Review: Justice League – War

Justice League War

Starring: Jason O’Mara, Alan Tudyk, Justin Kirk, Michelle Monaghan, Christopher Gorham, Shemar Moore, Sean Astin, Steven Blum, Bruce Thomas, Rocky Carroll, Zach Callison, George Newbern
Price: £13.99
Released in the UK: February 4th 2014 (iTunes)

For those who don’t know, quite a sizeable number of superhero comics are produced by DC. You’ve probably heard of the likes of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash, perhaps even Cyborg and Shazam. Collectively known as the Justice League, they’re DC’s top team of superheroes.

Obviously they’ve mostly all been around for a quite few decades now (70+ years in some case) and with comics out every week with different writers, over the years, a lot of contradictory stuff and repetition sets in, so every so often DC likes to ‘reboot’ its universe and go back to the beginning, giving us new angles on characters.

The last time DC did this was a little over two and a half years ago with the so-called nu52/new 52, which effectively reset every character’s history, origins, et al. Sometimes the changes were minimal (Superman’s adoptive parents are both dead again, Batgirl is Barbara Gordon again); sometimes they were quite big (Wonder Woman got an entirely new father, the god Zeus; Barbara Gordon can now walk again).

However, outside the world of comics, things have been a bit laggardly in catching up, with films, merchandising and the like all largely using pre-nu52 imagery and ideas. So behold Justice League – War, the first of DC’s animated movies set in the nu52 mythos. Based on the first six or seven issues of the revamped Justice League comic book (more or less all of which were reviewed on this ‘ere blog when they came out), this is a nu52 origins story for the Justice League showing how the disparate superheroes (and superheroine) came together to fight the DC Universe’s ‘big bad’, Darkseid.

As well as featuring an entirely different, considerably more famous voice cast to previous animated movies, Justice League: War is more adult and better than most DC animated movies that have come before and, in fact, the original comics on which it was based.

Oh yes, and as in the nu52 itself, Superman and Wonder Woman are something of an item. Steve Trevor and Lois Lane? Left standing in the background.

Here’s a trailer:

Is it any good?
Well, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t flawless and Michelle Monaghan isn’t a great or subtle voice actress, but pretty much everyone involved in it can be proud.

What the movie does which few DC animated movies have done before is to give everyone their moment in the spotlight. Sometimes, that’s because of the foundations laid down by Geoff Johns in the original, but often the movie goes in a different direction, changing scenes, adding ideas and more.

For starters, there’s no Aquaman in this. Oh boo hoo. Geoff Johns is a big Aquaman fanboy (and writer) so he was obviously going to show up in the comics but there’s (virtually) no sign of the fishy one himself in this movie. In part, that’s because there’s going to be an Aquaman animated movie after this, but it’s also because this is a movie that needed heavy hitters as well as human stories, and Aquaman, king of Atlantis, handy underwater, doesn’t quite qualify.

So Shazam, who was the back-up strip character, now gets his moment with the main team, giving essentially a child’s viewpoint on the whole thing, which is an innovative touch. But Batman, Green Lantern et al all get their first meetings, first interactions and chances to show off what they do. Green Lantern and Flash are already friends, it seems, but Batman, who’s perhaps even darker here than in the comics, likes to hang out by himself and has been monitoring Superman for some time. One of the initial highlights of the movie is the first confrontation between Superman and Batman, where rather than the often God-like Batman of the comics, able to defeat anyone with a gadget, Superman easily outclasses him (as he should) until Batman shows him the power of proper preparation, planning… and spying.

Wonder Woman gets to show off, too. No longer under house arrest after been brought by Steve Trevor to the US, here she’s a diplomatic envoy ready to meet the President, but unwilling to be treated as a second-class citizen. There’s the familiar ice cream scene, plenty of battles and, of course, she gets to meet Superman for the first time. This essentially compacts an in-universe five-year storyline down to their first meeting. We still get the original Supes/Wondy meeting as in Justice League #3 (complete with Green Lantern’s dibs):

Superman and WW flirt

But now it’s all a bit more clear and focused about where it’s all going – love at first sight.

Superman and Wonder Woman

Superman and Wonder Woman

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Cock blocked

But there is more nuance to her than that just to hack at things and be the centre of male attention – we get a callback to Greek mythology. Rather than necessarily just dump back story on us, the movie feeds out character information as the plot demands it. Sometimes, this requires you to be more familiar than you should be with the characters, but in the case of Wonder Woman, it does allow us to see sides of her without it being hammered home – in particular, her godly side since she misses ‘walking among a pantheon’, and her comparison of the Justice League with the Greek gods is surprisingly accurate:

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There’s a lot more violence than in previous Justice League movies and after setting up a lot of character moments at the beginning, it tends towards wall-to-wall fights by the end, with Wonder Woman dishing out a lot of the nastier stuff – here, she’s much more the simple warrior of early nu52 stories than the later, more nuanced versions. But Superman goes hardcore at various points, as well, which might be a surprise to many viewers, and frankly, all those fights are well done and exciting.

In particular, Darkseid, often just a guy to be hit a lot, here is a very formidable adversary, a villain that requires virtually every superhero going to take him down, but Terminator-like, he absolutely will not stop ever, no matter what you do to him.

The animation could be better, looked a bit more anime than many previous DC efforts, and while the voice casting is largely excellent, bringing in actors whom you wouldn’t to be quite right for the role but who actually turn out to be very good (Jason O’Mara as Batman, Alan Tudyk as Superman and Justin Kirk as Green Lantern being the most obvious), Michelle Monaghan is a pretty poor Wonder Woman, giving a one-dimensional performance that’s largely just shouting.

Otherwise, this is very much one to watch if you like animated superhero movies, particularly darker ones or if you’re a fan of the characters. Old-schoolers might be a bit distraught because of all the changes, but it’s movies like this that seem to be the raison d’etre of nu52 and they’re decidedly for the better.