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ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Justice League: War
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: February 4th, 2014

Synopsis: When the powerful Darkseid and his massive, relentless forces invade Earth, a group of previously unaligned super heroes – misunderstood and, in some cases, hunted by the authorities – discover the only way to fend off the attack will be to work together as a cohesive unit. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Shazam and, in his origin story, Cyborg combine their respective talents in an all-out battle to save the planet. Based on the 2012 graphic novel, “Justice League: Origin,” by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee, Justice League: War provides a glance into the world before the Justice League was created, and offers the initial animated incarnation of DC Entertainment’s “The New 52.”

The cast features primetime television stars Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova, Vegas, Life on Mars) as Batman, Christopher Gorham (Covert Affairs) as Flash, Justin Kirk (Weeds) as Green Lantern, Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) as Cyborg, Michelle Monaghan (Mission Impossible III, Gone Baby Gone) as Wonder Woman, Alan Tudyk (Suburgatory, 42, Serenity) as Superman, Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) as Shazam, and Rocky Carroll (NCIS) as Silas Stone. On the villainous side, popular voice actor Steve Blum (Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox) provides the voice of Darkseid, and Bruce Thomas (Legally Blonde, Army of Darkness) gives voice to Desaad.


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Justice League: War Feature Review
By James Harvey

Everything old is new again as Justice League: War presents an updated take on the first meeting of the fabled superteam the Justice League. Egos collide and punches are thrown as these young heroes need to figure out how to overcome the threat of Darkseid and his mindless Parademon minions before Earth is nothing more than a memory. And, in all honesty, it's a fine diversion that's pretty enjoyable to watch despite the paper-thin story and a few production hiccups. While not the most enthralling DC Universe Animated Original Movie release, it's worth a spin.

Justice League: War, which adapts the very first "The New 52" story-arc Justice League: Origin, wastes no time getting to the action. The movie starts out with Green Lantern chasing down a mysterious cloaked figure and the film rarely slows down from there. We're quickly introduced to Batman, The Flash, Cyborg, Superman, and the rest of the team and, before you know it, they're all working together to try and stop an invading horde of Parademons and the Big Bad himself, Darkseid. We get a few quiet moments here and there, namely with Victor Stone (Cyborg) and Billy Batson (Shazam), but those are few and far in between as they too find themselves thrust into the action. The fact that the events of this movie take place in the span of just a few hours really emphasizes the fast-paced nature of the movie. With the exception of Cyborg, who nabs the most focus of the movie, character origins are merely hinted at, if at all mentioned.

The new harsher tone of this world is also quickly established with costumed heroes feared or ridiculed by the populace. An early save made by Green Lantern is deflated when the victim asks what does the hero want in return, then complains about being left on a roof-top after said rescue attempt. Seconds later, both Green Lantern and Batman find themselves being pursued by the police while trying to apprehend a mysterious cloaked figure. The film lets the viewer know right away that heroes are not liked in this world, nor do they tend to like each other. Batman's first meeting with Superman ends with the Man of Steel nearly choking out the Dark Knight. Wonder Woman punches out Shazam for making a mistake, and The Flash tries to outrace Superman. It seems to be a prerequisite for these type of films, but it's thankfully not overbearing or even cumbersome.

This film will be a bit of an adjustment for some long-time fans. The Justice League here doesn't act like the one we grew up with, be it the kid-friendly Superfriends version or the more recent, complex Justice League Unlimited team. While the film does an excellent job at making each character distinct from each other, and establishes explicit personalities for each, the results can be a bit jarring at times (given that said personalities are a bit abrasive). Batman remains the ultimate human, able to do almost anything without the aid of super-abilites. Meanwhile, Superman flaunts his power and puffs out in his chest, intimidating the others around him to make sure they know he's the "big gun." Shazam is a bit hot-headed and green, but does bring some levity. The Flash plays up his scientific know-how for the most part, while Wonder Woman's Amazon Warrior background and naivete of "man's world" are front and center. Cyborg gets the brunt of the character development here, proving himself to arguably be the biggest hero of them all. Green Lantern is basically a jerk with a power-ring, but he easily gets the film's biggest laughs. The gif below is but a taste of what the ring-slinger goes through.

