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Seven years ago, DC and Warner Bros started releasing direct-to-video animated films, with a retelling of one of the most controversial storylines ever, the Death of Superman with the film “Superman: Doomsday.” Seventeen films later, they have essentially started over with “Justice League: War.” “Doomsday” had an art style that was still reminiscent of the DCU Animated shows that had just ended the year prior with “Justice League: Unlimited,” and each film subsequently moved further and further away, creating their own unique takes on the characters. But all of those storylines were classics (with a few originals) and were from a vault of well known and loved stories. In 2011, DC Comics concluded the company-wide “Flashpoint” crossover, which led to the reboot of the DC new Universe (DCnU), or New 52. The DCAnimated Universe has recently done the same, starting with “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox,” and the release of their 18th film, “Justice League: War.”
If you’re wondering why I went through that long explanation, it’s not just to show off my geek knowledge, but to inform fans of what to expect when they watch “Justice League: War.” With the exception of Batman, Flash and Cyborg, many of the characters are quite different from what we’re used to. Superman is just brute force personified and hasn’t learned the subtleties of his abilities, let alone subtlety in general. Wonder Woman is a warrior tasked with being an emissary for her people, when she’d rather just be enjoying battle. Green Lantern is an egotistical jerk, which is understandable when you’re carrying around one of the most powerful weapons in the universe on your finger. And Captain Marvel, well, his alter ego Billy Batson is kind of a jerk, too, but he’s got a chip on his shoulder from a lifetime of being moved from one foster home to another.
This is the New 52 Universe now, and if you aren’t on board with it, then it’s time to move on. It did wonders for DC Comics, and the plan is to do similarly with the animated films, with “War” being the first in a new set of connected movies. So I’m sure we’ll see versions of the characters closer to their more well known versions, but these are supposed to be when the world really first meets them and everyone’s kinda new to it. Now that all of that is out of the way, on to the film. I don’t have to go into much detail as it’s a relatively simple story. Darkseid has set in motion an invasion of our world, and though it starts clandestinely, the discovery of his agents by heroes of Earth have forced the invasion into full swing. Now the heroes have to band together to defeat this foe.
With the voice talent of Jason O’Mara (“Terra Nova”) as Batman, Christopher Gorham (“Jake 2.0”) as Flash, Alan Tudyk (“Firefly”) as Superman, Michelle Monaghan (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”) as Wonder Woman, Justin Kirk (“Weeds”) as Green Lantern, Shemar Moore (“Criminal Minds”) as Cyborg, and Sean Astin (“Lord of the Rings”) as Shazam, it’s a very different movie than past iterations of the League. But it’s still a very good version and Andrea Romano’s casting doesn’t disappoint. Batman and Green Lantern’s banter is priceless, and a lot of the personality quirks make for some great interaction between the team. And when they finally do start working together, the action is insane. And speaking of action, I didn’t mention Steve Blum as the voice of Darkseid. They gave him a truly alien voice, on top of making him huge. The final fight is absolutely over the top, but what a fight it is. It truly does take the entire League to win this. The story is very straightforward but they do some slower stuff with Cyborg’s origin.
Jay Oliva directed “Justice League: War” and much like “Man of Steel” (which he storyboarded), there is rampant collateral damage during the Darkseid battle. But this was the case in the source material as well, and it actually is part of a running issue through the film that gets resolved at the end. Oliva seems to thrive on big action, and “War” has plenty. Phil Burasa provided character designs once again, and as usual they were great. Superman towers over everyone and is only smaller in size compared to the bulky Cyborg, Flash is lean, and Batman is the perfect human specimen, while Darkseid is an imposing behemoth. They all looked great on screen and in action, even Captain Marvel, er, Shazam.
This is the opening shot in a new era for DC Uninverse Animated films. O’Mara is our Batman for the foreseeable future, reprising the role once again in the upcoming “Son of Batman.” And oh, stay tuned during the credits.