This week, Jeremy Morrison returns with a passionate new review of “Justice League Dark.” The full-length animated film, directed by Jay Oliva and featuring an all-star cast voicing DC’s biggest heroes, arrives from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on February 7, 2017.
No need to bury the lead here, folks. Jay Oliva has added a strong animated feature to DC Comics/Warner Bros. stellar arsenal of DTV titles. His ninth entry in the field for the company, Oliva’s knack for walking the tightrope between source material and small screen with surgical procession pays off in “Justice League Dark.” His ability to zero in on what makes these characters special and translate it to these animated features is a task many fans feel is lacking from the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) thus far.
. Seeing as how I am Zack Snyder’s number one fanboy, I couldn’t disagree more, but it will surely be addressed in the comments of this article’s social media posts so I figured I’d get it out of the way here. Yes, we see you trolls. No, we do not care what you think about “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” #WeCantAllBeZackSnyder
“Justice League Dark” is set in the timeline created in “Justice League: War” and continues to move its universe in the right direction. The DCAU has many entries and most have been pretty damn solid since Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Eric Radomski, Paul Dini and Andrea Romano changed the game with “Batman: The Animated Series.” It is in this writer’s correct opinion that since “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox,” the DCAU raises the bar of quality entertainment with each release, and yet time after time each release in the “War” timeline hits the bar without issue. Their success rate is insane. I continue to wait for an “Iron Man 2,” “Thor: The Dark World” or “Age of Ultron” like-dud (sorry … I shouldn’t pick on Marvel but, then again, Rotten Tomatoes would lead one to believe those are good films), but I’m impressed each time out. Also, it should be noted this is one more time when I am way biased toward these films and their source material.
Leading the cast in “Justice League Dark” is Matt Ryan voicing Constantine. Ryan played Constantine in the short-lived live-action NBC series a few years back and is right at home bringing the character that, by all fanboy opinions, should still be playing on network television. Not sure how NBC dropped the ball on this one (Oh, maybe fans ARE all Internet memes and lack the ability to tune in on a Friday night. Or Saturday night. Or whenever the dumb network decided to shuffle it to before its ultimate demise.) Ryan’s Constantine is as strong as a Kevin Conroy Batman, folks. From now on whenever you crack open a copy of Hellblazer, his voice should be screaming as loud in your inner monologue as Mark Hamill’s Joker.
Also in the cast is Camilla Luddington as Zatanna. I’m lucky enough to have a wife who isn’t obsessed with “Grey’s Anatomy” so I’m not hip on Luddington’s previous work, but I do have a subscription to a website that “fast-forwards to the good parts” and I have seen some of her work on the critically acclaimed Showtime series “Californication.” Good stuff. No stranger to VO work, Luddington also starred as Lara Croft in the latest “Tomb Raider” games. Luddington’s Zatanna is pitch perfect in “Justice League Dark.” Zatanna and Constantine compliment each other so well in the film, I almost hope the next seven DCAU films are a series of Buddy-Cop type flicks featuring Zatanna and Constantine on a trip across the globe, solving crimes, battling social injustice and aiding in the betterment of society a la The Hard Traveling Heroes, Green Arrow and Green Lantern, of the 1970s.
Along for the ride are Nicholas Turturro as Deadman, Ray Chase as Jason Blood and his demon counterpart Etrigan, Jason O’Mara as Batman and Roger Cross as Swamp Thing (and John Stewart’s Green Lantern). The gang gives great performances across the board with the exception of one minor critique: Roger…Cross…could have…been given the…chance…to let…his per…formance…breathhheeee a tad more. But that’s a subtle trait I’ve come to give the character myself while reading his exploits in the comics. It’s not even that big of a critique, Warner Bros. Wes Gleason casted and voice directed this sucker to near perfection. Mr. Gleason, please be my new best friend so I can guilt you into letting me crash a future DCAU feature with various grunts and ah’s that are well hidden within a crowded scene so not to cause problems with various guilds and whatnot.
Rated R for Holy Shit Isn’t This A Cartoon, “Justice League Dark” proves “The Killing Joke” wasn’t a fluke, nor was it a gimmick to garner interest in the animated universe. Comic book movies are better served as R. Sure “Deadpool” was the hip go-to argument, but “Blade” opened the door many moons ago, and that wasn’t the first comic book flick to garner an R rating either. With “Logan” coming out this year, I’m sure the new trend will be to demand violence and blood together like the great action flicks of the 1980s. It’s a trend I can get behind. Sure, it’s more realistic and, in turn, adds a touch of too-close-to-home to our beloved caped heroes punching evil in the face, but after decades of super heroes knocking the snot out of bad guys, maybe a more realistic touch is needed this time. I have three kids who love seeing the good guys beat the living hell out of idiot scum. They love it so much they reenact key battles in my kitchen. And in my living room. In their bedrooms. In the hallway. Hell, you’d think we live in the Hall of Justice with as much fighting that goes down around here. Maybe, if a batarang to the face left a visible message of crimson and bone marrow, Gabe, Ryan and Jack wouldn’t be so quick to battle to tears in the bathroom while in the midst of a simple task like brushing their damn teeth. Animated features are no exception. In fact, I say push that envelope as far as you can, Warner Bros! Get as many blood flowers popping and bones cracking as possible before the MPAA goes “My Bloody Valentine” on the genre. I’m not asking for lewd sex acts but, if I were, have I mentioned how much I enjoy Zatanna and Constantine’s chemistry? No, all I’m saying is push that envelope to a family friendly teaching moment. It’ll make parenting easier for everyone involved. And I don’t mean that in a crappy, lazy parent way. I mean it in the sense more often than not superheroes pulverize their opponents with minimal damage. That tells a viewer the consequences of a fist fight aren’t severe. If your hero looks like Mark Wahlberg in “The Fighter” after he’s guilted into that bogus fight in Vegas by his horrible family, well, then you see fighting is bad. Schools will thank you in the long run.
So, what’s left? I guess the plot. Well, there isn’t much I can say about the film in detail that won’t spoil a pretty awesome second act twist in the process. So, I’ll leave it at this: The pacing is great at a quick 75 minutes. The character development is even and leaves nothing to be desired. The plot is engaging and, as I said, the end of the second act has a wonderful twist that will leave you kicking yourself if you don’t call it. The action is tight and looks great. Last, it’s got some really tense moments that’ll leave you asking what you did to deserve this much good in a 75-minute animated feature.
THE VERDICT: I mean, did you read this thing? And why are you still reading? Go! Watch it now! P.S. For the last time, I’m biased. DC Comics 4 Life!
Jeremy Morrison – Staff Writer
Co-creator/host of the Acid Pop Cult Podcast, film reviewer, screenwriter, Jeremy has more than eight years experience in television and film production. His childhood fascination with the naked breasts featured in the “Friday the 13th” franchise prepared him for absolutely nothing in life. J-Mo lives by one motto: #wecantallbezacksnyder