Justice League: War Blu-ray ReviewFebruary 13, 2014
Back in 2011, DC Comics re-launched its comics line with The New 52, allowing the creators a clean slate with which to work from. DC’s artists and writers worked together to create a new vision of their heroes, with updated origin stories and a fresh design. Justice League: War taps into The New 52’s re-envisioned universe to create a remarkable origin tale, where the heroes are first learning about each other’s existence. They’re definitely not all buddies at first, but with the threat of the powerful Darkseid and his relentless army looming on the horizon, the team of Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, Shazam, Superman, Green Lantern, and Cyborg needs to quickly learn how to work together.
Justice League: War is based off of the Justice League: Origin comic from The New 52, created by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. If you’ve read the comic, then you’ll notice that Aquaman is missing here — he has been replaced by Shazam. I’m not entirely sure why they made this change, but the dynamic between Cyborg (who has just gotten his powers – this is just as much his origin tale as the team’s) and Shazam works really well, as his child alter-ego Billy Batson is a huge fan of Vic Stone as a football star before his transformation. There is a hint of Aquaman in a post-credits sequence, and we’ll surely see him in an upcoming animated film.
Justice League: War has a great cast of voice talent, featuring Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova) as Batman, Justin Kirk (Weeds) as Green Lantern, Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings, TMNT) as Shazam, Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) as Cyborg, Michelle Monaghan (Mission Impossible III) as Wonder Woman, Christopher Gorham (Covert Affairs) as Flash, and Alan Tudyk (Suburgatory) as Superman. Though these new voices take a bit of getting used to, everyone here does a solid job and fills their roles well. Special mention needs to go to Justin Kirk for turning in a show-stealing, hilarious representation of Hal Jordan, which was sorely needed after the travesty that was the Green Lantern live-action film. Surprisingly, Green Lantern gets a lot of time to shine here, perhaps even more so than Batman and Superman — and yet he’s not on the box art. Hmm.
The film is grounded by Cyborg, who starts out as the everyman who learns all the superhero stuff along with the audience as the story plays out. While all the other superheroes are seemingly still in their Year One phase, Cyborg is the only origin we get to actually witness. The film spends a fair bit of time with Vic before he gains his powers, when he’s just a gifted football player for his high school team. Vic’s father is buried in his work, and sees his son’s football achievements as meaningless in a world full of superpowered beings. When Vic confronts his father after another no-show at his latest game, an altercation leads to Vic being gravely wounded and exposed to alien radiation. When Vic’s father tries to save his life with nanomachine technology and other sciency stuff, he transforms into Cyborg.
Cyborg enters the fray as a giant hulking beast, smashing Parademons like flies and lumbering around trying to get his bearings and figure out what’s happened to him. Over the course of Justice League: War, Vic’s body transforms into sleeker, more agile versions as he grows more comfortable with his abilities and his new friends.
Justice League: War is the latest DC animated film from director Jay Oliva, who has brought us some fantastic adaptations such as Batman: Under The Red Hood, The Dark Knight Returns, and Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox. He once again creates a tight, cohesive narrative while packing the film with plenty of high-octane action choreography. Oliva seems comfortable in the director’s chair by now, and wisely distributes screen time amongst the heroes. Shazam and Cyborg get the most face time, as they are unfamiliar at this point to a wider audience, but well-established heroes like Batman and Superman hardly have any introduction at all, because honestly, who doesn’t know these guys after countless mainstream films and reboots? While the film is essentially a shot-for shot remake of the comic, there’s plenty of great dialog and fight sequences for everyone from Superman to Wonder Woman (who is a total badass here). Speaking of Wonder Woman, she sports a bit of a reworked costume in this film, which looks really cool.
Justice League: War packs some interesting extras. Creating Heroes: The Life and Art of Jim Lee is essentially a biopic for the legendary comic artist, lasting around 45 minutes and delving into everything from his beginnings as an artist to his time at Image Comics with Todd McFarlane and just about everything in between. We learn about how Jim’s parents wanted him to become a doctor, and his struggles to gain traction as an artist with numerous rejection letters from Marvel and DC Comics before finally breaking through. We see the evolution of his art style, as he goes from emulating the styles of his heroes to forming his own unique visual style. It also talks a bit about his importance in reworking the DC universe for The New 52, and his insistence for day-and-date digital comics for the company, which led to a real boom in business for them.
Deconstructing Justice League: War has Jim Lee and director Jay Oliva breaking down the film, and explaining things like Cyborg’s transformation, the absence of Aquaman, and the differences between the comic and film adaptation. There are some interesting bits of information here, but the same can’t be said for Justice League: War Act D – From Animatic to Pencil Test, which has Oliva talking by himself about the process from storyboard to final film. There really isn’t a whole lot for him to say, and eventually Oliva runs out of things to talk about, as he just leaves us hanging to watch the remaining 15 minutes in silence. Yawn. Beyond that, there’s a few bonus cartoons from the Warner Bros./ DC Animation vault, and a sneak peek at the upcoming animated film Son of Batman.
Overall, Justice League: War is a standout animated feature that any DC Comics fan will want to own. Green Lantern and Cyborg are the standout characters here, but the team as a whole gets to shine in this story. Here’s hoping that the eventual Justice League live-action film is as fun and successful as this.