This week, the latest DC Entertainment animated film Justice League: War premiered at the New York Paley Center for Media. Read on for our review!
While many of DC’s animated films have been stand-alone stories, this is the first of a new ongoing universe and continuity. Based on the New 52 story Justice League: Origin by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, the movie is directed by Jay Oliva (Justice League: Flashpoint) and scripted by Heath Corson (Aim High). It stars Alan Tudyk as Superman, Jason O’Mara as Batman, Michelle Monaghan as Wonder Woman, Justin Kirk as Green Lantern, Shemar Moore as Cyborg, Christopher Gorham as Flash, Sean Astin as Shazam, and Steven Blum as Darkseid.
First of all, a mostly non-spoilery review.
Justice League: War is another enjoyable film from DC, taking place in a world that has only recently become familiar with the existence of aliens and people who have super-powers. Alien soldiers, known as parademons, begin preparations for an invasion of Earth, drawing the attention of the planet’s new superheroes. Despite their clashing personalities, the heroes join forces to stop Darkseid and wind up a team.
There is only one thing that seriously bothered me in this movie as a missed opportunity. It’s slightly spoilery, so I’ll save it to the end. On the whole, I enjoyed Justice League: War and think it’s superior to the original comic in some ways. There’s more humor in the story and a stronger sense of camaraderie developing between the Leaguers. Flash and Shazam have fanboy moments when meeting the others, and Batman makes a point to tell one hero how much he respects their work. The obligatory “heroes must fight before teaming up” scene doesn’t feel drawn out, lasting only slightly over 3.5 minutes. While there were times in the comic I thought a few heroes were included for the sake of inclusion, this movie makes it clear that each character, and their teamwork, is necessary for victory.
Although the movie echoes the New 52, it and the films to follow will not be beholden to that version of continuity according to executive producer James Tucker and character designer Phil Bourassa, who spoke at the screening. That already shows. Shazam replaces Aquaman’s role in the original comic, and he makes for a fun addition, not quite as snide or antagonistic as the New 52 version. Wonder Woman is clearly a warrior who craves battle, but it’s not a lust for violence. Rather, she seeks glory and honor in heroic quests. The cast gives an excellent performance and the direction is good. Hiring Kirk (one of my favorite actors) to play Hal Jordan turned out to be inspired. O’Mara did an excellent job as Batman and I look forward to his upcoming performance in Son of Batman. The Aquaman fan in me is also pleased that he’ll be introduced to the mythos soon.
If you have young kids and are concerned about violence and language, be aware there are a few curse words, someone gets called a whore, there’s lots of alien/monster dismemberment with green blood, there are a couple of scenes where a character screams in pain, and one scene has a character’s neck snapped just out of sight (The film is rated PG-13.). If you’re new to the DC Universe, this movie isn’t quite as good an intro to the Leaguers and their world as the comic it’s based on. There’s no explanation given for what Paradise Island is, how long the different heroes have been around, what Green Lantern is talking about when he mentions the Guardians and that he protects a “sector,” who Darkseid is and what his ultimate goals are, or why Wonder Woman, Flash and Shazam have powers. With recent live-action movies, GL, Superman and Batman may not need explanations, but the origins of the others aren’t as well known outside of comics.
It’s not just to do with their origins but also the context of this world. Gotham City Police are against Batman and the Air Force doesn’t like Green Lantern, yet Flash is trusted by the staff of S.T.A.R. Labs. What’s he done that has earned him acceptance? And if Batman is wanted by the police, why does Flash, a CSI, trust and admire him? Lois Lane is seen but has no dialogue in the film. I think you easily could’ve added some context by putting her in one of the first scenes, remarking on how Superman has been around for just about a year and these new heroes are starting to crop up. Interviews with the creative team behind the scenes revealed that Batman is supposed to be about 22-years-old in Justice League: War, but I had no idea from what was shown onscreen.
None of this ruins the movie. I just personally would’ve liked a minute less of action in exchange for a few extra lines giving out some info and context, especially since this film launches a new animated universe. During his constant banter, Hal could’ve quickly added, “Look, there’s a whole Green Lantern Corps protecting the universe and I’m the local one.”
Ok, that’s the main review. Now let’s get into some spoilery details.
I warned you about the spoilers, right? You can’t complain later that you kept reading and saw spoilers. I mean, you can, but that would be lame. Ok, spoilers. First off, if you’re not a fan of Superman and Wonder Woman dating in the comics, be warned their budding attraction is almost a sub-plot. You see it sparking in three scenes with prolonged, shared looks between them. So that’s definitely going to be explored in the movies that follow Justice League: War in this new animated universe.
Now finally, what bothered me as a missed opportunity? When Wonder Woman confronts a man protesting her visit to the White House, he angrily says her violent actions scare “normal people” and she dresses “like a whore.” She then lassoes him and demands to know the real reason for his hatred and fear. In a meek voice, the man says, “I cross-dress in a Wonder Woman outfit. It makes me feel powerful.” Amused, Wonder Woman chuckles and says, “Embrace your truth, my friend. My outfit makes me feel powerful too.”
This was a quick scene played for a laugh and it certainly got the laugh in the audience. But Diana’s reaction bothers me. Since her creation, Wonder Woman has been someone who reaches out to others, hoping to help them gain balance and better understanding. Wonder Woman’s line rings true, but the delivery doesn’t. If she had smiled to the man and offered her hand to him instead of chuckling, if she’d shown real empathy for how his fear of himself was projecting towards others, it would’ve made for a very sweet moment in the film that also spoke of her character. To have her dismiss him with a chuckle instead is, to me, a serious miss in an otherwise fun film.
Justice League: War will be distributed by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on February 4, 2014.
Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is an actor/writer who identifies as a feminist and time traveler-in-training. He is the author of Doctor Who: A History.