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“Justice League: Dark” – Magical fluff, or overload?

I have made no secret over the fact that, when it came to comic books, I read DC. Yes, I am a huge fan of the Marvel movies, and not so much of the recent crop of DC movies coming out of Warner Bros. Studios these days, but aside from Doctor Strange, I was not a Marvel comic book reader. My loyalty was with DC and their particular brand of heroes, especially those that dealt with the magic and/or supernatural. Also, many of the Warner Bros. animated superhero shows, as well as the direct-to-video animated movies, have been quite outstanding. So after the huge success of the recently released Batman: The Killing Joke the Warner Bros. animated division decided to test the waters that fans have been begging to see on the screen for some time, and that is Justice League: Dark.

Doing this in the media of animation seems like the perfect idea. The world of animation allows for the filmmakers to go into areas that would either cost a fortune on the big screen (thereby constituting the film as a possible financial risk), or it would look ridiculous. By making this latest film as an animated feature it allows for the costs to be minimal at best, as well as allowing for their imaginations to run wild.

The voice talent for this film is made up of some well established voice actors, but probably the one that garnered the most excitement was the return of Matt Ryan in the role he made famous on television, John Constantine. Others include cameo appearances of Superman voiced by Jerry O’Connell, Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars, Galaxy Quest) as Felix Faust, Rosario Dawson (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders) as Wonder Woman, and Jason O’Mara (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Batman. It is here that we start to see how this movie clearly takes place in “its own universe,” rather than part of any larger DCAEU (DC Animated Extended Universe).

While this film does provide a brief background primer on most of the characters that make up this team (particularly that of Jason Blood/Etrigan, Zatanna, Deadman, and Swamp Thing), this information is brief and instead throws the viewer fully in to the characters as they are today. For someone who is well versed in DC lore, this is not a problem. I knew who all of these people were, but because Keith (my Gay Geek husband) was not I found myself having to frequently stop the film in order to help fill in the gaps. That is the huge difference between what Warner Bros. puts out as opposed to Marvel Studios. Those movies are made for both the true blue comic book fan, as well as the newbie, to watch and enjoy on multiple levels.

The animation in this movie is right up there with many of their other animated TV shows and features. If there is one thing that Warner Bros. gets right, it is their consistency in animation quality. There were many times where it was an absolute joy to watch. There were other times where it was overload, and that has more to do with the story than just the animation. With Doctor Strange, and all of its fantastic imagery and magical concepts, that film was actually a bit light (for my tastes) on its use of magic. That was not the case with Justice League: Dark. In fact, the use of magic almost created a feeling of sensory overload. This is the danger when crafting any story, be it television or film, when it comes to the use of magic. The writer/filmmaker needs to strike a perfect balance when it comes to the use of the arcane arts. It’s too easy to go overboard, or to hold back. While I felt that Doctor Strange held back just a bit, Justice League: Dark went too far, especially in terms of magical battles between good and evil. The artwork was beautiful in the creation of magical mandalas, but it was basically power vs. power instead of the clever use of magic to manipulate the surroundings towards one’s advantage. During a big battle between Zatanna and Felix Faust, all I could think was Deus Ex Machina. The portrayal of Swamp Thing, less as a character and more as an elemental being (which to some degree he did become), gave him almost God-like powers in his battle against Destiny. The scenes were too much and too fast, making it virtually impossible for me to actually follow the battle itself. The movie also did something that I am not a fan of, and that is the killing of a primary character, thereby making it more of a standalone story than one that fits in to the greater DCAEU. I won’t say who, or even what, has the great dance with the Grim Reaper, but it was a disappointing moment for me to see this happen.

Justice League: Dark is not a bad film. It’s pretty to watch, but the story is a bit weak. There is also some question as to why it received the “R” rating. While that was clear with Batman: The Killing Joke, with some of its violence, I found the action scenes to be rather tame, especially in comparison with some of the PG movies that are out in theaters already. Despite the use of the word “dark” in the film’s title, it wasn’t exactly demonic. I have seen much darker and disturbing on television (the Fox series Millennium comes to mind), and yet there was nothing in my mind that I found intense or terrifying to garner the “R” rating. This wasn’t the best thing that WB has put out, but it wasn’t the worst.

I give this film 3 out of 5 magical mandalas.
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