SPOILER WARNING: We tried being spoiler free, but the source material is a few years old. Deal with it.
The end of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox promised the invasion of Apokolips, which is fulfilled in Justice League War, the latest in the line of Warner Animation’s line of DC animated movies. This film marks the animation debut of DC’s New 52, adapting the first six issues of the Justice League series by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, brought to the screen by director Jay Olivia (Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, The Dark Knight Returns).
The strength of Justice League War, like its source material, is the interplay between the characters and their individual portrayals. The banter between Batman and Green Lantern is quick and snappy, as are the one-liners from the Flash. There is an awkward attempt at a “secret handshake” between Green Lantern and Flash which is a perfect microcosm of their relationship. Shazam serves as an inspirational force for the newly created Cyborg, as Billy Batson was a fan of Vic Stone (why is Billy a fan of Vic? Explain this). The optimism and childish wonder that Shazam brings to the table adds an element of lightheartedness that is welcome. Wonder Woman’s personality shines big; she is naive, yet brave and brash with a heart of gold. Superman, who has undergone the most drastic change in the New 52, exudes toughness and confidence. Despite veering from the traditional Man of Steel, it works.
Like it or not, Justice League War presents the characters as they are right now, not as they are nostalgically remembered. To that end, the movie serves as an excellent entry point for the uninitiated. Longtime fans may scoff at this notion, but this movie is clearly designed to introduce newcomers to the world of DC. Despite criticism of how the publisher has handled the New 52 initiative, if you were to show this movie to someone, and they were curious enough to pick up a current series, they can expect more of the same.
The plot of Justice League War might be familiar to the millions that have seen Marvel’s The Avengers – a godlike villain leads an alien invasion while the heroes of Earth come together to stop it. It may seem cliché on the surface (and it is), but clichés exist because they work. To that end, it’s surprising how well Justice League War works because it should fall completely flat. Despite a runtime of 79 minutes, the creative team was able to pack in a lot of material without coming across as rushed or overstuffed.
The special features are very strong, adding an additional 70 minutes of viewing time to the disc. That doesn’t include the bonus episodes from past DC television projects. The meat of the special features is a documentary on legendary artist Jim Lee, who penciled the Justice League issues this film is based on. That alone is worth checking this out.
No movie is perfect. The voice casting, while solid overall, fails the only female lead. Michelle Monaghan is a fantastic actress, but her Wonder Woman feels disconnected from the animation. The same can be said for Alan Tudyk’s Superman. Neither actor possesses the commanding voice required of their respective characters, which frequently pulls the viewer out of the movie.
The quality of the animation is disheartening for longtime fans of DC animated projects, and disappointing for newcomers. Using an anime-influenced style, character movements are staggered and choppy. The smoothness in action of films such as Justice League: The New Frontier and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is lost, replaced with poorly choreographed battle sequences. The synchronization of animation to voice-work is also lost, causing many dialogue-heavy sequences to incite cringes.
Adding to the disappointing animation is the frequent use of combined two-dimensional animation with three-dimensional environments. Viewers may think that they are watching the opening credits of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, except this technique looked better in 1993 than it does in 2014.
Justice League War is a solid, though unspectacular release from Warner Bros. Animation. Dodgy animation and questionable voice casting ultimately bog down a movie that improved many story elements from the source comic. While this may sound harsh, it’s due to the animation crew having previously high standards for quality storytelling AND animation. Thankfully, the character interactions, particularly between Batman and Green Lantern, are strong enough to carry this movie.
Justice League War is currently available digitally on Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes. It will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on February 2, 2014.