As much as I’ve loved the various Batman and Justice League animated films that have dropped in recent years, I must admit that a sort of repetition had set in. Thankfully, a breath of fresh air has come in the form of Justice League Dark, which shifts the focus to some DC heroes who are lesser known to the mainstream, namely those who deal in mysticism and the occult.
The lone exception to that is, of course, Batman (Jason O’Mara), whose inclusion sparked debate among fans since the movie’s initial announcement. If you’re wondering why anyone would complain about seeing more of the Dark Knight, the simple answer is that he wasn’t a part of this misfit group in the comics. But seeing as how he’s WB’s moneymaker and golden boy, it makes sense from a business standpoint. After all, the average Joe walking around their local retail store is much more likely to pick up a movie on impulse if Batman is on the cover as opposed to, say, Deadman (Nicholas Turturro) or Etrigan (Ray Chase). Simply put, this movie doesn’t exist without Gotham’s Guardian, but it opens the door to all these other characters. See, everybody wins.
At least Batman’s involvement is not without its entertaining aspects. When a supernatural crisis arises that’s out of the Justice League’s, well, league, it’s he who seeks out John Constantine and others to deal with this seemingly demonic threat that he himself refuses to fully acknowledge. It’s no secret that Bruce Wayne tries to rationalize everything as best he can and manages to keep calm when faced with unspeakable horror – even a malevolent poop monster that ravages a hospital. Seriously, it happens and it somehow isn’t campy.
But if this movie belongs to anybody, it certainly is Constantine, who’s voiced by Matt Ryan. Considered by many to be the definitive actor to portray the chainsmoking demonologist, Ryan proves that he owns the role no matter if it be live action or animation. The dark arts are this character’s specialty, so it more so feels like he drives the narrative and Batman is his co-pilot, which kind of works out for the better. Not only that, but his past relationship with Zatanna (Camilla Luddington) – the mistress of magic who’s a highlight in her own right – is hinted at and adds a bit of emotional weight to the film.
I found myself quite pleased with the narrative flow overall, as it enlightened casual viewers to the origins of various members of the team throughout the story as opposed to firing them off one after another at the start. It’s not exactly a detriment, but I had the sense that this deep material needed more room to breathe and the filmmakers did what they could within the allotted 76-minute running time. If animation has any limit, it certainly is budget. On the plus side, it’s highly doubtful that you’ll see the twist coming and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was surprised upon learning what was really going on.
If there’s one thing that really bothered me, it was how we were left wondering what happened to Swamp Thing (Roger R. Cross). The Avatar of the Green makes only two appearances, but not only does he make them count, he also threatens to steal the show. I’m not going to spoil the third act, but I was expecting him to pop up in a mid-credits or post-credits scene that never came. Here’s to hoping he shows up in a sequel or solo outing and we get some resolution.
Now, some of you may think there’s not much of a difference when it comes to watching an animated movie on DVD or Blu-ray, but I assure you that the latter is definitely the way to go here. The use of color in this is remarkably more dazzling than in previous offerings, especially once you start seeing spells cast and the various runes that are involved. Say what you want about X-Men: Apocalypse as an overall product, but that was possibly the prettiest looking superhero film I’ve ever seen in live action and, suffice it to say, Justice League Dark may very well be its animated equivalent in that department.
Even if you’ve started to grow weary of the bonus features included in these offerings, you’ll want to take notice of what’s to be witnessed here because, once again, you’re going to learn things about characters who don’t get as much exposure. For the most part, your lessons are rather brief and that’s quite unfortunate, but make sure you take some time out to watch “The Story of Swamp Thing,” which delves into his history. Not only that, but keen insight is given by co-creator Len Wein and recent artist Kelley Jones.
In the end, Justice League Dark isn’t my favorite DC animated flick (there are so many greats to choose from), but it’s the cycle breaker that I and others need at just the right time. While I’m certainly game to sit through a sequel – and I’m sure one will come if sales figures are good – part of me still wants to see what other corners of the DC Universe that have otherwise been left untouched are ripe for adaptation.
While Justice League Dark is certainly a treat for those who enjoy more obscure DC characters, it's incredibly accessible for casual moviegoers as well.