Overall Score: B
With Warner Bros. developing a live action Justice League movie, Justice League: War is a perfect source for them to draw ideas from. Rather than attempt to introduce origin stories for each hero (with the exception of one) War focuses on the origin of the League itself. War’s fast paced action, simple plot, and surprisingly interesting character dynamics showcase all the things make comic books fun and show why DC’s heroes have endured for so many decades. While the voice acting falls flat in some areas and dialogue feels forced at times, it doesn’t take away from the overall fun this film offers.
For some reason, many creators think that origin stories have to be filled with foreshadowing, secret origins, and plot twists. The truth is that many of the best origin stores are simple. Superman is the last survivor of an Alien Race. Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider, and feels responsible for the death of his uncle. Tony Stark built a fucking super suit. I love the more adult interpretations we get from films like Man of Steel but there were times during Man of Steel I caught myself thinking, “When the hell is Clark going to put on the freak’n cape?!” War takes a more direct approach; “Darkseid is here, bitches!” is basically how the film opens up. Within the first five minutes we have a fight scene that forces two heroes to team-up. As the invasion continues, more heroes are forced into the fight, and they quickly realize that as individuals they can’t hope to win. That’s your plot. You don’t need to know where Wonder Woman comes from, and you don’t need to know how Shazam got his powers. If you want to know those things, look’em up on Wikipedia. It was refreshing to have a story about the Justice League, that was actually about the Justice League, instead of a story about how each hero got their powers.
This film is going to cause a division among fans. In War, our heroes kill, and most of them are pretty good at it. While some fans will approve on the more modern takes of the heroes (especially fans of Man of Steel and the new 52 version of Wonder Woman) many fans will not approve of Wonder Woman decapitating enemies or Superman disintegrating foes. While the voice acting often fell flat or forced causing some scenes to lose their impact, the chemistry between the characters themselves was nothing short of classic. The Flash quickly befriended everyone, while Batman and Green Lantern battled egos. Green Lantern ends up stealing the show, in no small part due to how he naturally bounces dialogue off his teammates.
Many writers have said many of the best movie monsters are like natural disasters; they appear without explanation, immediately destroy everything in their path, and have no clear means of defeat. In the comic books, despite Darkseid being known as “The most dangerous threat in the DC universe” there are few stories I have read where that holds true. I recall a Superman/Batman issue where Darkseid’s face was kissing Superman’s fist on nearly every page. His reputation as DC’s premier villain was fading. War threw Darkseid back to the top of the food chain. As Darkseid floated in the air, his mere sight would level buildings. He literally battled some of the heroes with his hands behind his back. He didn’t have an elaborate plan or a sympathetic backstory. Darkseid’s story is, “I am here to kick your ass. What up?” And quite frankly, that’s all a Justice League villain needs to be. A threat so great, Superman and Batman can’t stop it alone.
Fight Scenes: A
Say what you will about the DC heroes killing creatures, but the fight scenes were fantastic! We get an actual Batman vs Superman fight, Cyborg’s powers in action are freak’n cool, and I’ve never seen Green Lantern’s constructs used so fluidly in an animated feature. War makes the powers of our heroes come alive so that the next time you read them in a comic book, a part of you will feel cheated.
It’s clear from the beginning that War is an attempt to modernize characters many have viewed as “out-of-date.” War succeeds when it simply tries to tell a comic book story set in present day. War fails when it attempts to be more “adult.” Sprinkled throughout the story are characters yelling “Damn it!” or “Shit” but they never feel organic. In one scene we hear Green Lantern say, “Let’s rumbas spooky,” while in another scene he says, “Stab that son of a bitch in the eye!” The use of vulgar words comes off as if a middle schooler was hired to throw in a few curse words where he thought they would sound cool. Another example of right idea/wrong delivery was when a throw away character said Wonder Woman dressed like a whore. Her costume has always been the subject of feminist debate, so I appreciate DC’s attempt to break the fourth wall by having someone within the story address it. My problem is Wonder Woman’s response to “You look like a whore.” We have Wonder Woman called a whore and the next scene she is eating ice cream with a 10 year old girl. I shit you not, that was the transition. Rather than take an opportunity to fully address her costume, or give a solid reason for her garb, Wonder Woman says, “This outfit makes me feel powerful.” and then she leaves for ice cream. It was a missed opportunity for something bigger.
The new 52: B
The whole reason DC launched “The New 52” was in order to make their comic book line “new reader” friendly. After watching War, the viewer has a solid image of modern day DC comics and should be able to transition into the books without being confused as to why Green Lantern is a different ethnicity. The decision to replace Aquaman with Shazam is a little disheartening; especially after all the work DC has done to improve Aquaman’s status.
Over All Score: B
When you watch Justice League: War you get what you wanted. You see your favorite heroes kicking ass and taking names. This film isn’t going to replace the fond memories of Justice League Unlimited or Young Justice, but it will quickly show new audiences all the things we love about comic book super heroes.