Blu-Ray/DVD Review: Justice League Dark (Warner)

Since 2013 the DC animated films have created their own shared universe across a broad list of films. Starting from Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox, every animated film that followed (excluding […]

Since 2013 the DC animated films have created their own shared universe across a broad list of films.

Starting from Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox, every animated film that followed (excluding the standalone films) such as Justice League:War, Son of Batman, Justice League:Throne of Atlantis, Batman vs Robin, Batman:Bad Blood, and Justice League vs Teen Titans, each seamlessly interconnected with the other films that preceded it. The films reflect the current stories of the New 52 continuity of the DC comics universe. With so much content in the last 5 years or so, it was only a matter of time until another popular comic /storyline would be adapted to coincide with the DCAU films. So the next chapter within this shared animated universe is Justice League Dark, which is directed by one of the DCAU creative mainstays, Jay Oliva.

The movie centers on a rag-tag bunch of individuals who are not your happy go lucky team like the Teen Titans, and are far from the straightforward and just, Justice League. This unwillingly cooped up team compiled of Constantine, Zatanna, Jason Blood aka The Demon, Swamp Thing, and Deadman investigate a paranormal string of incidents that all lead to a more terrifying threat that no single hero can take on alone. Should this mystical threat be unleashed, it will engulf all life as they know it. This is the second rated R film aside from the prior DC animated effort Batman: The Killing Joke. While The Killing Joke was somewhat a decent film, for its R rating, it was unfortunately due to shock value rather than the handle of mature content. But where that film fails in that area, Justice League Dark doesn’t. It manages to handle mature content without taking itself too seriously. There are no shock value scenes of any kind thankfully. If there is anything that is shocking, it’s the fact that Batman doesn’t steal the spotlight, which is surprisingly a good thing. The only thing R-rated about this film is the use of language in the dialogue, and some violence. Nothing on the level of anime, but still mature enough that isn’t appropriate without level headed parental supervision. Beyond that, it’s a darker film than any of the DCAU films of the shared universe to date. The beginning of the film starts off with a string of murders and suicides, which is not something that’s common for most of the DCAU films. But when you’re dealing with magic, I guess you could consider it as an uncommon thing as well for the Justice League.

Now the question is, is this movie good? Is it enjoyable? The answer, if you liked the prior films, then yes, you’ll enjoy this movie. It may not be Bruce Timm/Paul Dini material, but it is definitely far superior to its live action counterpart. There are some great moments throughout the movie that involve the protagonists in the film. The Villains in the film such as Felix Faust are shown.to be much more menacing and dangerous than any other animated interpretation. Phil Bourassa (who has done the animation designs for Young Justice and every other DCAU film of its nature), does a great job with the character designs and models, most especially on Etrigan and Swamp Thing. Anytime Etrigan was involved, especially in a battle, was visually ferocious and enjoyable. Zatanna has a very cool moment in one of the battles against Faust. Personally for me Swamp Thing was a show stealer despite the little screen time he had. The visual effects and the visual display of his powers and he uses them are so well done that it made me want to go read a Swamp Thing comic, let alone want a Swamp Thing mini-series simply because of the way he was utilized in this film. Also, Green Lantern John Stewart is in the movie, and Hawkman is cameoed in the film.

Despite these positive factors, there are some negatives to be said. The audio was a little wonky at times in this movie, or at least the copy that I watched. There are moments when characters are walking on grass, and when you see them.walking on grass, sometimes the audio would not sync appropriately to the movement of the characters at times. Other times there would be dialogue conversations where a character would speak over the other character while in conversation, and it’s oddly edited to a point where you miss what is actually being said in the dialogue. Sometimes, I had to rewind certain parts to hear what one character actually said because of how low the audio would get once another character talked. Also, it would have been a great opportunity to incorporate Dr. Fate, or the specter, in some form or way, but unfortunately that for me was a missed opportunity. Other times, there are moments where for example, a scene where Zatanna is emotionally hurt, you’d think to see a tear where she is supposedly tearing up, but for some reason, it’s not visually shown. So when she wipes her eye, it makes you go “but there was no visual tears, to begin with!”, also, there wasn’t much of an explanation to where Hal Jordan went while having John Stewart as a substitute on the league for him. Also, not enough John Stewart!!

Despite all of that, these were minor complaints, which didn’t actually ruin the overall experience of the movie. The story was actually good and far better than Justice League vs Teen Titans personally. It was much more cohesive in narrative and plot, and kinda surprised you when you discover who is really pulling the strings of all the dastardly deeds in the film. How the group forms together was handled well and made sense. The antagonists in this movie are displayed with awesome power and are shown to be as menacing as their visual appearance. This was a far more enjoyable experience than what Warner Brothers/DC Comics has managed than in their live action cinematic universe.

In terms of the cast, there weren’t many complaints, except a bit of Felix Faust delivery in his lines at times. But the actual cast did a good job at voicing their respective characters.