If any character comes off as unlikable, it'd have to be Superman. Sure, he helps our heroes win the day, but at the same time he's a pretty egotistical jerk. No longer is he the All-American hero, but instead a super-powered hero with an ego who knows how to throw his weight around. I understand this new take on Superman is an attempt to humanize him, and to an extent it does, but it's also woefully unnecessary for a character we're meant to inspire hope from. If you read the current "The New 52" titles from DC Comics, this won't be anything new. The rest of the cast, while a bit rough at times, are pretty on the mark.

Justice League: War actually improves upon the source material in a few ways. The connection between Shazam and Cyborg feels genuine and justifies bringing in the Big Red Cheese as opposed to Aquaman (who was originally part of the League's line-up). And while the movie does make a few changes here and there, mainly done for the sake of keeping the pace throughout and filtering out some of the ongoing subplots from the comic, it sticks very close to the source material - usually lifting dialogues and scenes right off the page.

Sadly, the weaker portrayal of Darkseid from the source material also sticks. They give the character a bit more to do, but he still feels a bite more depowered than he should be. Darkseid is supposed to be the ultimate bad guy to the DC Universe, and he's still a viable threat here, but he's just not as big a contender as he should be. Still, the writer behind Justice League: War does the best with the material he has to work with and does an admirable job.

The creative team behind Justice League: War really help sell the movie. The dynamic directing of Jay Oliva does help mask some of the story's shortcomings. Again, the plot is just a bit too light, and the villain handled a bit too easily, but the direction is just solid from start to finish. The action is exciting, the choreography excellent, and the overall approach to the film top-notch. The voice acting is well done for the most part, though not perfect. Alan Tudyk's Superman takes a bit of getting used to, and Michelle Monaghan takes awhile to really sink into the role of Wonder Woman (which isn't a surprise given the uneven portrayal), but the rest of the casting and performances are well done. Major credit to actor Justin Kirk for absolutely nailing every single line as Green Lantern, as he gets some of the film's biggest laughs on solid delivery alone. A bit rough at times, but overall a good job. The film's score is nicely handled, sounding like a cross between a traditional synth score mixed in with some edgier music.

The character design on the film, I imagine, will be one of the most talked about aspects of the movie given the obvious updated takes on the costumes. Taking note from the "The New 52" design updates in the current DC Comics titles, many of the outfits have been slightly redesigned or updated. Batman and Superman have lost the outside trunks and get added costume detail, and Shazam has gained a hoodie. Cyborg is a bit more beefed up, The Flash has some extra lightning-esque designs added to his suit, and Green Lantern's costume has some extra line-work added. Wonder Woman's costume is also tweaked and, frankly, it looks pretty good. And I know I said this in my JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time review, but I must be one of the few folks who actually doesn't mind the collar or missing trunks on Superman's current costume redesign.

Overall, Justice League: War is another good entry for the DC Universe Original Movie line. Not the best, not even close, but it's worth checking out. I wouldn't call it bland, but it's also not spectacular. At times the movie feels a bit juvenile, with the swearing and fighting, but the fast pace helps glaze that over. It makes for a solid 80-minute diversion, providing some nice fisticuffs and solid animation. Honestly, I can see this being a divisive movie, especially for fans who don't enjoy the current "The New 52" titles from DC Comics. This film is heavily influenced by those titles, and it shows from minute one. Personally, it's no issue to me nor did it hamper my enjoyment of the film. For those unsure about picking this film up, I'd recommend a rental. For the rest, it goes without saying that Justice League: War comes Recommended to own.

[ Continue on to the Justice League: War Blu-ray review ]

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