Justice League Dark
Story by J.M. DeMatteis and Ernie Altbacker
Screenplay by Ernie Altbacker
Directed by Jay Oliva
The animated world is in danger once again (stupid world, stop being in danger!) and only the Justice League can save them. No, not the normal Justice League, this is Justice League Dark! And Batman for some reason. That reason is money. Keep in mind this is Justice League Dark, not Justice League After Dark, that’s the porn version debuting on Cinemax next year! Just kidding. Or am I? Yes.
Now let’s get to an actual review and not string of consciousness awful jokes. Justice League Dark follows the loose continuity the animated films have had since they got rebooted with Flashpoint/Justice League: War, including voices (and Matt Ryan from the Constantine tv series voices John Constantine here!) This time the team isn’t able to handle the threat, as the threat is supernatural in nature, so we need a different kind of hero. Supernatural heroes for a supernatural threat. Mainly John Constantine (of Keanu Reeves movie fame) and Zatanna, the magician lady I’m vaguely familiar with. There are others heroes like Deadman, who I hadn’t really known much about, but a ghost as a super hero does make a certain amount of sense. Maybe Casper should stop being so friendly and start taking down crime syndicates! This time, the ghosts are busting YOU!
I enjoyed the change of focus of heroes despite Batman being included so he could grunt every time something spooky happens. (And he does, Gotham City must be showing a lot of Home Improvement reruns) Usually movies like this have a regular guy character who all the characters that are steeped into the universe can explain things too (and thus explain to the audience!), but as Batman already knows a lot of things, he doesn’t really fit that well in the role.
I’ve not been a huge John Constantine fan, but luckily the supporting cast more than makes up for my lack of constant Constantine admiration. Deadman is hilarious as a pseudo-Bender, Zatanna shows she’s actually far more powerful than she allows herself to be in order to keep everyone else safe, and Jason Blood/Etrigan is a great riff on the whole Hulk syndrome. Etrigan is hinted to be pure demonic and is only working for good because he’s bound to by Merlin’s spell, though near the end of the film there is a hint that maybe Etrigan’s time living with Jason Blood caused some of Blood’s nobility to wear off on him, so who knows where that will go if they decide to do a followup. Also he speaks in rhyme, and unlike Wheelie from The Transformers, it sort of works. Maybe I just associate giant monsters as having a child-like intellect and thus the random rhyming easily slots in.
People are seeing demons everywhere, but it is all delusions and the demons are people, strangers, their friends, families, even their own babies. But the people see only demons and have a compulsion to destroy the demons, the killing the real actual people. The Justice League does their best to try to stop them and sort out what is going on, but it is clear it is something beyond their knowledge base. Batman asks Zatanna about her ex-boyfriend, John Constantine, and soon everyone is on a magical quest to stop the demons before things get too demonic.
Things are a bit different than usual because this is a darker tale. Multiple people die, and not just dying off screen or implied, people are run down by a car, a monster dissolves a bunch of people down to bones while trying to stop the heroes from discovering who is responsible for the hallucinations. It doesn’t get dark dark, but it gets just scary enough to show the stakes are a bit higher and the world is a bit edgier. The film explains just enough to make sure we know what is going on, and then lets its universe just go with it, a great decision. We’re not bogged down with wondering who the heck the Demons Three are, we just know they cheat at poker but Constantine cheats better, and the entire game was a scam to get a magic jewel so it couldn’t be used by others. We learn Constantine is a scoundrel, while Jason Blood is noble but embittered with his curse after hundreds of years.
Swamp Thing shows up, though he is less of a willing participant in this Justice League offshoot and more of a defender of the green, annoyed at the heroes for bugging him but still willing to go up against the final boss as the entire world is at stake, including plant life on said world. The mix of motivations helps sell things as a bunch of people forced together by extraordinary circumstances, they wouldn’t be working together if there wasn’t a gigantic menace, but they’ll have a grudging respect for each other when it is over. You know, that time old tale, told pretty well with an entertaining journey.
Justice League Dark is an enjoyable time and a bright spot in the animated DC film canon, but it falls a bit short of some of the best entries. It is still far worth your time, entertaining on its own and gifted with being a bit different than just more of the same with the usual cast of characters. Also, I’m probably spoiled because I loved Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders so much that nothing can measure up. If you are inclined to like these kinds of things, this is a kind of thing you will like.
Rated 8/10 (Church Lady nemesis, forehead vortex, sparkly fingers, magic electrons, demonic dude, Batman needs to learn how to write, demonic dude #2, demonic dude #3)
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