Justice League: War is the first animated movie set in the New 52 universe, an adaptation of the first arc of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League comic. Given that the film builds on the end of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and seems to lead into a sequel based on the “Throne of Atlantis” arc, the next big story from the Justice League comic, it looks like we’re going to see a lot more of the New 52 universe moving forward. If this first movie is any indication, we might be in for a bit of a bland time.
The DC animated line had been on an upswing lately. The Dark Knight Returns adaptation was decent, I quite liked Superman: Unbound, and I thought Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox was one of their best films yet. Compared to these films, Justice League: War felt a little lackluster. The choices for voice actors were hit and miss and often weak, the action that had been very well done in past films was just average here, and the production values seemed lower than usual.
Part of the problem may lie in the source material. I’m fairly certain that the film made some plot changes from the comic, but the comic was so pedestrian that I don’t particularly remember the details. I remember the art was nice; I always like Jim Lee. But the plot was a rather run of the mill, superhero team comes together sort of thing.
One big change was that they swapped out Aquaman for Captain Marvel, or Shazam, I suppose. If they were going to change some characters, you’d think they’d put another woman on the team, but no. Wonder Woman remains outnumbered 6 to 1. The movie does pass the Bechdel Test, though: Wonder Woman and a little girl talked about ice cream. Nonetheless, some more female characters would have been nice.
Anyway, the plot is pretty basic. Batman, Green Lantern, Superman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Shazam come together for the first time to defeat Darkseid’s invasion of Earth. Initially, they fight each other, and then they team up and save the planet. Standard superhero team-up fare.
With seven superheroes, some are bound to get lost in the shuffle. I’d say Green Lantern came off the best, both in terms of the most screen time and the most fun character. Justin Kirk does a solid job with Hal Jordan’s snark and bravado. Batman is cool too, but I don’t think Jason O’Mara quite fit the role. If you’re animating Batman and Kevin Conroy’s not doing the voice, you’ve made a serious mistake. Shazam was kind of fun, the Flash faded into the background, and Superman didn’t get much to do apart from halving parademons with his heat ray vision and looking like an Olivier Coipel drawing.
This brings us to Wonder Woman, who always gets extra attention when I review something. The new costume was okay, but it could have benefitted from some more tweaks and a few more details. It was just a little dull for me, though I think it’s a design with some interesting potential that could be easily made awesome in the next movie with a few small changes. Unfortunately, Michelle Monaghan didn’t work for me at all. Her delivery often felt stilted and staged, like she thought being a superhero meant speaking in declarative pronouncements. There was just no naturalness to it.
Her storyline was fairly minimal, and while she got to slice up a lot of parademons with her big sword in a pretty awesome fashion, her arc quickly turned into a prelude to the inevitable Superman/Wonder Woman hookup in the sequel. From the second she first sees Superman when they team up to save Air Force One, she is clearly smitten with the big, blue lug, and the two of them spend the rest of the movie making eyes at each other. This romance is one of my least favourite storylines in Wonder Woman’s comic book history, so it showing up immediately in the first film from this new universe was a disappointment. Wonder Woman had a couple of good moments; telling the ice cream man he should be very proud of his achievement was amusing, and responding to Superman’s admiring “You’re strong,” with a nonchalant “I know,” was a great beat, but all told the film wasn’t the best Wonder Woman I’ve seen from DC animation.
Darkseid was okay, though there’s not much you can do with a big, menacing tyrant. He scowls a lot and busts stuff up, and makes pronouncements of doom. I did dig the parademons; the design is one of the more interesting and sinister versions that I can recall.
The film had a lot of action, but it was a bit dull. The “let’s go stab Darkseid in the eyes” plan went on forever, and it felt like it took fifteen minutes for the Justice League to punch Darkseid back through a boom tube gate. The dude kept pulling himself out, and they kept punching him back towards it, over and over.
On the technical side of things, the animation seemed sort of average. I’m no expert on animating, but the characters lacked detail and there was a lot of repetition in terms of location, and specific angles therein, as well as the movement of characters. I’m pretty sure that the scads of parademons getting sucked back through the boom tubes were tumbling head over heels in only three different patterns. A completely different pattern for every parademon would be ludicrously expensive, I’m sure, but the similarities were very noticeable.
Overall, Justice League: War was a step backwards for DC’s animation line, and that’s doubly not good given that we’re going to be spending more time in this world moving forward. There were definitely some good things to build on, and I wouldn’t be surprised if “Throne of Atlantis” turned out much better, but this one was a rather middle of the road viewing experience. It doesn’t help that the New 52 comics have generally been a rather middle of the road reading experience. I think that the stories with the best animated film potential lie in DC’s past universes, not in its current one.