"Justice League: War" Animated Movie ReviewBy T.A. Ewart (aka liheibao)
The DC animated universe (DCAU) continues with New 52 material with its latest entry "Justice League: War" (JLW). The film sticks closely to the reboot of the "Justice League" comic book, for better or worse, and is quite dynamic in terms of its action, pacing, and animation. The athletic figures of previous films have been tabled for a beefier, uber-muscular design, especially in terms of Superman. Wonder Woman, in certain shots, looks as if she could be seven feet tall. It's eighty minutes of flash car fun: fast, flashy, and formidable in comparison to previous entries it will doubtlessly share shelf-space with. However, all that being said, it lacks character, it isn't kid-friendly, and relies on a formulae for its heroes and heroine that is beginning to show more and more with each outing. These less than positive findings don't render the film unenjoyable, but definitely make it questionable for future outings. There are still numerous stories that can be told from the pre-New 52 universe, and while the DCAU did not attach itself directly to the DCU previously, with this film, the die is cast, and it will be interesting to see how things play out.
The first act opens to a world that is distrustful of its heroes and with good reason. Aside of a video report showing a civilian being swept up from an ATM by a creature of the night, nothing good is shown of the "supers" of this world. The action moves quickly to Green Lantern attempting to intercept a parademon, only to be thwarted when the parademon throws its intended captive away. GL rescues the civilian, who is less than grateful, playing in with the cynical opinion that these heroes have garnered. Once the parademon has GL on the ropes, enter the Batman, who knock the creature down and attempts to question it, which in itself was a bit comical. It's telling that a parademon can give GL a challenge for as long as it does, but Batman is able to get a leg up on it very quickly. A one time incident would render it innocuous, but it recurs often enough in the film where the only non-super-powered hero performs feats that require superhuman abilities. The Batman has to be shown as equal to the gods he shares the stage with, but in JLW, it's done in a manner to prompt the thought as to how a normal man can survive under such conditions. That thought progresses further when Batman swipes GL's ring, claiming that GL wasn't concentrating... except that he was. It's pretty clear that Batman should never have been able to accomplish what he did, but these scenes provide the feast for the incessant fanboy hunger.
The introductions continue with Billy Batson up next. Billy is re-introduced as a picaresque character, complete with deception, stealing, and cynical attitude, but, quite frankly, it works. Billy as a lovable rogue works and much better than his handling in the back-up stories within the Justice League comic book. The reason is that through it all, he's still a kid. Deceiving someone to gain access to a football game, we can attribute to young, whimsical foolishness, as opposed to deceiving foster parents because you're jaded by the "system". Billy's introduction brings us to Victor Stone (and this pairing will continue with aplomb), who is again the best developed character of the Justice League. The Flash speeds through his intro... slowly. Wonder Woman's debut is a mixed bag, as she is played as someone new to the ways of Man's World, but with a caricature that makes her seem a dim bruta. The protestors carry placards with the classic Wonder Woman emblem, which is strangely missing from her outfit. Lastly, we're introduced to Superman when he slams Green Lantern through a wall.
Superman comes across as alien, and by that, the tertiary definition is what's meant. He whales on Green Lantern, but plays cat and mouse with Batman - which of course is fortunate for the Dark Knight, as he'd be killed otherwise. It's a scene that could have established Superman for the upcoming DCAU films, but they opt for the same formulae, in that Batman defeats Superman with his mind, using the knowledge of secret ID to force him to reason. It's not clear why the fight is necessary other than for mindless entertainment, as Superman could easily dispatch both of them, his anger aside, or why Batman knowing that Superman is Clark Kent is enough to give Superman pause, rather than enrage him further. The pacing, however, is still quite good at this point, and united in their disreputableness, half of the League is formed and heads into the sewers. The symbolism isn't lost.
The remaining two acts are comprised of, again, very good action. We're given a few seconds of dialogue and interaction, not more than 90 seconds, and it's off to the races. If Wonder Woman isn't saving the president (in a manner reminiscent of gore/horror), Billy has changed to SHAZAM (with absolutely no back story) and is after parademons. When Darkseid appears, you have to check your Fuel band to see if you've met your goal for the day. The throttle's upped consistently to the final battle, an almost gruesome struggle with Darkseid that demands all of the League, and when they win, it's worthy of ovation. The newly formed Justice League has to really work to earn their victory, which makes the win that much sweeter. It should be enough and all that's left should be to salivate in anticipation of the next DCAU offering, but there's this troubling thing called characterization.
These are iconic characters, and to reintroduce them as "new" begs viewers to be uncompromisingly simple. A tweak here and there is fine, but while the action is good, there's little to connect with when the characters aren't bashing things, hence why they're continuously bashing things. In fairness, Cyborg and SHAZAM are done pretty well. Cyborg has presence, applies his leadership on the football field to the new field he's combatting with relative ease. SHAZAM's interaction with Cyborg is priceless. It goes a long way towards making both of them likable and interesting, more so than their powers ever could. Batman's best moment isn't when he's doing things no mortal man can do, but when he unmasks and explains why he does what he does. A few seconds and he's no longer a jerk barking orders, to people who seem to follow him for no damn good reason. The Flash has no presence at all. Green Lantern's fearlessness seems to come with an equal amount of stupidity. Superman and Wonder Woman are the most troubling; they are the most powerful and have the least depth. Superman even kills in this film, which was totally unnecessary. Worst of all, there is almost no human interaction between the League and regular people. The onset of the film says that the public fears and distrusts them, and little is done to rectify that, than we're supposed to believe that it has. SHAZAM and Cyborg save a group of people, and don't even acknowledge them. Social grace this is not.
If these were all new characters, conceived from the mind of a new writer and company, I doubt I'd be back for another go. The action, once more, is top, but I was put off by the lack of attention to the characters aside of their punching ability. If you have children or are a beloved aunt, uncle, etc., you may reconsider allowing them to watch this, unless you want to explain what a "whore" is and why Wonder Woman is dressed like one, along with choice terms such as "douchebag" "tool" and just plain old "shit". The formulae is in need of quickening as well. If characters are going to be used, such as the Flash, they need to do more than just be there to round out the team.
"Justice League: War" has great potential as a lead into the new blue yonder, but, quite frankly, they need to embrace what makes these characters great, the sense of heroism, the grandness of their respective characters, and stop trying to beat it away like they did Darkseid. It always comes back... just like Darkseid.