The eighth of a shared universe that began back at the end of 2011’s stunning Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, this latest animated DC offering decides to explore the more magical and mystical corners of the DC Universe. Pulling its inspiration from the comic book group of the same name, Justice League Dark is very much the DC Universe, just maybe not as some casual viewers will know it.
Plot-wise, the film opens with a world that’s being attacked by eerie, supernatural forces. When this new threat manages to baffle our regular Justice League line-up, Batman (Jason O’Mara) is forced to turn to some of the more unique and darker of the planet’s heroes in order to stop the whole world going to the dogs. And so with that, we see the Caped Crusader join with snarky occult investigator John Constantine (Matt Ryan – who played the character in the sadly-axed live-action Constantine show), magician Zatanna (Camilla Ludington), the ghostly Deadman (Nicholas Turturro), the hulking Etrigan the Demon (Ray Chase), and even Swamp Thing (Roger Cross). Pinpointing malicious sorcerer Felix Faust (Enrico Colantoni) as the man behind these deadly goings-on, it’s down to this ragtag bunch of supposed heroes to work together in taking down Faust and saving humanity. But all is maybe not quite as it seems, as this dark and delicate tale unravels.
From the moment that Justice League Dark opens, it feels different to all that has come before it in this particular strand of the DC Animated Universe and its continuity. Not only are our “heroes” bleaker characters than your regular DC favourites, but the film itself is similarly a more grimy, gritty, and dour effort than what you may be used to. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.
What Justice League Dark manages to do brilliantly is that it introduces us to an array of characters who some viewers will have never even heard of, yet by the time the credits come to a close you’ll be perfectly versed in who the likes of Constantine and Etrigan are. To the credit of Jay Oliva – who, in amongst his vast credits, helmed the aforementioned excellent Flashpoint Paradox as well as the mesmerising two-part adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns – and his team, they manage to skillfully balance introducing their core characters in a way that tells you all you need to know about them while not having the plot drag. And all of the group are given relatively equal screen time and presence, meaning none of the JL Dark crew feel like afterthoughts or weak links.
It could be said, however, that the use of Batman here is maybe a little shoehorned in purely to give some instant name value and recognition to viewers, but it’s understandable that the World’s Greatest Detective – one of the most well-known characters in pop culture as a whole – is used as the “in” to the Justice League Dark team. And it’s also the Dark Knight’s dynamic with the abrasive, sarcastic Constantine that stands as one of the true highlights of a film that pleases on many levels. Bats as the straight man to Hellblazer’s antics and attitude is the perfect choice, particularly as neither of the pair have a reputation for being exactly a people person.
Gushing with rich, compelling landscapes that are delicately constructed, Justice League Darks looks absolutely phenomenal, with the picture as a whole having an otherworldly feel to it. Added to this, the action, much like some of the other recent DC animated movies, is brutal when called for – with violence a plenty and even some choice language thrown in for good measure (that’d be Constantine’s fault!). And then there’s the music score by Robert J. Kral, which is pitch-perfect and only adds further to the surreal nature of the film.
Full of twists and turns, and making each member of the Justice League Dark team feel like a genuine big deal – particularly the masterful use of Swamp Thing – Justice League Dark is a great introduction to some lesser-known DC characters, and here’s hoping that Constantine and Co. are utilized in further animated outings down the line.
JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JAY OLIVA / SCREENPLAY: ERNIE ALTBACKER / STARRING: MATT RYAN, CAMILLA LUDDINGTON, JASON O’MARA, RAY CHASE, NICHOLAS TURTURRO, ENRICO COLANTONI, ROGER CROSS / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 6TH