Justice League Dark: Apokolips War
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: May 5 – Digital; May 19, 2020 – 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray
Synopsis: Culminating a six-year animated journey that began with the release of Justice League: War in 2014, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War finds Earth decimated after intergalactic tyrant Darkseid has devastated the Justice League in a poorly executed war by the DC Super Heroes. Now the remaining bastions of good – the Justice League, Teen Titans, Suicide Squad and assorted others – must regroup, strategize and take the war to Darkseid in order to save the planet and its surviving inhabitants. This is truly the war to end all wars, and only the victor will live to enjoy the spoils.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War features the largest Super Hero cast in the history of DC Universe Movies with dozens of actors/characters spotlighted in a grand ensemble of talent reprising their roles from this six-year story continuum. Matt Ryan, Jerry O’Connell, and Taissa Farmiga anchor the cast as Constantine, Superman and Raven, respectively – the triumvirate determined to assemble the forces necessary to lead humanity’s final attack. Alongside that trio are the long-running core of Justice League voices — Jason O’Mara as Batman, Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Shemar Moore as Cyborg and Christopher Gorham as The Flash – as well as JL-adjacents Rebecca Romijn and Rainn Wilson as the voices of Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, respectively.
Tony Todd is the voice of the film’s key villain, Darkseid. The cast also boasts appearances by Camilla Luddington as Zatanna, Ray Chase as Jason Blood/Etrigan, Roger R. Cross as John Stewart & Swamp Thing, Liam McIntyre as Captain Boomerang, Hynden Walch as Harley Quinn, Stuart Allan as Robin/Damian, Sachie Alessio as Lady Shiva, and John DiMaggio as King Shark.
Directors Matt Peters and Christina Sotta helm Justice League Dark: Apokolips War from a script by Ernie Altbacker and Mairghread Scott, who is also credited with creating the story. Amy McKenna is producer, and Jim Krieg is co-producer. Executive Producers are Sam Register and James Tucker.
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Justice League Dark: Apokolips War Animated Feature Review
By James Harvey
Unforgiving, brutal, but ultimately hopeful, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War wraps up the in-continuity DC Universe Movie titles on an ambitious note as our heroes face their biggest threat ever (no hyperbole here, folks). Mixing together big epic moments with compelling character beats, the movie brings an end to the universe birthed from Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox by embracing the finality of movie’s plot and going for broke in a riveting (and surprisingly funny at times) adventure where it truly feels like nobody is safe. Another strong outing from the acclaimed movie line, even if it stumbles on occasion, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War brings everyone together for one last exhilarating ride.
Loosely inspired by Justice League: The Darkseid War Saga, the Justice League amasses an army to finally take down Darkseid before he can set his devious plans for Earth in motion. To say things go bad is an understatement. Countless heroes are killed or captured, and earth falls under the rule of the power-mad despot. Two years later, the universe’s remaining heroes and a band of rebels plan one last desperate assault to put an end to Darkseid’s rule before the Earth is no more. What follows is, essentially, one last tour of this universe, this continuity, as our heroes prepare for an epic-scale suicide run.
Please note that while this review will be as spoiler-free as possible, it may contain some minor spoilers. Proceed with caution if you want to go into the film entirely blind.
Directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta, with the story by Mairghread Scott, who co-wrote the teleplay with Altbacker, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War brings together the traditional Justice League along with the unofficial “Justice League Dark” team, the Teen Titans, and the Suicide Squad for their respective last hurrahs. Key members from nearly each ‘team’ make up the core of the amassed forces, primarily Constantine, Superman, Raven, Damian and Etrigan, but each member is struggling with their personal demons, dealing with the fallout of what went wrong two years ago. Superman has been stripped of his power and left to walk in Earth a symbol of Darkseid’s dominance, while Raven’s ability to hold her father at bay continues to slip. Constantine’s actions during the initial strike has driven him to drink away the apocalypse with a depressed Etrigan in tow. Meanwhile, Damian is in a somewhat self-imposed exile, dealing with losing his family and blaming himself for not speaking up against the doomed attack (“An army without killers is no army at all,” the Son of Batman says). Each member is struggling with their personal demons, dealing with the consequences of their own respective failures.
Giving us these character beats not only reinforces the film’s thematic elements of loss, failure and hope, but also puts our heroes in a situation where we’re not entirely sure they can succeed at the end of the day. Select characters outside the core group also get at least a moment or two to shine, giving them one last epic beat or poignant moment to go out on. Unfortunately, given the legitimately enormous cast size, there are some fan-favorites whose appearances amount to no more than a silent and brief cameo.
Considering the film’s huge scope and hefty cast, there’s nary a wasted minute during this unrelenting movie’s 90-ish minute runtime. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War has a lot of ground to cover, and the work by the creative to make sure every minute counts is impressive. This is especially true as, with multiple viewings, some scenes take on a bit of a different meaning once the entire story plays out. Also, the film’s decision to lay out what went wrong during the Justice League’s initial assault, and its subsequent fall out, with flashbacks littered throughout the film was a smart approach. It keeps the desperation of the situation at the forefront while being conscious of the limited space the creative team has to tell their story.
