Review: Justice League – War / Cert: PG / Director: Jay Oliva / Screenplay: Heath Corson / Starring: Alan Tudyk, Jason O’Mara, Michelle Monaghan, Justin Kirk, Sean Astin / Release Date: Out Now (US), TBC (UK)
Justice League: War is an animated adaptation of Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Scott Williams’ New 52 work on the Justice League book. Showing the latest telling of the formation of the Justice League team, the project couldn’t have a better director than Jay Oliva. Having superbly adapted Frank Miller’s work for the animated two-parter The Dark Knight Returns, not to mention a brutally-brilliant movie with Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, I was genuinely excited to see this latest effort from Oliva.
The basic premise of Justice League: War sees various DC heroes coming together to fight against the invading Darkseid (Steve Blum) and his minion army. As a result, this impromptu team-up would go on to become known as the Justice League. Initially we’re treated to Batman (O’Mara) and Green Lantern (Kirk) crossing paths in Gotham City, before Superman (Tudyk) is then brought into the fold. Whilst this is going on, viewers are also introduced to Wonder Woman (Monaghan), The Flash (Christopher Gorham), Victor Stone (Shemar Moore) and Billy Batson (Zach Callison). During the early part of War we see Vic undergo the accident that turns him into Cyborg, and we also get to see Billy become the powerful Shazam (Astin). Through fighting a common enemy, the Justice League comes to be.
Given how strong nearly all of the DC animated movies have been over the last few decades, it’s a huge shame that Justice League: War just feels flat, dull, uneven and poorly cast. Andrea Romano and her team usually nail it when it comes to casting voice talent in the roles of some of DCs biggest names, but so many portrayals just feel off here. Jason O’Mara’s Batman voice is horrendous, Superman comes off like an arrogant prick who takes great pleasure in making Batman and Green Lantern look like tools, Wonder Woman is a sword-wielding simpleton, and so much of the movie just feels off. Even the villain of the piece, Darkseid, gets poorly treated. One of the more intelligent, charismatic DC villains, the character is depicted as almost a mindless entity here.
Justice League: War isn’t all bad, and it’s interesting to see this recent formation of the JL brought life in animated form, even if the story does differ at times from the source material. It’s good to see that the movie has a certain sense of realism and perspective, such as it being pointed out that Wonder Woman dresses like a whore or that these “heroes” have caused $100 million worth of property damage. In fact, one of the main reasons that the Justice League come together is to quell public fears about these seemingly out of control superpowered beings. These facets add certain interesting elements to the story and give some feeling and meaning to a story that is so often littered with unlikeable characters.
Some other saving graces for War are the characters of Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern and Shazam. Fans of Cyborg will find a lot to enjoy from Vic Stone’s presence here. Personally, I’m not a fan of Cyborg and I struggle to see him as a member of the Justice League. To me, he’s a Teen Titans guy. Sorry, Cyborg fans. Still, he’s one of the few shining lights here. Also, Justin Kirk’s Hal Jordan has some great moments and some brilliant interactions with characters, particularly with Flash and Batman. It’s also quite cool to see that Green Lantern and Flash are already aware of each other’s existence and exchange banter throughout the movie. As for Shazam, here he replaces Aquaman in the JL team, and he’s one of the more interesting characters. In terms of character development, Billy Batson/Shazam and Victor Stone/Cyborg are two of the film’s highlights. That said, if you’re a Shazam fan, I’d recommend hunting down the Superman and Shazam animated short that was released a little while ago.
All in all, Justice League: War is a big disappointment. Maybe it’s because the DC animated movies have been so good for so long that you notice the lesser films stand out even more. So many things just don’t work here; several of the “heroes” come across as dicks; the villain, one of the best in the DC world, is just used as mindless fodder to bring the JL together; the voice talent is horribly miscast; and the whole story just feels flat. There is a nice tease at the end of War as to what is coming in the future of the DC animated world, but many viewers will have already turned off long before this post-credits scene.
Yes, Marvel Studios has dominated the world of big screen features, but DC and Warner Brothers have dominated Marvel when it comes to the animated format. Sadly, this latest effort feels exactly like so many of the Marvel animated films; it just feels shallow and generally ‘meh.’
Special Features: Three Featurettes / Four Vintage Cartoons / Sneak Peak at Son of Batman