Justice League Dark
Justice League Dark has a promising concept but executes it half-heartedly, turning a visit to the magic-using side of the DCU into just another superhero-style battle.
As the movie opens, people start seeing demons. Defending themselves, the humans attack, but the demons are really other people. It’s a truly horrific idea, with fear based on the concept of what we could find ourselves doing if seeing hallucinations. Unfortunately, after a suspenseful introduction that was my favorite part of the movie, it’s pretty much dropped for the majority of the film.
The Justice League — consisting of, in addition to the big three, Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Martian Manhunter — gets involved. It’s a classic lineup that reinforces how few female heroes DC have been able to develop in media portrayals, and we see very little of these characters after one meeting room scene. Green Lantern is John Stewart now, in his first DCU animated appearance.
(I really dislike seeing the “new 52” costumes: Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson) with silver instead of gold accents, and no breastplate decoration, Superman (Jerry O’Connell) in all dark blue with a belt instead of trunks.)
Batman (Jason O’Mara) rejects the idea of magic (or as Wonder Woman puts it, the possibility of a “paranormal” cause). But when he experiences a supernatural event, he sets out to find Constantine.
This makes little sense. Other League members were more open to the idea of magic, so why is the biggest skeptic finding the supernatural characters that make up the majority of the movie? Batman never has a moment where he acknowledges he was wrong about the paranormal in the DCU, even while watching Constantine and Zatanna take a psychic voyage. He mostly stands around observing the others do stuff, which makes his presence obvious as only a selling point.
Anyway, Batman’s on a quest. Then we jump back a few days so we can get the various supernatural league-members-to-be introduced to us. Constantine (pronounced “teen” and voiced by Matt Ryan, the live-action character actor) and Jason Blood (Ray Chase), who turns into the demon Etrigan, are playing poker with the Demons Three. Zatanna (Camilla Luddington, who sounds really young) is performing in Gotham, where Deadman (Nicholas Turturro) also appears. She takes Batman to find the House of Mystery, where they meet Black Orchid (Colleen O’Shaughnessey, doing a wonderful job with a wasted character) and Deadman’s guiding spirit says they all have to team up.
Some kind of introduction of these characters is necessary, but it dampens the drama and suspense of the introductory premise. The art is there to tell the story, without any exceptional visuals and with movement that can be blocky, with efficiency prioritized over flow. Zatanna is drawn particularly large-chested, wearing a bustier, which makes her distracting in a “why is this so exaggerated?” kind of way. It’s as though an artist wandered over from the bad kinds of comics, the ones who don’t know how to draw breasts that don’t look like cantaloupes.
I found myself, if I got distracted or looked away, losing track of why who was doing what, other than “the plot needed them to”. These characters also do a terrible job of protecting innocents, which makes me question the Justice League name. That’s particularly the case when Deadman is jumping into people, using them to fight a monster, then abandoning them to be overtaken or sacrificed.
A sequence that explains the origin of Jason Blood and Etrigan feels like padding. By the middle of the movie, I’d lost sight of the tension and suspense of the opening. If they wanted to cut away, more of the normal Justice League trying to tame the damage would have been appreciated. Instead, this is framed just like every other one of the DCU cartoons, with an eventual showdown with a big bad guy allowing for plenty of fights and explosions.
Justice League Dark is a great concept and an intriguing departure from the usual superhero cartoon, but one that could have been better introduced and carried out. Also, it’s not really about a team, as everyone does their own thing, even if they’re in the same room.
Rated R for “some disturbing violence”, which I think mostly refers to the shit monster that rises from the hospital toilets. Running time is an hour and sixteen minutes.
Blu-ray Special Features
The Blu-ray Deluxe Edition comes with a figurine of Constantine. He’s holding his hand like he’s smoking, but there’s no cigarette between his fingers, which kind of sums up the struggles DC has to handle the character these days.
A 12-minute sneak peek at Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, the next DCU animated movie, has comments by Mike Carlin, producer James Tucker, voice director Wes Gleason, and screenwriter Ernie Altbacker, plus lots of images of the comic panels (which look really garish these days). They talk about how they’ve modernized the story for today’s audiences, focusing on Brother Blood hiring Deathstroke, and made it fit into continuity with the previous Titans movie (so, for example, Blue Beetle is a member). (It’s sad seeing Miguel Ferrer talk briefly about being the voice of Deathstroke, since he’s no longer with us.) There are additional sneak peeks for two previously released movies, Justice League: Gods and Monsters and Justice League: Doom.
“The Story of Swamp Thing” is an 18-minute featurette on the character created by writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson. Wein, Kelley Jones, and Mike Carlin describe the origin and history. Wein also briefly discusses the Alan Moore era and “dark” comics.
“Did You Know?: Constantine origin, Color of Magic, Black Orchid, and Deadman Casting” — 3 1/2 minutes in total in four segments of bits of trivia about the characters. The second one, with director Jay Oliva, is particularly muddled, as he talks about having this theory where magical colors are significant, and wanting Constantine to stand out, but he never gets around to tying it all together and explaining his choices for that character. By contrast, in the Black Orchid segment, Mike Carlin provides key information about the character (and how little anyone, including the movie makers, know about her) that explains why she’s little used in the film.
The movie panel held at the 2016 New York Comic Con runs 27 minutes and features Phil Bourassa, Jay Oliva, James Tucker, Matt Ryan, and Jason O’Mara. Since the panel was held last fall, it’s all promotion and hint-dropping.
Two cartoon episodes from Batman: The Brave and the Bold, “Dawn of the Dead Man!” and “Trials of the Demon!”, finish up the package. (The studio provided a review copy.)