Sure, seeing the whole battle unfold as it happens could’ve made for a great set piece, but that would’ve required a lot of time that film doesn’t have and, honestly, it (personally) would’ve become tiresome to endure all that extended non-stop carnage. Presenting it in flashbacks, keeping the horrific events lingering throughout the film and reminding the audience that we’ve only seen a fraction of the horrors, is more than enough to elicit chills. Besides, even given that, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War doesn’t shy away of the cost our heroes pay for their blunder.
For those worried Justice League Dark: Apokolips War might be too grim, given its content, the film does sprinkle humorous moments throughout to keep it from being overwhelmingly depressing. There are plenty of jokes and scene-stealers to expertly break the tension and allow for a glimmer of levity amidst all the darkness.
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None of these stakes or levity would matter if the audience doesn’t care about the characters. Rest assured, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War does right by its core cast. Superman, Constantine, Raven, Damian and Etrigan all get satisfying, effective moments during their desperate journey to stop Darkseid. Each member of the movie’s core team was front and center for at least one other animated feature, and that history carries over here to great effect. Damian’s storyline in this continuity really comes into play in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, leading to some brutally tragic scenes between he, Batman and even Nightwing. Since this is the final story for this specific continuity, the creative team clearly made sure to make these characters’ final moments count, and they nail it. During the first watch it’s evident a lot of work was done to balance the wealth of material Justice League Dark: Apokolips War has to cover. However, on subsequent viewings, the work becomes that much more apparent. The opening scene between Constantine and Zatanna, for example, carries so much more weight as events later in the movie play out. It’s a nice, quiet moment between the two which, upon subsequent viewings, turns into something more bittersweet and tragic.
Not only is the script work impressive – seriously, this must’ve been one of the most complicated DC Universe Movie titles to put together – but the entire cast also goes for broke. Voice director Wes Gleason pulls out consistently great performances from the entire cast, but even so there are some standouts. Jason O’Mara’s turn as Batman here is easily his best since he stepped into the role in Justice League: War, especially his scenes with Stuart Allan’s Damian Wayne, and Matt Ryan continues to be pitch-perfect as Constantine, here bringing a new wrinkle to the character as he struggles to deal with what happened during the botched Justice League mission. Jerry O’Connell proves again to be the absolute right choice to play Superman. He’s able to admirably convey a Man of Steel striving to be a beacon of hope despite suffering a crippling defeat. Naturally, his chemistry with real-life wife Rebecca Romijn, playing Lois Lane, remains as adorable as ever.
While Justice League Dark: Apokolips War has a wealth of strengths, the animation quality is unfortunately not one of them. It’s inconsistent, with the quality varying almost scene to scene. As a result, not every action beat is as strong as it could be, same with some of the film’s quieter months. However, this is the result of the film’s budget limitations, so I imagine any frustration felt by the viewer is likely mirrored by those who worked on the project. That said, the characters and overall designs used for the film are as strong as ever. It’s just a shame the budget doesn’t allow for the film to bring this story completely to life.
Also, the aforementioned flashback approach to filling the viewer in on the Justice League’s disastrous battle, while the smart choice to make, isn’t perfect either. It skimps on the details just a shade too much, making a third act surprise stumble when it doesn’t exactly line up with the events shown. It’s a sound approach to cover the amount of ground the movie has to, but the execution is a shade uneven.
To bring it all together, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is a strong finish for the in-continuity DC Universe Movie titles. It’s thrilling and heartbreaking, and so oppressively dark at times, but the promise of hope and the humor staggered throughout gives the movie the core it needs to be something more than just 90 minutes of gratuitous violence. Not every returning character gets their respective time in the spotlight, but the ones who do make it count. Even though it hits the occasional snag, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is still an enthralling tour around this particular universe one last time.
In a way, this movie is an accurate representation of the in-continuity titles as a whole. Not perfect, but still of strong quality and worth checking out. The titles may have struggled from time to time, with the quality a little rough on occasion, but the creators (under the guiding hand of executive producer James Tucker) were able to figure out what did and didn’t work and fix those issues along the way – such as refining character traits for the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman, among others, through each successive installment – forming these titles into a firm, cohesive universe and, ultimately, one worth caring about. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is not only an engaging story on its own, but it also gives this universe one last well-deserved chance to shine. On that note, pay close attention to the movie’s score. Composer Frederik Wiedmann litters the soundtrack with countless cues and callbacks to the previous in-continuity DC Universe Movie titles.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War makes its mark as an impactful finale to this era of in-continuity DC Universe Movie titles, taking full advantage of its status as the last chapter. It’s utterly jam-packed with neat surprises, cameos and narrative twists and turns that will leave viewers shaken to the core. To bottom-line it, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is a stirring adventure that admirably brings to a close one universe while also leaving viewers eager to see what comes next. Highly Recommended!
Note: Please note that while a digital screener copy of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War was offered by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment for coverage purposes, a purchased digital edition was used for this review.
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