Justice League: War is a considerably faithful adaptation of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's 2011-2012 story arc Justice League: Origin, which ran for six issues and not only kicked off a brand new monthly comic for the League but also the company wide relaunch of DC Comics known as 'The New 52'. Origin stories were altered, the time-line reshuffled, personalities tweaked and beloved characters with long, laborious histories re-thought from the the ground up. The reboot and this storyline in particular produced two sure-fire things: sales and disgruntled fan-boys.
My own opinion on the reboot was mostly one of indifference. My favourite character, Batman, was largely left untouched. Sure, they condensed his entire history (Robins and all) into an absurd five year time span, but he was still the gruff, intelligent Dark Knight who liked to dress in grey and black and fight bad guys, while being surrounded by a great supporting cast. After a few months, you don't even notice the 'stitching' on his new costume. However, other characters, such as Superman and Wonder Woman, were more radically changed and for better or for worse, it's all being shoved in my face with the latest DC Universe Original Movie.
Now, I've always considered myself as someone who is remarkably easy to please. I'm ashamed to say, I was watching Catwoman (2004) the other night and found myself saying, ''Huh, I can kind of see what they were going for in this scene... I mean, they failed, but I can still see it''. Horrendous, I know. However, at the end of the day, it boils down to one thing... Was I entertained? And yes, despite it's many, MANY flaws, I was mildly entertained by Justice League: War.
As the movie opens, it's clear what we are in for; action, action and more action with a few explosions thrown in for good measure. The story is essentially this – Darkseid decides to invade the earth and our seven heroes must find each other and overcome their differences to stop the world from being destroyed. Oh, and Cyborg gets and origin story as well. This tale has been told many times before and often so much more competently, such as in 2001's Justice League: Secret Origins. The story lacks substance and any kind of meaningful cohesion. The film's attempts at drawing some kind of emotional reaction from it's viewers is rather strained with a wafer thin father-son plot involving Silas and Vic. The whole thing certainly pales in comparison to the poignant and heartbreaking backbone of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, concerning Barry and his mother.
As for the all important characterizations, the movie fares somewhat better. Batman Flash, Cyborg and Shazam are all pretty much what you'd expect and hit all the required beats admirably. However, Green Lantern is now an overly arrogant jerk, Superman comes across as a cocky bully (more 16 year old jock than 20 something superhero) and Wonder Woman is a blood-thirsty 8 year old who loves ice-cream. Naturally, you do get used to these new versions as the movie progresses but they are still quite jarring and, at times, unpleasant to watch.
The two plot points that I truly hated and which most definitely soured the movie for me was the sickening puppy dog love romance burgeoning between Superman and Wonder Woman and Superman the murderer rearing his ugly head again. First, the romance – I never liked the idea of Clark and Diana getting involved as it always seem highly forced and unnatural to me. I'm not saying it's a bad plot development, it's just one I don't particularly care for and hope is nipped in the bud as quickly as possible. As for the scene where Superman kills you-know-who, let's just say it was cheap and unnecessary and leave it at that.
While the narrative aspect of this production leaves much to be desired (None of which I blame Heath Corson for, but rather the intrinsic nature of The New 52), the animation fares much better. Not that I'm all that surprised as the rather fantastic Jay Oliva is handling directing duties. He seems incredibly intuitive about this sort of stuff and has a very smart and capable grasp of what works and what doesn't work for these animated features, all the while experimenting and pushing the envelope despite the limited budget. This line is very lucky to have him. The animation is fluid, dynamic and aggressive, expertly bringing the always entertaining (If at times exhausting) fight/battle sequences to life. The background and character designs are mostly adequate. However Gotham and Metropolis looked no different from each other and that can only be described as disappointing after the distinct looks we got in the Bruce Timm cartoons. Plus, as I mentioned before, I really disliked Batman's thin, curvy ears, but apart from that everyone looked quite good.
As usual, Andrea Romano does a pretty good job with the casting and pulls decent performances from all her actors. I found all the voices suitable, which is a relief considering we will soon be hearing more of them in future productions, schedules permitting. While I will always miss Kevin Conroy behind the microphone and believe no one can match his brilliance (certainly at his peak), Jason O' Mara, fellow Irish man, is off to a very promising start and got much better as he went along. Not to mention sounding totally on point in the Son of Batman preview. I can't say I enjoyed Darkseid's modified voice, but then they totally butchered his character anyway so it makes no real difference. A quick shout-out to Kevin Kilesch for a more effective score than his forgettable Superman: Unbound effort.
So ultimately, a disappointing entry in the DCU line, but by no means the terrible abomination I've heard some say it is. It's faults lie in the source material for the most part. I'm still intrigued that it's kicking off a DTV continuity, but it's a shame that it had to be with a League I don't much care for at the moment. A better developed villian and a deeper storyline for our favourite heroes and we could have been looking at a truly promising start. Oh well, here's to ironing out the kinks. In the meantime, I think I'll go watch Justice League: Starcrossed again.