Not too long after I reviewed Superman: Red Son, I saw the trailer for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, and that was the movie I was really looking forward to. I'll watch or read just about anything with John Constantine in it. The scumbag magician from Britain is easily one of my top three favorite comic book characters.
This movie is sort of the Avengers: Endgame of the animated DC Comics movies. Since 2013's Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, there've been 15 movies in the DC Animated Movie Universe (DCAMU) counting the new Justice League movie that came out on Tuesday.
When this universe got its start, DC Comics was doubling down into a big mistake of a story reboot called the New 52. It was one of the worst things to happen to DC Comics in some time. The company thankfully restarted things in 2016 with another reboot called Rebirth. And aside from what the company has done to Nightwing for the past couple years, it has been better than the New 52 was.
Justice League Dark is a team of heroes that handles more of the magical threats in the comic book universe. It's filled with members like Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman and more. The team got its first movie in 2017's Justice League Dark, one of my favorites from the DCAMU.
And Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is about as much a Justice League Dark movie as Captain America: Civil War was a Captain America movie. That is to say, it wasn't, because of all the other action figures that climbed out of the toybox to be smashed together in a cinematic beat-down.
I'll give credit to this new movie for stuffing as many characters in as it could into 90 minutes and doing the best it could with them. Some movies have far fewer characters and do much worse at providing a satisfying story (see: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse). This was a movie where someone like King Shark got more screen time (and lines) than Nightwing and Batgirl combined.
With that said, for all the characters that got stuffed into this movie, most of them die gruesome deaths, and we're treated to every second of that carnage, from Cyborg getting his arms ripped off to Starfire getting disemboweled. This animated movie earns its "R" rating with all the gore it splatters the audience with. And I was happy with all of it.
This movie being a sendoff/sequel to 14 other animated films means it had a lot to live up to. And if its sole goal was to wrap up all the loose ends from those movies and have a final confrontation with the Justice League's ultimate enemy (Darkseid), then mission accomplished.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War has some great strengths. The action is top-notch, and the story never misses a beat. I was engaged from start to finish and constantly wondering who would live, who would die and how many times Captain Boomerang could make me laugh.
The story really focuses on four characters, Constantine, Superman, Robin (the worst one, Damian) and surprisingly, Raven. Of those four characters, Raven is the one DC Comics always seems to have trouble figuring out what to do with. Her story always seems to boil down to something involving her demon father Trigon, and it's no different in this movie. But kudos to DC for picking a not-so-obvious character to help lead this movie.
Constantine is really the main glue that holds everything in this story together. And there are pluses and minuses to how he's used. The con artist has proved he's more than capable of holding his own in great animated storylines such as Constantine: City of Demons. I love his character getting attention, so I'm willing to overlook some tweaks and changes to make him fit into a more mainstream comic book movie to blend in with characters like Wonder Woman and Batman.
With that said, John Constantine is usually turned into a main magic brawler in these movies, and that's just not who the character is. Punch Constantine in the gut, and he'll fold like a sack of cards. He's not a front-line hitter like Superman, and yet, that's what these movies make him. They animate these yellow magic circles around his hands, give him vague talismans, and boom, he's fighting on the front lines, turning some opponents to ash and teleporting all over the place.
In the comics, Constantine is a fascinating character because he's sleazy. He tricks and outwits his opponents, but usually not without great cost to what few friends he has left. This is the guy who tricked the devil into curing his lung cancer for crying out loud. He's a conman, alcoholic gutter trash the bad guys just can't keep dead. And the animated movies that stick him in the lead never seem to understand these elements that make his character truly great.
Matt Ryan is the perfect John Constantine, and I'm thrilled he came back to lend his voice to the character. He's to John Constantine as Kevin Conroy is to Batman. It'll never get old.
I'll also give kudos for finally making me interested in Superman. Clark Kent's story is actually pretty cool in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. It's difficult to make the strongest character in a comic universe interesting, but they manage it here.
The characters, the blood, the stakes, I'm pleased with all of it. But the movie does have its weak points.
For starters, the parademons that Darkseid uses in this movie just seem to get uglier and uglier as the movie runs on. Toward the end, they look like a mess of stiff unpolished 3D CGI rendering, and it got pretty distracting.
I'm not a fan of the DCAMU's art style. I touched upon that in my Superman: Red Son review. I've never enjoyed the more realistic and single perfect body standard proportions found in these films. There's never been much variation in body shapes, and everyone looks the same. The characters all might just be a little bigger or smaller. I'll always prefer the more stylized and varied look found in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.
My wife disagrees with me on this. She prefers the more realistically proportioned characters. And sure, she'll graduate with an art degree in December, but Margaret Wolfe Hungerford once penned something about beauty and beholders.
The other weakness this movie had was the ending. I won't spoil it, but boy did the last minute or two really go out with a whimper. It almost seemed like DC just ran out of gas in the last 90 seconds and couldn't manage to lob the conclusion over the finish line.
Maybe I'm just bitter after reviewing Extraction, but I'm tired of conclusions that leave the majority of the ending to the viewer's imagination. No! I paid $20 for a complete story, beginning, middle and end. Commit to a finale and follow through. Tell me the vision for your story in complete detail. Don't leave the top spinning for me to wonder if I'm still living in a dream. Finish the damn story.
You want to talk about concluding a story, Justice League Unlimited had a fantastic ending. Batman telling all the villains they get a five-minute head start after Lex Luthor swooped in to save the day? Priceless.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War just kind of limped off into the sunset. I get DC is trying to leave a blank canvas for whatever they come up with next in their animated universe, but my lord, this ending had me fuming.
The movie really is a mixed bag. But that about sums up how the 15 movies went. There were fantastic films like the original Justice League Dark and Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, there were decent films like Teen Titans: The Judas Contract and Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, and there was hot garbage like Justice League vs. Teen Titans.
Why wouldn't the conclusion to these storylines also average out into a grab bag with awesome moments like John Constantine using Wonder Woman's lasso and disappointing moments like the film's ending.
Overall, the movie is good. Just don't expect an ultimate and perfect conclusion.
MovieStyle on 05/08/2020
Print Headline: Justice League finale film a mixed bag