Warning: Spoilers ahead
DC Universe Animated Original Movie series’ newest offering, Justice League: War, may just be their best offering yet. And that is saying something given that this is the 18th film in that series.
The foundation for the film is not one we’re unaccustomed to: regular civilians fear superheroes. Batman is hounded by Gotham Police and Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) by the United States Air Force. People are protesting Wonder Woman in DC for being dangerous and an economic liability – the property damage caused by superheroes. All of them are unconnected, moving parts within this world. However, Darkseid, one of the most powerful villains in comics, is set to invade the earth, utilize terraforming and move on to the next world to conquer.
Well, not if our, as of yet, Justice League, has anything to say about it.
Batman is not the uber Batman we have seen in other incarnations, mostly the comics or perceived as in popular culture. He is the World’s Greatest Detective that knows enough about each of the soon-to-be Justice League members, including Superman.
At one moment in the early stages of the film, Batman and Green Lantern are fighting Superman because they all see each other as threats. Superman is self-assured, confident and quite easily dodges the attacks from both Batman and Green Lantern. Quite frankly, they are not in his league (no pun intended) when it comes to a straight up fight with him. Yet, to get Superman under control, Batman isn’t characterized as superior in fighting skills or strength or ingenuity – there are no kryptonite rings here – instead, Batman stops Superman in his flight path toward him by saying, “Clark.” To which Superman replies, after x-raying him, “Bruce Wayne.”
This is the type of characterization in a DC film that I can get behind. Batman is not on Superman’s level in a fight; he’s just not, but he still brings a lot to the table, nonetheless. Mostly, in this film, he helps Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern. He constantly reminds Hal to “focus” in order to substantiate the power of his Green Lantern ring. Moreover, he draws a similarity between them that hit deep: When you strip it all away, they’re both mere humans alongside superhuman beings and a God. In order to defeat Darkseid, Hal needs to look beyond himself at the bigger picture and stop trying to prove his worth.
Likewise in terms of characterization, they tackled a major criticism of Wonder Woman almost from the get-go of her first appearance. Some burly dude is arguing against Wonder Woman atop a car amidst protesters and says, “You dress like a whore.” That seems to be a common complaint against Wonder Woman; her style of dress is much different than her male counterparts. However, she counters by saying it makes her feel powerful, so who are we to question it? Plus, you’ll notice who Wonder Woman seems to resemble: Gal Gadot, the actress to play her in the upcoming 2016 Superman/Batman film. I don’t know if that was intentional, but along with the rest of the Justice League, they are drawn quite realistically and normalized inasmuch as superheroes can be. They are not freakishly huge or disproportioned or anything such as that.
Wonder Woman in the film:
And she kicks ass, too. If anything, she is the most ass-kicking superhero in the film slicing bad guys with her sword, lassoing them with ease and even saving the President of the United States amid Air Force One.
But in the end, since he is the most powerful, the story came down to Superman. Darkseid for obvious reasons wanted to turn Superman bad, so he captured him. Batman has the forethought to know what Darkseid wants to do and goes undercover as a civilian to rescue Superman. This is bad-ass. He’s a normal human fighting amongst alien creatures including the most powerful villain in the DC Universe. All to rescue Superman because Batman knows Superman is the key to a Justice League victory along with them finally realizing they are stronger together than apart.
It’s a comic book movie, so of course they prevail in the end. That’s no surprise, but the journey to get there was terrific. I felt each character, especially the holy trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) were depicted to the truest form of their comic book incarnations. The film was nonstop action from the get-go until the ceremony honoring the Justice League at the end. Granted, they still didn’t refer to themselves in that manner (Shazam/Captain Marvel calls them “The Super Seven”). The voice acting was spot on. I especially liked Alan Tudyk as Superman and Michelle Monaghan as Wonder Woman, but they were all good.
Among the annals of DC offerings, I would rank this one right there with the more recent Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (see my review here) or 2011’s Superman vs. The Elite. Basically, if you manage to get Superman and his interaction with Batman right, we’re off to get a good start. Add in a sensible and strong portrayal of Wonder Woman, nonstop action, realistic animation, good voice acting and a fun story, and then we’re looking at one of the best DC’s put out. Here is to hoping the live-action can follow the strength of these animated offerings.
(Also, be on the lookout for a short bit after the credits roll. I can’t wait for the sequel.)