Directed by: Matt Peters, Christina Sotta
Written by: Ernie Altbacker, Mairghread Scott
Starring: Matt Ryan, Taissa Farmiga, Tony Todd, Stuart Allan, Jerry O’Connell, Jason O’Mara, Rosario Dawson, Rainn Wilson, Christopher Gorham, Shemar Moore, Hynden Walch, Roger Cross
Reviewed by: Eric Joseph
Although DC animated movies are certainly nothing new, we’ve recently been witness to a particularly special era influenced directly by New 52 comics since Justice League: War debuted in 2014 (2013, if you were to count Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox). In addition to DC’s premier superhero team enjoying their own group outings, we’ve also been treated to loose adaptations of classics such as Batman: Hush, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract and The Death of Superman.
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.
And that’s where Justice League Dark: Apokolips War comes in. Initially assumed to be an adaptation of Darkseid War, it’s nothing of the sort. Some influence from Futures End seems to be in there, but I’d describe this as being an original story for the most part. For all intents and purposes, this is the Avengers: Endgame of the New 52-inspired DC Animated Universe. However, there’s one major difference: Apokolips War isn’t getting a sequel or continuation. This is it.
(Don’t worry. More DC animated films are on the way, with Superman: Man of Tomorrow releasing this summer. To be clear, nothing released beyond this point will tie in to the New 52 stuff. My hypothesis is that the focus will be shifted to standalone graphic novel adaptations and original stories.)
Much like the aforementioned Endgame – and unlike Infinity War – Apokolips War isn’t an overcrowded affair, even though it features guest appearances by various members of the Justice League, Justice League Dark, Suicide Squad, Teen Titans and Bat-family. For the most part, the narrative is pared down to following John Constantine, Clark Kent, Raven, Etrigan and Damian Wayne as they try to salvage what’s left after Darkseid has devastated the Earth.
To backtrack for a moment, the movie starts off with the Justice League’s heaviest of hitters taking the fight to Apokolips, but then everything goes horribly awry. Yes, this could be categorized as somewhat of a spoiler, although anyone who’s watched the first look featurette or kept up with news pertaining to the flick already knows this to be one of the basics. After that, there’s a two-year time jump that brings us to the ragtag group coming together.
If anything, I have to applaud the filmmakers for taking some serious risks. I can’t believe they got away with a lot of the stuff on display, and I’m not exactly talking about the R-rating and subsequent F-bombs. Instead, expect to see some gargantuan swings taken, with notable heroes you love dying in terribly gruesome ways. In fact, one fan favorite from the Bat-family gets eaten alive by a swarm of “Paradooms” (Parademon/Doomsday hybrids).
This may be too much for some to digest (pun intended), but those who’ve wanted to see what it’s like when superheroes who seemingly have nothing left to lose make one last effort to overcome the ultimate evil in a post-apocalyptic world will dig what’s on hand. Also, expect for some other heroes to be, um, repurposed and serving Darkseid.
Overall, I found the plot to be quite engaging and never thought the action to be overdone or extensive. The latter notion was found all too often in some previous flicks, what with Justice League: War feeling like one endless action scene. But here, characters actually get a chance to breathe and I was at attention the entire time, knowing this was the end of the journey.
Actually, I don’t have much to say on the negative side this time around. Although I’m admittedly not fond of seeing superheroes get massacred, the death toll worked in this context. Still, this aspect could potentially shock some viewers who may have gone in looking for the happiest of endings. So far, I think most took it in stride, as I’ve seen some very enthusiastic online reaction that I wasn’t able to avoid. (I try going in without outside influence as much as humanly possible.)
One other thing I’d like to mention in the vaguest way – because I’m trying to spare major spoilers – is what occurs at the very end. I wouldn’t exactly call it a “Deus ex Machina” in the purest sense, but you may find yourself asking “why didn’t they do that thirty minutes ago?” Regardless, it makes for a beautifully bittersweet conclusion to this saga.
Now, I’m not going to say Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is the best animated DC movie ever made like some are, but it’s pretty damn good nonetheless. If you’ve come this far, you have no fathomable reason not to check it out. Here’s hoping the folks in the animation wing keep it up with whatever comes next.