Matt Ryan has played Constantine before in the unfortunately canceled Constantine tv series and has appeared as Constantine in the CW in an episode of Arrow. He tends to play the role with the right kind of spunk and attitude that Constantine tends to display. In this film, however, Constantine is much more rugged in personality and much more in tuned with his comic counterpart, than his prior performances. Given that Ryan has played Constantine in the shows, admittedly, he was a bit tame due to television show guidelines that restricted Constantine from smoking or cursing. But in this film, I think he gets much more freedom since Constantine is written with a little freedom to be parasitic in personality as his vertigo counterpart from the pages. His accent is definitely a lot more cockney in this film. Maybe it’s because of its because it’s been some time since I’ve heard Matt Ryan speak as our tortured occultist.

Jason O’Mara has been playing as Batman since the beginning of the current DC animated universe since Justice League: War, so I’ve gotten used to him in this role as Batman. His Batman has a bit of dry humor that makes his batman fun to see even when he isn’t the focus. He has a more minor role in this movie, where he accompanies the characters rather than overshadowing them. Obviously, he is used in the same manner as he was utilized in Assault on Arkham, where his name helps to bring attention to the characters only to not be the center of attention (in a good way). Which benefits the movie’s characters since DC tends to have a hard time making movies that aren’t Batman focused. Which, they aren’t wrong for making Batman movie properties, but it’s usually the lack of taking chances that tend to hurt them. When utilized at best, you get Flashpoint Paradox, Green Lantern: First Flight, Wonder Woman, and Assault on Arkham. So it’s good to see that DC /Warner Brothers took the opportunity to keep Batman on the sidelines, constantly second guessing magic, and replying with a grunt which provides for appropriately timed humor. Overall, it’s great to see batman not be the center of the show and still be enjoyable at the same time.

Ray Chase did a great job voicing as Jason Blood/Etrigan the demon. He really nailed the old knight of Avalon voice for his version Jason Blood. There have been others who have voiced as Blood, but never with much of an Avalon vibe. In this film, his voice gives off an ancient tone that matches the character suitably well. But personally, for me, one of my favorite characters to see was most certainly the Demon Etrigan. He had an entertainingly good amount of screentime, filled with old rhyme and action-packed swordplay. His backstory was fleshed out satisfyingly well. Definitely one of the bright spots of the movie.

Nicholas Turturro did a spot on job nailing the voice and accent of Boston Brand aka Deadman. He executes that city Brooklynite tone so well and does what he can with the jokes provided. I know he isn’t from Brooklyn, but whenever Deadman speaks, his tone just resembles that old authentic new yorker sound. While the jokes don’t always land, his Deadman is enjoyable enough to get a few snickers in here and there. His backstory was also well handled in a sense that reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s ol Books of Magic series in the 90s, where it just took a page or two to give brief history, which this movie does well.

Camilla Luddington as Zatanna was good. It can be difficult to not think of the voices that you’re used to from the old Justice League Unlimited cartoons at times, but Luddington does a good job as Zatanna.

Despite how minor Swamp Thing’s presence was in the film, Roger Cross really did a fantastic job voicing as the protector of the green. With the little screen time he had, Swamp Thing is fantastically displayed as a force not.to be reckoned with, especially in the final fight against the mysterious foe that pulls the strings of this movie.

Jerry O’Connell and Rosario Dawson return to lend their voices as Superman and Wonder Woman (which they’ve been doing since JL: Throne of Atlantis), and they do a fine job although not the focus, it’s still good to see consistency in voice actors maintaining their stay in the roles they play within the shared animated universe.

Enrico Colantoni was entertainingly malicious as Felix Faust. Possibly the most vicious interpretation or iteration of the character. He displays a playful yet menacing tone in his performance. His character shows he is more powerful than in prior adaptations, which is cool because compared to his comics counterpart, he is never shown entirely as a full on threat in most animated depictions of him. But he was definitely suited as a villain in this movie. Although admittedly, sometimes the delivery of his lines are a bit off and come off goofy at times. But it doesn’t take away from the overall performance.
Alfred Molina does a good job in any role he plays, and his role as Destiny aka Dr. Destiny was handled well. He is very menacing, very powerful and intimidating. I liked the redesign of his character which is far superior to the classic Skeletor-like design that he is usually associated with.

The special effects were pretty solid albeit Doctor Strange like whenever Constantine or Zatanna were casting their spellcasting powers. The spinning pentagrams that emitted from their wrists and hands were cool. Especially when multiple spells are casted at once. Regardless of the comparisons to Doctor Strange, it’s still executed pretty well and doesn’t stray the viewer from the story.

Overall, this is a fun film and another great addition to anyone’s DC animated movie collection. It’s a fine successor to Assault on Arkham (aka the better Suicide Squad movie) terms of displaying characters that are more attuned to the obscure, and darker side of the DC universe and are more lesser known to the general public. It’s enjoyable, and each of the characters are developed and never distract from.the overall story and plot that is displayed in this film. I definitely recommend giving this film a look and definitely recommend adding this movie to your collection.

Anthony Andujar Jr.

About Anthony Andujar Jr.