Review: Justice League Dark
By Gavin Wilson
The latest addition to the DC Animated Film Universe has come into the scene after being met with a mixture of excitement and skepticism from fans of varying intensities. Regardless of how you feel about DC’s attempts at finding a home on the big screen in recent years, it’s a fairly common consensus at they have always had a very strong place in the animated worlds with even their weaker titles still receiving praise from fans who cherish the classic characters and storylines. My favorite aspect of animated film and television adaptation of comic books is that no matter how realistic they seem to feel, the cartoon aspect maintains the whimsy and fun of reading the comics themselves and provides artists, voice actors and story writers to completely explore and establish their takes on beloved characters, plots and environments. Ever since the film Son of Batman began this new franchise of DC animated films in 2013, fans like myself have been treated to a new age of mature, yet fun and serious, yet fantastic stories driven by strong voice acting and great animation.
So how does Justice League Dark hold up with these recent films? Very well and it’s honestly one of the strongest titles we’ve seen so far. All of the characters are given the usual DC treatment leaving them each with their own unique qualities, personalities and overall enjoyment levels. It’s refreshing to see a whole batch of new characters introduced into this film universe and none of them feel like a repeated or copied version of someone we’ve already seen. We’re treated to the voice talents of Jason O’Mara as Batman as well as the rest of the actors who lent their voices to the other League members in the previous films. We are also introduced to some new characters who are all too familiar and loved by hardcore comic book fans and each one of their voices were cast flawlessly. You can really hear their emotions and personalities coming through, making these 2D cartoon characters feel real. I am very happy to report that the strongest case for this comes in the form of Matt Ryan as John Constantine. He once again takes on the role of everyone’s favorite snippy British Exorcist and Petty Dabbler of the Dark Arts and delivers a performance fans will continue to love. His take on the character is very quickly growing iconic amongst fans with good reason. There’s something in his voice that just carries across the sarcasm just right. The patronizing twang that insults someone while also making them realize they know nothing about what really goes bump in the dark. It makes one sad to think that the NBC show Constantine will most likely never get picked up for a second season.
As I stated earlier, the animation style is fantastic. DC has a knack for hiring some of the best artists in the business both in their books as well as with their animation. The new Animated Universe has a very distinctive style that mirrors the comics while also giving you just the slightest enough variation to keep things interesting and unique. Although the characters exist in flat cartoon world, they’re personalities and expressions are very three dimensional, leaving the animation to really communicate their emotions in believable, realistic ways. Sure, the voice acting plays a big role in that, but the facial expressions and overall atmosphere seen on screen all combine to make an enjoyable, realistic tone to animation that I feel DC has been able to deliver since Batman The Animated Series. Another big contributor to the tone and atmosphere is the musical score. I was very pleased to hear the familiar tones and twangs that resembled the Constantine show I loved so much sprinkled all throughout. The music really feels mystical and mysterious, yet fun and adventurous. The composer also made an interesting choice by applying electronic elements into each song, leaving the main theme and action sequences to have a very dubstep feel to them. It helped to bridge the gap between paranormal demons and wizards to superheroes.
The two main complaints I had heard from skeptical fans before this movie’s release were the R rating and the fact that Batman – a character many believe to be becoming too heavily saturated – seemed to play such a large role. The Dark Knight does indeed take a very upfront, starring role in this film but once John Constantine is introduced, he takes a step to the side. His main purpose is to keep the audience as well as the film grounded in a more objective perspective that is contrary to the very magical and supernatural happenings of the paranormal aspect of the DC Universe. His involvement is brought about due to his connection to Zatanna. It is implied that they have a history which comic book fans can attest to and he seeks her out in hopes of finding Constantine. I’m confident that those who complained about Batman’s presence in this movie will be pleasantly surprised by his contribution and lack thereof. As for the R rating, I don’t see much reason to complain. When the film adaptation of The Killing Joke was released, it was clear that they tried maybe a little too hard to make that film adult and mature, thinking the R rating could make fans of the graphic novel even more enticed to see it. However, that is not the case with JLD. This movie is not for children and younger audiences. It isn’t scary by any means, but it does delve into obscure, darker themes as well as feature some graphic violence. And the beginning of the movie shows some brutal crimes that I feel younger fans shouldn’t be subjected to.
Overall, I found Justice League Dark to be a very enjoyable experience. It had enough fan service to leave me grinning and even giggling with glee at times. However, it doesn’t allow the fan service to overshadow the plot at all, leaving room for some fun twists and really memorable character driven moments. The cast of mostly B and C list characters was so brilliantly portrayed in ways that can only be done in animation. The plot was original if not a bit straight forward and helped introduce a larger world of magic and darkness to this franchise of films. My enjoyment level throughout was about a 9/10 due to my love for Batman and Constantine specifically. As far as how I’d rate the film, I definitely believe it deserves a 8/10. It definitely wasn’t the best animated film I’ve seen but it was fun and really well done. I highly recommend it to hardcore and casual fans alike. It’s a new take on a familiar style that I feel everyone will find refreshing to say the least.