It’s a great read, and I’d recommend it. But this isn’t about Justice League Origin. It’s about Justice League: WAR. So I’ll be trying not to draw any more parallels to the comic.

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This newest installment in DC’s ever-growing collection of animated features takes all that they’ve learned from their previous titles, and adds so much more. It’s more than a cartoon of a comic book. It’s a comic book in motion. If you have read JL:Origin you will find more than a faithful adaptation, and if you haven’t read it, you won’t miss a beat. It’s the definition of accessible. Justice League: WAR is the Justice League movie that everyone has been waiting for. It’s not just the story of how the heroes met, but how The League came to be. It’s set around the end of the heroes’ first years, and focuses on who they are at that point in time, without even touching on who they will eventually become.

What stood out for me at the very beginning was how modern the story is. Most comic books’ story-lines can take place in virtually any time period, but Justice League:War begs the question “What would happen if the Justice League were active in a time as cynical and world weary as ours?”. When a person is saved they aren’t thankful or relieved, they become expectant and apprehensive. It’s not enough for a person to want to do right, everyone needs an agenda. Right off the bat, it’s difficult to believe that a group of people with great power can come together and actually work towards the betterment of mankind. But the heroes have grown up in the same world, and are ironically just as mistrusting as the people they try to help. This gives them each a unique perspective which makes their reactions to one another so dynamic. Green Lantern is still a rookie cop with the will (I couldn’t resist) and the way, but not enough experience to know what it means to wield his power or face it’s limits. This is a far cry from the Hal Jordan we’ve seen most recently, from Geoff Johns (The writer of Justice League: Origin) himself, and really drives the difference a little experience can make. It’s the same Justice League, with the same values, but the lack of interaction with others like them has made them so self-sufficient that the idea of taking up arms with those having similar abilities is unheard of. But now that a threat has emerged on a global scale, it’s time to put aside their own personal beliefs for the good of all, and it’s that transition that makes Justice League: WAR really shine.

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The heroes’ individual strengths and weaknesses are showcased remarkably, but the limits are also apparent, giving the rest of the Leaguers a gap to fill in when the time comes, creating the most absolutely stunning large-scale fight sequence of all the DC animated features. Yes. It’s that good. All of the members take a real role in the fight. It’s not just Superman punching his opponent in to submission while the rest shoot nondescript beams, and use general weapons on seemingly impenetrable armor. The only real problem I have is the continued trend of property destruction in superhero movies and shows. Superheroes are supposed to go out of their way to diminish civilian casualties. But lately the theme of pushing the realistic impact of a super-powered beatdown in a major city has gotten ridiculous. It’s to the point where a place where people and their family and friends live and work all of their lives is being treated as nothing more than an arena. It’s a disrespectful portrayal of the superheroes’ perspective of the mundane world they live in, and it’s inhabitants. The worst part of this whole issue is that this is the League’s first fight together. The flippancy they exhibit while eliminating whole livelihoods is insulting, and frankly not very “superheroic.” It’s not something that will break the experience for you, but as an adult with a family and a home and a job, it’s getting to where I can’t help but project more on the citizens than the heroes.

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Regardless of this irresponsibility in judgment and accountability, the heroes’ personalities are perfectly mismatched for maximum banter potential. That seems like a joke, but banter is important to the entertainment value of a superhero story. It’s that fulcrum that you don’t miss until you don’t have it. Luckily, WAR has it in spades. Batman and Green Lantern get barely any time together in any of the comics, so to see them pulling this half-assed buddy cop routine is incredibly entertaining. Mostly due to the always spot-on voice direction of Andrea Romano, but a significant amount of the credit has to go to Jason O’ Mara’s somber but sincere Batman, and Justin Kirk’s banter machine gun style of Hal Jordan. I had my reservations about Michelle Monaghan as Wonder Woman (Being such a fan of Susen Eisenberg’s), but she pulls off the confidence, strength, caring, and absolutely adorable level of naivete seamlessly. But what really sold me was her natural vigor in battle sequences. She doesn’t lose an ounce of her character’s energy, despite the sudden change of tone in her scenes. Even without all that, her natural chemistry with Superman really builds on the future of their relationship. Speaking of Superman, Alan Tudyk is back to add another Superhero notch to his belt. He’s been Green Arrow in Injustice: Gods Among Us and Young Justice, The Flash in Batman the Brave and the Bold, and now he gets to add Big Blue himself to that list. And as usual, he nails it. He manages to pull of a difficult and unlikable role of a cocky and unchallenged Superman with a degree of charm that is so far unseen in similar interpretations of the character. Special mention should also be made of Shemar Moore’s young but determined Cyborg, Christopher Gorham’s pitch perfect idealism as Barry Allen, and Sean Astin and Zach Callison’s ability to mimic each others’ whimsical yet immature attitudes, and of course the groundshaking power behind the voice of Stephen Blum as Darkseid is just as haunting as the big man should be.

