When it comes to superhero comics, at some point you will see a dark future as no matter how bright and optimistic your heroes can be, they will fall into some dark place. That was definitely apparent in last year’s Avengers: Endgame. The first act showed us a world where Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have failed and struggled to move on. Taking cues from the MCU’s spectacular two-part finale, the DC Animated Movie Universe has come to an end with a final battle between the Justice League and arguably the greatest villain in all of the publisher’s history.
As the dark ruler of the planet of Apokolips, Darkseid (voiced by Tony Todd), is planning to conquer Earth. The Justice League, joined by new members John Constatine (Matt Ryan) and his lover Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), plan a counter-attack to Darkseid’s conquest. Two years later, Darkseid has successfully taken over Earth while most of the planet’s superheroes are no more. Whatever survivors there are, including Constantine, heroes plan for one final strike against the army of Apokolips.
Not everyone was on board with the DCAMU which was certainly a departure from the Bruce Timm-produced line-up of adaptations that experimented with styles of animation. Still, there is a surprising consistency in creating a shared universe that does evoke certain storylines from various periods of DC history. I may not have liked every decision the creators have made throughout this run – in particular its strong content of harsh language and bloody violence – but they have stuck to their guns with this. version of the DC comics. It is actually more successful than the live action entries of the DC Extended Universe.
Based on the title of this final installment, which has to pay off on loose ends from across the DCU, it is initially weird to focus on a team of DC supernatural characters that did get their own not-so-great entry in 2017. The film opens with Constantine romancing with Zatanna before being called for the largest ensemble conducted by the Justice League to go up against Darkseid. From start to finish, Constantine is the main character of the film, starting off as the underdog among the other heroes, to then a broken man going on a path of redemption after the League’s brutal defeat. Having portrayed the character in both live-action and animation, Matt Ryan IS John Constantine and despite reading off the script’s occasionally clunky dialogue, he delivers a performance that has attitude and heartfelt emotion.
The most interesting aspect in telling dark future heroes, is showing a side that we wouldn’t expect from our heroes. The remaining heroes are an interesting mashup of players, including a powerless Superman, Etrigan the (drunken) Demon and Damian Wayne, now the leader of the League of Assassins whilst developing feelings towards fellow Teen Titan Raven. Much like Avengers: Infinity War, this film tries to incorporate many characters from earlier installments, the majority of which have non-speaking cameos. It is a finale that tries to give everyone their moment to shine, whether it is Hynden Walch’s annoying vocals as Harley Quinn, or the badassery of resistant leader Lois Lane (voiced once again by Rebecca Romijn).
With so much time spent on the interesting dynamics between the heroes, the villain himself gets the short end of the stick. Based more on the New 52’s version of the character, who is just an all-powerful evil conqueror, Darkseid should be more of a psychological idea that his creator Jack Kirby envisioned. Sure, he and his army of “Paradooms” (genetic hybrids of Parademons and Doomsday) do horrible things. But there is never enough of Darkseid to stand out as a character as full-fledged as Thanos. The Paradooms themselves are a disposable army done in an odd mixture of 2D and 3D animation.
Having reviewed a number of DCAMU films for this website, the direct-to-video animation never gets any better. Not matter how grand they wanted to make Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, the limitations are still there. Plus, emphasizing on graphic violence is an issue I can never get pass. That said, the action sequences can pack a punch with a variety of superpowers thrown into the mix and knows when to hit an emotional sore point.
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