We interrupt our regularly scheduled DC Pull List to bring you a review of the latest DC Animated Movie: Justice League: War, now available on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video and out on BluRay and DVD on February 4th. Yours truly went to the premiere of Justice League: War on Tuesday night, so there will be some information at the bottom about the future of the DCAU, as well as some funny little anecdotes.
If you’ve been out of the loop the last two and a half years, DC Comics rebooted its universe for the first time in 25 years and the first story out of this new DCU was Justice League: Origins; this helped start off this history of DC’s mightiest superhero group as they collide together and stop an invasion by the evil Darkseid. Now go ahead and read the trade so you can get an overall view of the story.
Done? Good, now to deal with the changes.
One of the loudest protests to this film was the exclusion of Aquaman and replacing him with Shazam. To not spoil anything, I will say that you should watch through the credits for a hint of things to come that will involve Aquaman. Cyborg’s origin is also expanded, giving him a greater link to the same technology that creates Darkseid’s parademons. While Shazam/Billy’s origin isn’t explored (he’s already received the power of Shazam by the time the film begins), he does help ground Cyborg as the former football player adjusts to his new body; and when he is out of juice and Cyborg catches him (and recognizes Billy as the kid who stole his jersey before he headed off to STAR Labs and met his fate), Cyborg promises to keep Billy’s secret safe. Other changes include moving STAR Labs, where Victor’s dad works and Victor experiences his accident and rebuilding, to Metropolis, a new sequence involving Air Force One with Superman and Wonder Woman saving an ersatz George and Laura Bush, and expanded sequences from the comic which gives the League members more room to grow. One of the things kept in the film is an infamous reveal, but at the same time there is an earlier reveal that reduces the controversy, not to mention provides a major laugh.
This film is actually full of hilarious moments, which helps balance out the action packed film. Some of these include Flash hiding behind Superman when Darkseid attacks, Batman stating matter-of-factly that the ocean is on fire, Green Lantern’s lame attempt to be cool, Wonder Woman’s outing of a bigot who secretly dresses up in a Wonder Woman outfit (but does not judge him), and Wonder Woman’s joy of tasting ice cream for the first time, scaring the hell out of the vendor.
Overall, this film contains excellent animation and action, courtesy of director Jay Oliva and designer Phil Bourassa. There are several strong performances, starting with Shemar Moore‘s Cyborg, who struggles between losing his humanity and doing the right thing. The dynamic between him and Shazam, as well as him and his father, is very powerful and you can sympathize with Victor when he is enraged that his father ignored coming to his big game so he could futz around with a Mother Box and that his father feels being an athlete is obsolete given the rise of superheroes. Zach Callison gives a street hardened edge to Billy Batson, who also immediately melts into fanboy mode when he sees his football hero in the flesh (though he’s not above stealing his jersey); this makes a somewhat more abrasive character more appealing, especially towards the end of the film where he acts more like a kid once his energy is drained. Sean Astin, best known as Sam from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, makes Shazam a giant superpowered kid, one who is far more innocent than his kid alter-ego but is perfectly willing to kick butt. As the most immature member of this new League, he does cause a bit of trouble, but they realize his heart is in the right place. Justin Kirk‘s Green Lantern is a smart aleck with a mouth but a heart of gold, and is perfectly counterpointed by Christopher Gorham‘s by-the-book Flash. Steve Blum‘s Darkseid has been given a reverberating tone which gives what few spoken lines he has a menacing quality, and Bruce Thomas‘ Desaad is suitably creepy. Alan Tudyk‘s Superman is, unfortunately, one of the weaker voices; while he’s got the charaterization down, the vocal tone isn’t quite there. Jason O’Mara is a good Batman, but again his voice isn’t quite there; but the trailer to the upcoming Son of Batman shows that he has since found the right voice, so this might be due to Batman being younger in this one. Michelle Monaghan‘s Wonder Woman also suffers from this learning curve; she is at times too over the top and aggressive, though this is balanced out by some moments that show the Wonder Woman we all love.
As for design, Phil Bourassa does excellent takes on the New 52 outfits, adding his own touches while keeping to the core components. I actually asked, during the panel, about what led to Wonder Woman’s redesign for the film. He said he kept the important things (tiara, bracelets, sword, lasso, chest plate with symbol) and then expanded it to give Wonder Woman a more unique feel for this film; the people at DC Comics approved of the redesign and it was used. As for this new DCAU, expect a sequel to Justice League: War soon; and that this new continuity would be a mixture of New 52 and post-Crisis DCU, as well as other inspirations. At the panel, Jay Oliva, the director, admitted to having somewhat inspired the final battle in Man of Steel, which led to a bit of laughter from the audience. Andrea Romano told how during ADR (which is a bit like voice over touch ups as well as vocalizations such as grunts, etc several months after the initial recording) Shemar Moore lost his voice and that she was worried that a very pregnant Michelle Monaghan would give birth during recording Wonder Woman’s shouts. I actually had the opportunity to talk to Andrea Romano before everyone left and I thanked her for pretty much shaping how I hear the characters when I read the comics; it was a great moment to meet someone who has helped shape how we hear and see DC Comics in animation and in the books.
Action packed and full of heart and humor, Justice League: War continues DC’s excellent line of animated movies. However, a few weak performances do keep it from perfection, but hopefully these will be ironed out for the eventual sequel.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10
MINI DC PULL LIST:
My recommendations this week are Batman #27, Harley Quinn #2, Batman and Two-Face #27, and Justice League #27