[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Directed by: Jay Oliva
Written by: J.M. DeMatteis and Ernie Altbacker
Starring: Matt Ryan, Camilla Luddington, Jason O’Mara, JB Blanc, Ray Chase, Enrico Colantoni, Roger R. Cross, Jeremy Davies, Rosario Dawson and Alfred Molina
Original Release Date: February 7, 2017
There are just some situations best left to the professionals! When a string of supernatural events begins to sweep across the world, the Justice League finds itself at a loss, so Batman assembles a group that is specially designed to deal with the demons that lurk in the shadows. Following the mysterious trail leads the Caped Crusader to John Constantine, a magi skilled in the dark arts. With the help of allies, including Zatanna and the ghostly Deadman, the group must unravel a mystery before a powerful and sinister agent of evil is unleashed upon the world!
The DC Universe Animated Movie Justice League Dark expands on the previously released extended DC Universe Animated original movies and introduces some of the imprint’s most unpredictable and uncanny characters including the elemental Swamp Thing and Etrigan, The Demon of myth. It serves to introduce a whole other aspect of the DC Comics universe, and integrates seamlessly this exciting new pantheon of legends that exist to enhance the dimension of an already vastly dimensional world. With the established notoriety of the Justice League, the Justice League Dark are a welcome addition.
With the spotlight given to John Constantine, and especially casting Matt Ryan, the actor who portrayed the often off-color magician in the short-lived NBC live-action series, Justice League Dark benefits to great degree from this character’s very colorful existence. The CW series Arrow rescued the character from cancellation by introducing him into the established “Arrowverse” continuity; Ryan breathes a life into Constantine that transcends in animation — and works with unparalleled depths. Walking that line between light and dark, Constantine is interesting and engaging.
Paired with a paramour like Zatanna, and throwing in Batman as a skeptic, creates the perfect “counter” to the established DC Comics trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Though Batman is included here to lend some legitimacy to the storyline’s connectivity to its predecessors, it isn’t long before the true stars come forth. By the time we arrive at the final act of the feature, it is clear that the detective is out of his league, and in the dark the Justice League can trust! I am hopeful that this version of the JL will have an opportunity to band together once again for a sequel.
Though he has demonstrated himself often a vital element of the DC Comics line, Boston Brand, the Deadman is an obscure element that has often benefited from working alone. When the ghostly avenger was added to the line-up for the comic book version of the Justice League Dark, Brand appeared to move more prominently into the forefront. It’s unfortunate that in this feature the hero is relegated often to the level of comic relief; effective but somewhat beneath his level.
Springing into the narrative by the story’s third act, Swamp Thing is also an odd addition to the mix, and yes “oddities” is a theme meant to help establish Justice League Dark but the elemental force doesn’t truly come into his full potential, at least not in this first adventure. Had the anti-hero Enchantress been added to the roster, it might have made for a bit of balance, but the Swamp Thing’s part is heavily diminished.
Although the animated feature moves at an engagingly breakneck pace that has a prolific, yet rollercoaster quality to it, Justice League Dark feels like it could have had greater potential. There are elements that could have been more profoundly explored, but at the expense of keeping the cast down to a manageable limit, the overall narrative becomes somewhat dim. The feature can’t be called boring and it feels relentlessly exhilarating in its originality.
Though many of these characters have been around for decades, Justice League Dark promotes them as innovative and contemporary; easily resonating with the sensibilities of today’s audiences, especially those who are curious about the arcane arts — magic is cast and emerges relevantly in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie Justice League Dark.