Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR (2014)

Warning: the following review contains some mild spoilers. 

In Gotham City’s shadows lurks a mysterious figure, a silent guardian known only as the Batman. While battling crime and an ever-growing public distrust, he faces the injustices of the night alone. During a criminal pursuit, the Batman crosses paths with the arrogant intergalactic cop, Green Lantern and the unlikely duo uncover an impending threat bigger and more deadly then anything the Earth has faced before. To have a chance to survive, it will be a race to forge an uneasy alliance of the Earth’s greatest super powers including the Kryptonian alien, Superman, the Amazonian envoy, Wonder Woman and the scarlet Speedster, The Flash. Along with newcomers, Cyborg and teen super hero Shazam, this awesome assembly of the world’s finest are prepared to meet evil head on and offer mankind its only hope, if they don’t self-destruct first!

For the past seven years, DC has been churning out one solid animated movie after another. This line of features has adapted classic storylines such as The Death of Superman and The Dark Knight Returns, while also telling more original stories in Green Lantern: First Flight and Batman: Gotham Knight. 2014 kicks off with DC’s first New 52 adaptation, Justice League: War, which is also starting a new continuity shared by future titles. War adapts the “Origin” story arc by Geoff Johns, which depicts the formation of the Justice League as they battle Darkseid. How does this latest venture fare?

Firstly, the animation is unsurprisingly strong. With some subtle anime influence, the character illustrations are also solid. My only major complaint in this department is Darkseid’s appearance. Donning more gold than usual, the ruler of Apokolips looks a bit too similar to Marvel’s Thanos – which is ironic, given Darkseid’s influence in the creation of the Mad Titan. Otherwise, all the other characters look good. The score, composed by Kevin Kliesch, was great.

Not unlike its source material, Justice League: War has a more cinematic feel than past DC titles. Many elements are easy to translate into a movie, animated or live action. It does an impressive job of introducing its major players without anyone feeling forced. Cyborg’s origin is handled well, and even Shazam’s introduction is believable. Also, the action is nearly non-stop, but still focuses on developing (most of) its characters. Plus, as a longtime fan of this particular storyline, I geeked out during particular sequences, such as Superman vs. Batman and Green Lantern, Wonder Woman slicing through dozens of Parademons, and Bruce Wayne unmasking himself in a pivotal scene.

Script-wise, Justice League: War certainly works. However, some lines of dialogue are iffy. For example, the infamous Wonder Woman ice cream scene. It took me some time to get used to it in the comic, but in the movie, it’s even more cringe-worthy and over-the-top. Also, her potential romance with Superman is clearly hinted at here, probably too strongly. One final issue I had with the writing was in a couple scenes. When Superman discovered Batman’s secret identity, Green Lantern asked, “Who the hell is Bruce Wayne?” Later, however, when Bruce unmasks himself, he says, “My name is Bruce Wayne.” It seems redundant for Bruce to state his name when Lantern already knew.

I also have a few complaints regarding the movie’s characterization. Superman is given very little depth here. His Clark Kent alter ego is mentioned a couple times, and he clearly likes Wonder Woman, but otherwise, he has little personality. He’s also portrayed as the team’s “big gun” – the most powerful member – than the leader he’s supposed to be. It’s disappointing, but unsurprising, as the Man of Steel’s portrayal was similar to the comic arc’s version. Also, Flash is disappointingly underused. He even has a handful of lines from the original storyline spoken by Shazam instead. And the fact that Cyborg and Shazam have more development than Superman is something else. Finally, despite Darkseid having a bigger role than in the comic, he still speaks in only a handful of his scenes. I would’ve liked the character to be a bit more developed, as he lets out more punches than words.

As for positives, I do like how most of the other characters are portrayed. Batman is exactly how I expected him to be, as are Green Lantern, Flash, and Cyborg. While Shazam comes across as immature at times, it makes sense, given the fact that he’s actually a kid. When she’s not marveling at ice cream, Wonder Woman is a strong character, taking part in some of the most memorable action sequences of the film. The chemistry among the team also worked. 
While the voice acting in Justice League: War isn’t on par with DC’s usual greatness in the area, it’s still good. Jason O’Mara is solid as Batman, though a little rough around the edges. Alan Tudyk is pretty good as Superman, while Justin Kirk is pretty spot-on as Green Lantern. I also really enjoyed Michelle Monaghan as Wonder Woman. Christopher Gorham and Sean Astin are decent as Flash and Shazam, respectively. Shemar Moore isn’t terrible as Cyborg, but his voice made Vic Stone sound much older than he really is. Steve Blum is impressive as Darkseid, while it was nice to hear Superman voice actor George Newbern as Steve Trevor.
Justice League: War is pretty close to its source material. Of course, some major changes are made. The biggest of these changes was the replacement of Aquaman with Shazam. But Aqua-fans will be pleased with the movie’s mid-credits scene, which teases an Atlantis-centric follow-up. The depiction of the characters is also in line with the comic. 
Overall, Justice League: War is another winner for DC. While it has its flaws, it’s still an exciting, relentless adaptation of a great story arc. It marks the dawn of a new era for animated DC features, re-establishing the Justice League for a new shared continuity. Even though I had issues with how some of the characters are portrayed, there’s no denying that this is a very fun movie. You can pick up Justice League: War on Blu-Ray and DVD on February 4th, but it’s available digitally now.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of WOBAM! Entertainment.

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