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Justice League: War (2013)
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/4/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/9/2014
Those who don't know comic books most likely consider them insignificant. Those more familiar with the medium are aware of the creative stories and the work which goes into the art. Those who have followed comics for years know that it is a business and that it can often seem like money drives things. In order to attract new readers, Marvel and DC alike try new stunts every few years. One of their favorite things to do is to "hit reset" and start things over. In 2012, DC "reintroduced" many of its major characters. These ideas have been carried over into a new animated film Justice League: War. Will this new look have any appeal?
As Justice League: War opens, a series of attacks and apparent kidnappings have been plaguing the cities. While investigating this, Batman (voiced by Jason O'Mara) runs into Green Lantern (voiced by Justin Kirk) and the two discover that monsters called "Parademons" are not only attacking people, but leaving bombs behind. The two then look for a so-called alien called Superman (voiced by Alan Tudyk), who supposedly has super-powers. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman (voiced by Michelle Monaghan) is at the White House to answer accusations of property damage by super-humans. Victor "Victory" Stone (voiced by Shemar Moore), a star high-school football player, wins another big game, but the achievement is hollow as his father is once again absent. Billy Batson (voiced by Zach Callison) is at the game, as he's Stone's biggest fan. They will soon find themselves allies, as they join the other heroes and Flash (voiced by Christopher Gorham), in fighting an alien invasion led by Darkseid (voiced by Steve Blum). As Darkseid asserts his dominance, the group must learn to work together.
The conceit of Justice League: War is that it takes place in a world where super-heroes are in their infancy. Wonder Woman is the most high-profile hero, as the public is aware of her, but they fear her. Batman is an urban legend. The Flash is clearly known by the police, but it's unclear what kind of role he's played in the world. Superman is known as an alien, and Green Lantern acts as if he's just gotten his nod as the guardian of our solar system. It's implied that Shazam is making his first appearance in the world, and we get to see Cyborg being created. The other lynchpin here is that none of these heroes have ever met before. This movie is based on a graphic novel entitled Justice League Origin, and that's what we get here -- the very first time that the Justice League worked together (in this universe at least). This approach may anger die-hard Justice League fans, but it's certainly a good jumping off point for newbies and it will serve as a curiosity piece for everyone else.
Just like the Justice League themselves, Justice League: War has its strengths and weaknesses. The highlight of the movie is the bickering relationship between Batman and Green Lantern. In many of the DC animated films, Batman is portrayed as not only dark and brooding, but anti-social and borderline psychotic. Here, he's much more playful and down-to-Earth, which may sound dull, but it makes for such much-needed levity and the way in which Batman constantly rubs Green Lantern the wrong way is very funny. The film also introduces an instant attraction between Superman and Wonder Woman which is interesting and one of those things which seemed really obvious when I would watch Super Friends, but it never materialized. I'm not very familiar with Cyborg, but having his origin unfold adds depth to the story.
So, while the characters add backbone to the story, Justice League: War actually falls apart in the action department. The battle waged against Darkseid just goes on and on, as the heroes throw different tactics at the seemingly invulnerable foe. These scenes just go on and on, making the second half of the movie really drag at times. On one of the special features included on this Blu-ray Disc, Director Jay Oliva mentions that the screenplay simply said something like "big battle ensues" at one point, pointing to the fact that even the writers weren't sure what to do with the action sequences, so we just get a lot of different people punching Darkseid.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love how DC and Warner Home Video make these animated films based on specific comic book stories or series. Ane why wouldn't they? If someone has already written a story which would make a good movie, why go through the trouble of writing a new script? Are you listening to me Marvel? "Kraven's Last Hunt" and "New Ways to Die" would certainly make good movies. While Justice League: War is certainly flawed, it shows that a new spin on an old story can be more than just a cash-grab.
Justice League: War shows that Batman is a skilled pick-pocket on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 18 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The animation is very smooth and we get no jagged lines or stuttering of the image here. The color look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and certain shots show nice depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Given the amount of action in this movie, the stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects are nearly non-stop. The stereo effects show nice separation and we get some detailed effects from the rear channels. The many punches and explosion consistently rock the subwoofer. All of this helps to put us in the middle of the action.
The Justice League: War Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. In "Deconstructing War with Jay Oliva and Jim Lee" (21 minutes), the artist and director watch a few clips from the movie and then compare it to the original comic and discuss what changes were made and why. This is a nice extra which would have fit into any of the previous DCU releases. "Creating Heroes: The Life and Art of Jim Lee" (37 minutes) profiles the famous artist. When you press "Play" on something like this, one can't help but wonder if they will mention Lee's time at Marvel or Image (it does). This looks at Lee's life, his style, and how he progressed through the world of comic books. Jay Oliva narrates "Justice League: War Act D - From Animatic to Pencil Test" (24 minutes) which offers a side-by-side comparison between the rough animated storyboard and the animation done in pencil. The Disc contains bonus episodes from DC TV shows: "Justice League Unlimited: The Destroyer", "Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The Malicious Mr. Mind!", "Young Justice: Invasion - Destiny Calling: Happy New Year", "Young Justice: Invasion - Destiny Calling: Earthlings".
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long