REVIEW: “Justice League: War”
The Warner Animation series of direct-to-disc features has apparently said farewell to the past as this week’s release of [[[Justice League: War]]] and May’s [[[Son of Batman]]] are both from the New 52 era. A pity given how many cool stories remain unadapted. Readers who picked up Justice League #1 in August 2011 were treated to a brand new take on the tried and true characters from DC Comics, but it was clearly early in their collective careers. It was the first time many were meeting one another and dealing with the threat of Darkseid from Apokolips.
A fresh start but far from a clean one but discussions of that title and the entire New 52 belong elsewhere. Right now, we’re examining the latest feature from director Jay Oliva to see how well it stands up on its own. He’s working from a script by Heath Corson, making his DC animated debut after writing Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktacular and six episode s of Aim High. He hews closely to Geoff Johns’ opening six-issue arc, keeping a lot of the action and dialogue but had to make accommodations when it was decided Aquaman would be jettisoned for Captain Marvel (okay, he’s now called Shazam, which sucks). As a result, the story is about seven heroes coming together for the common good but it’s really about Vic Stone’s transformation from promising teen athlete to cyborg warrior, using him as an audience identification figure.
We open in Gotham City as Green Lantern arrives to deal with a parademon, believing it to be the urban legend Batman. When the real Dark Knight shows up, Green Lantern is surprised and then stunned to realize he’s just a guy in a suit. They don’t like one another but have to put that aside to deal with the growing number of parademons. Elsewhere, more parademons are threatening Washington DC, Central City, and Metropolis, leaving behind mysterious boxes that baffle scientists and heroes alike. Vic Stone comes to Central’s S.T.A.R. Labs to chew out his father for missing the big game – again – and is on hand when things go boom. Meantime, in Washington, Steve Trevor is bringing Wonder Woman to meet the President but things get delayed when the uglies arrive.
In time, we learn they are leaving Mother Boxes behind in an attempt to terraform Earth, paving the way for Darkseid to take control. Humanity would be repurposed into becoming parademons to grow his army. There’s lots of fighting, lots of bickering, quipping, and things blowing up before the heroes prevail.
For us to believe these larger-than-life figures can exist, everything else around it has to make perfect sense. Instead, time and again, the story has gaps of logic or basic science that make you go, “aww, come on! “If Batman has been studying Superman before they encounter one another, he would either have a plan or come prepared because, you know, he’s Batman. Instead, we waste several minutes watching them duke it out. When Air Force One is breached by the parademons, apparently there’s no decompression in the cabin. And if we’re talking terraforming then why are the boxes being placed in these specific places and nowhere else on Earth? Or if they’re on all seven continents, we should address who is dealing with the parademons there and the effects on Earth’s environment. Nope, not touched on at all.
Instead, we get a Captain Marvel who is as gosh wow as Billy Batson is a brat, never once displaying the wisdom of Solomon. Oliva decided to play off the magical thunder and has it crackling around him and Marvel occasionally hurls bolts of lightning which is interesting but doesn’t serve the character well. Similarly, Wonder Woman comes across as a bumpkin, making proclamations about new discoveries with the earnestness of Jethro Bodine.
Overall, the origin story works pretty well if the action is prolonged at times in lieu of actual conversations between the characters. We get hints of a vast new playing field and it’s interesting to see that not all of them are convinced banding together more than once is a good idea – something that would be worthy of exploring in another film since the comic is long past that point.
Interestingly, the character design this time around is from former DC artist Dusty Abell and he once more gives everyone pointy chins and adds extraneous details to GL’s uniform while mangling Flash’s chest bolt. WW’s outfit is a departure from the source material and sort of works. For a fresh take on these heroes, they look remarkably similar, unlike the radical re-envisioning Jim Lee brought to the printed page.
The New 52 vocal cast works pretty well with Alan Tudyk making for a surprisingly good Superman while Jason O’Mara does equally well with Batman. Christopher Gorman’s Flash, Justin Kirk’s GL, and Shemar Moore’s Cyborg are just fine. Michelle Monaghan needed to tone down her Amazon Princess.
The video release comes as a combo pack with a Blu-ray, DVD< and Ultraviolet copy. On the Blu-ray there are several featurettes starting with Deconstructing Justice League: War with Jay Oliva & Jim Lee as the two “meet” for the first time and dissect several sequences from the film, comparing print to animation and you learn some interesting things from it. There’s a surprisingly thorough look at Lee’s professional life in Creating Heroes: The Life and Art of Jim Lee, touching on his development as an artist and his time at Marvel before leaving to form WildStorm (nee Homage) and Image Comics. Finally, there’s Justice League: War Act D – From animatic to pencil test which has side by side by side comparisons of the same Act D scenes, which is interesting for those into art and animation.
Rounding out the disc is the usual preview of the next video, May’s Son of Batman, with O’Mara once more voicing the Caped Crusader and loosely adapting Grant Morrison’s storyline. Then there are four animated episodes which leave you scratching your head at the choices. These include Justice League Unlimited Season 3 “Destroyer”; Batman: The Brave and The Bold Season 2 “The Malicious Mr. Mind”; Young Justice Invasion: Destiny Calling Season 2 Part 1 “Happy New Year”; and Young Justice Invasion: Destiny Calling Season 2 Part 1 “Earthlings”.