Justice League Dark: a review

justice league dark

 

I have looked forward to watching Justice League Dark since I first heard about it in 2016. This is a Warner Brothers/DC Animation movie, not a live-action film, but it was a story that would have translated well to the big screen. Here’s the elevator pitch: It’s Doctor Strange meets the dark, magic-related roster of DC Comics.

The animation is on the cheap side. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. There are moments that are stunningly animated, but most of it is unimpressive. It never sinks to Hanna-Barbera level, though.

The character design work is pretty cool. I was primed to dislike it by previous DC animated features I’ve watched, but I thought these versions of the characters turned out well. I particularly liked how Etrigan the Demon looked. The traditional Justice League characters make a brief appearance in the story. Well, Batman is featured throughout, so I mean the rest of the normal spandex-wearing crew. I found it odd that the character designs for Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman seem to be based on the live-action costume designs, but that Aquaman is the traditional blonde guy instead of a Jason Momoa type.

Your father’s Justice League is not what is on center stage here. This is Justice League Dark, which means that, other than Batman, the rest of the team is what might be called B-list, or second-tier, DC heroes. Since all of them are related to magic in some way, I couldn’t help but wonder why Shazam (as Captain Marvel is known these days) wasn’t featured instead of Batman. He did get a name check, but never made an appearance. Batman really doesn’t have anything to do with magic, unlike Shazam. I guess the makers of this movie wanted at least one hero with some marquee value.

The remainder of the team consists of John Constantine (voiced by Matt Ryan, the same guy who played Constantine on television), Zatanna, Deadman, Jason Blood/Etrigan the Demon, and Swamp Thing. I was particularly pleased to see Deadman and Etrigan.

The voice work is all top-notch. Marvel defectors Jason O’Mara (the Patriot on Agents of SHIELD) and Rosario Dawson (the Night Nurse on Daredevil/Jessica Jones/Luke Cage/Iron Fist) voice Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively. I guess I should add Alfred Molina to the defector list as well, since Doc Ock is voicing the villain Destiny. Enrico Colantoni, who will always be Keith Mars to me, provides the voice for Felix Faust. Oh, and Jerry O’Connell is the voice of Superman, briefly.

The voice actor I was least sold on when I saw the previews of this feature was Nicholas Turturro, who was cast to play Deadman. Turturro brings a Brooklyn/Italian accent to the role of Boston Brand/Deadman that I initially thought was a bad fit. After watching the movie, I’ve changed my mind. It works okay. It’s not how I imagined the voice when I was reading the Deadman comics rendered by Jim Aparo back in the ’70s, and it’s probably not how anyone named Boston Brand should sound, but Turturro’s voice does differentiate Deadman from the other characters well. And it stopped being an issue for me after ten minutes or so.

The story itself is engaging, with a central mystery that gets a measured reveal. Probably not too surprising if you think about it too much. Personally, I went into it just allowing the story to come to me without trying to figure it out. That’s probably the best way to approach it. It is an R-rated feature, probably for violence since I heard only one swear word in a monster-conjuring scene that could have been lifted from Kevin Smith’s Dogma. Honestly, this could play on television without any cuts whatsoever. The ending is satisfying without being too cloying.

You already know if you like this sort of thing. I liked it enough to recommend it to you now.

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