DC may be taking forever to get its Justice League live-action film franchise up and running, but when it comes to the animated division of its movies, the company has been pumping them out in a much more reasonable fashion. The latest direct-to-video release is Justice League: War, based on the Justice League: Origin storyline by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and Scott Williams from 2011.
It tells the story of Darkseid's attack on Earth that leads to the formation of the Justice League. Can Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and all of the other superheroes get along and stop the evil army from Apokolips, or will their colorful personalities clash too much and spell certain doom for all mankind? Hint: Place your bets on the former.
While some of these animated films have been problematic, others have been a fun hour and a half escape. How does this measure up? It's time for another REVIEWPOINT as we break down the film's hits and misses.
As always, let's start with the bad news first.
1. IT'S A REHASH OF THE AVENGERS
The similarities between this film and The Avengers are uncanny. Darkseid is Thanos. Desaad is The Other. Parademons are The Chitauri. The Motherbox is the Tesseract. Both films have giant towers that shoot an energy beam into the sky. Both films have wormholes that transport the expendable cybernetic mindless monster aliens draped in gold armor. Wonder Woman is Thor, right down to the speech, attire, sword/Mjolnir connection, etc. Superman is The Hulk. Batman is Captain America. Green Lantern is Iron Man. Flash is Hawkeye. Seriously, it doesn't stop there. Not only is there the obligatory in-fighting sequence before they're an established team, but there are also more specific scenes replicated. In both films, an important and special military aircraft blows an engine and falls from the sky (Helicarier vs. Air Force One). In both films, after the wormhole closes, a hero falls from the sky and is caught by another hero who lays him down as they share a laugh. In both films, during the big battle, one hero punches another in a humorous fashion to illustrate a point (Hulk punching Thor in The Avengers, Wonder Woman punching Captain Marvel here). In both films, a hero gets possessed by the villain's technology and his eyes change. In both films, the primary black male character has only one normal eye, period! In both films, Stan Lee has a cameo in which he refutes that superheroes exist.
Okay, I may have made that last one up, but you get the point.
In theory, this shouldn't be a bad thing, as The Avengers has, in many ways, a very formulaic plot that works because of its simplicity. What's a downside to this film, however, is that in a post-Marvel Cinematic Universe world, you need to stay away from the specific ripoffs. A basic plot structure is one thing, but all of the examples above and more? This film's inspiration may predate Marvel's film, but this animated feature doesn't.
2. TOO MANY CHARACTERS SPOIL THE BROTH
When you have these seven heroes together in this story, they start stepping on each others' toes—or at least, some of them do.
Hal Jordan causes a significant problem here. For some reason, he's given the character traits of being both "the cocky one" and "the funny quipster." As the comic relief, he deprives The Flash of any purpose. Essentially, The Flash is just there because he's a staple character, similar to how Superman (who is almost entirely devoid of character here) is just "the big gun." Barry Allen is no Wally West when it comes to being a joker, but he's generally the lighthearted one of the team, and Green Lantern steals that spotlight from him.
Even if Jordan were just the brash, headstrong one, he'd have to share that responsibility. Captain Marvel serves almost no point in this movie and is very much the same coupling of character traits that Green Lantern is. Removing him from the film would have helped it, not hurt it—even if Billy Batson's character is fun to watch.
Basically, the film revolves around Batman and Green Lantern with a little bit of Cyborg, and everyone else is there to fill in some extra punches.
3. RUSHED PACING
Plot point after plot point is spelled out too quickly to digest and sit on for a moment. It feels very much like an outline, hitting every necessary detail one after another by simply telling the audience what they need to know instead of showing them and building up to it. One of my biggest concerns with almost every comic book movie is that it could use an additional 20 minutes to simmer all of the elements, but with this, the run time should have been extended another 30 minutes or more to present things properly.
The main reason that this feels rushed…
4. 90% ACTION
It's essentially just one action set piece after another. There's almost no characterization built up for anyone whatsoever. For fans who know these superheroes inside and out, that's not a problem, because we already are familiar with pretty much everything we need to know. The casual viewer, however, will be left wondering how a teenager could say "Shazam" and turn into a grown adult, who The Guardians are that Green Lantern talks about, and why the hell Wonder Woman has never tried ice cream before.
1. DIALOGUE / HUMOR
I was surprised at how many times I was genuinely delighted with the dialogue in this. Almost all of the jokes were actually funny (although perhaps not literally "laugh out loud" funny), and it really helped to make the movie experience entertaining overall. Each of the characters had a distinct voice, even if their personalities were very similar in a lot of ways.
2. CHARACTER DESIGNS
Something that DC's animated division tends to do sometimes is exaggerate certain body features on their character models to a point of ridiculousness. Superman is often drawn with a torso the size of a tank, despite having legs that could be easily fitted for skinny jeans. The drawings here were not representative of the stick legs and bulbous upper body mentality. There were no beady little eyes such as in The Flashpoint Paradox or mangled-looking lips like in All-Star Superman. These characters looked like actual human beings with the right proportions in musculature and body shape. Awesome job, animation team!
3. FUN, MINDLESS ACTION
There may have an overabundance of action when you try to look at the film in a scholarly sense, but if you're just going into this wanting to watch a simple action flick, you'll love it. You can easily lose track of the number of punches thrown by Darkseid alone, and the death toll is pretty significant when it comes to Parademons. Sometimes you just want to see superheroes kick the crap out of each other and their enemies, and this film accomplishes that.
4. END CREDITS TEASE
I won't say what it is, but the idea of them throwing a little reference to another character was pretty cool—even if that's yet another thing that The Avengers did first.
Overall, yes, but only to fans of the genre. You'll never hear me lump together The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, American Beauty, and Justice League: War as films that need to be on everyone's watch list for movie history. For the people who are huge fans of superheroes and get a kick out of these storylines, it's definitely something to check out. It will be a long time before we see the Justice League on the big screen, so while we wait, things like this will have to hold us over.
If you want to check out some more comic book film Reviewpoint articles: Man of Steel | Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox | The Wolverine | Kick-Ass 2 | Thor: The Dark World