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But more than the story, more than the acting. The real star of WAR, and the big reason to watch it is the animation and direction. Jay Oliva is no stranger to animated features with over 12 projects in direction alone under his belt. But this is the moment where he brought his A-game. The scenes are brilliantly laid out for an increased level of immersion and understanding. Each scene flows well in to the next one. The transitions are at a level not even seen in live-action movies, making the most of the animation medium. In fact, there’s one scene in particular, where Superman is attacking two other heroes, that follows the battle as it goes through the air, through buildings, and down on the street. Again, wanton chaos is against my perception of a superhero. But speaking professionally…it’s just so cool! Which brings us to the level of animation and choreography used this time. Well to be frank, it’s peerless. Everyone moves a different way, from the way they walk and fight, to their gestures when they talk. This may not seem important, but it’s all about building an individual identity. Think back to the old Justice League from the 90’s (This is not an attack and I’m not faulting that show on any significant level, nor the work the amazing animation and art crew did on it), everyone moved in the exact same way. Sure they all had the similar body type associated with all the WB animation superhero shows from that time (also nothing against Bruce Timm, the man’s a legend for a reason), but their identities were based on their acting, not their motion. This is on a totally different level. Batman and Wonder Woman both use practiced martial arts moves, and have a very fluid fighting style due to their characters’ combat training. Everyone else is much more rigid. Superman does a lot of rush punching, Hal uses a lot of boxing moves such as hooks and jabs, Cyborg rears back for big hits, and The Flash is always building momentum before he throws his blows. It’s uncanny seeing them all fight together, because of how well they mesh. Everyone has a style totally unique to themselves, earning a different place in the battle because of it, and the animation compliments it perfectly. Not to mention the detail that goes in to the slightest change in scenery or type. Hal’s constructs are never dropped or unaccounted for. This takes an incredible attention to detail from the art and animation team. Every construct either shifts in to something else or breaks. Batman’s arsenal changes in a realistic way. And when Wonder Woman drops her sword, in the next couple of shots, she doesn’t have it anymore. This may not seem like a big deal, but part of the success of a story like this is based on immersion. It’s like looking at two similar pictures and trying to find the differences. When there’s a continuity error, it can break immersion. But that doesn’t seem to happen at all. Immersion is maintained consistently. The only time the action breaks it’s for levity, and that never seems to outstay it’s welcome.

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WAR is the best of the DC animated features. A title held by Red Hood, then Justice League: Doom, then Superman vs. The Elite, then The Dark Knight Returns, then The Flashpoint Paradox; the pattern being that these movies just keep getting better. It’s a great introduction to the characters for newcomers and a welcome series of intense action, humor, and reference for the veterans. Justice League WAR is about as close to perfect as you can get, balancing between funny, intense, and engaging. Of course there are problems with the new direction of DC’s animated features. Justice League: WAR is rated PG-13 for violence and language, so it’s not meant for children (guess that means it’s off family movie night). This disrupts accessibility a little bit, and with a more kid-friendly rating it could have grabbed a lot of more future fans, but of course the engaging nature of the story as it was would have been significantly diminished without the mature nature of the action and different personalities. Luckily I watched Justice League: WAR on Blu-ray, which I highly recommend. The Blu-Ray comes complete with a dvd and digital copy of the movie, as well as cool behind the scenes looks at the art of Jim Lee (The artist of Justice League: Origins), and an Animatic to pencil test of the movie, 4 episodes of DC superhero tv shows (JLU:Season 3: Destroyer, Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Season 2: The Malicious Mister Mind, and two Young Justice episodes in Season 2: Part 1 of both Happy New Year, and Earthlings), loads of trailers for upcoming and current WB animated projects, a deconstruction of WAR with Jay Oliva and Jim Lee, and of course a sneak peek of Son of Batman. The Blu-Ray is in 1080p HD, with subtitles for English, Spanish, and French, and audio English, Spanish, and French all in Dolby Digital 5.1, and English DTS. It’s truly the best way to experience this phenomenal film. It’s a must buy for superhero fans everywhere. and if you haven’t been watching out for the DC animated projects yet, this one is sure to get you hooked.

-PS

All images property of DC Comics and Warner Brother’s animation

Special thanks to

www.comicsalliance.com
www.comicbookmovie.com
www.timsfilmreviews.com
www.sciencefiction.com

for image resources 

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