DC Animation continues their shared universe of films with the introduction of the Justice League’s dark side.
Justice League Dark (2017) is a direct-to-video DC animated film directed by Jay Oliva. It stars Matt Ryan as Constantine, sorcerer/con-man who is recruited by Batman (Jason O’Mara) and teams up with a rag-tag team of supernatural heroes including Zatana (Camilla Luddington), Deadman (Nicholas Turturro), Jason Blood (Ray Chase) and Swamp Thing (Roger Cross) in order to combat a mystical threat the Justice League is ill-equipped to handle.
I went into Dark with a bit of a different mindset than usual for these DC animated films. Unlike say the Teen Titans, or Justice League or Batman (of course), my knowledge surrounding JLD is extremely limited, meaning I had to approach as more of a newcomer than hardened fan. And while the movie is overall decent, and definitely one of the better ones of the recent slate of animated films its because that I came in with limited knowledge that I found it a somewhat frustrating experience.
Let me explain. On an exposition front, Dark is split in two completely different directions. Some characters, Deadman for example, have their background, powerset and overall persona explained through some really heavy-handed flashbacks, whereas other characters like Zatana, Ritchie Simpson and even some locales are just introduced and then never explained. Its a bizarre approach – Dark provides both too much and too little exposition, meaning that newcomers like me are going to be consistently befuddled, whereas hardcore fans are likely to be frustrated with how much it already explains stuff they already know. It meant that overall the film wasn’t cohesive at all, and felt more like a jumble of influences rather than a single direction.
Well now that I’ve got my major gripe with the film across, its time to focus on what the film gets right – and thankfully that’s a lot. First off, the animation (and action) is up to the standard and style expected from this animated universe by now. The fights are flashy, colourful, big in scale and do an excellent job showcasing the trippy visuals I wanted from magic v magic duels. Justice League Dark delivered on the action front what I expected from Doctor Strange last year – creative visuals and utterly bombastic, as opposed to the orange whips and shields Marvel secluded themselves to. Its quite a spectacle and arguably the best part of the film, particularly the big second act climax against sorcerer Felix Faust.
As for the performances, its a mostly solid showing, with Matt Ryan deservedly being centre stage of an entire ensemble of talent. He’s no stranger to voice work, being the vocal talent behind Edward Kenway in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and is also known for playing the character of Constantine on the small screen in both his sadly-cancelled TV show and as a guest appearance on Arrow. Its great to see his obvious dedication and love for the character, and the way he embodies both Constatine’s dark side and roguish charm is pitch-perfect. His on/off love interest Zatana is played well by Camilla Luddington also, although I will admit that after recalling she voiced Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboots I did expect a little more. The rest of the cast is decent too – Ray Chase is a perfectly posh Jason Blood, Jason O’Mara remains solid as Batman and Nicholas Turturro starts off annoying but ends the film endearing as Deadman. The only flat voice, and thankfully is one who is given little screen time, is Enrico Colantino as Faust who seems to think he’s either in a Looney Tune cartoon or needed to imitate a dog whistle rather than voice a character.
Another decent addition to the animated universe, Justice League Dark may suffer from some very haphazard exposition (and lack thereof), but its still an enjoyable time. The highest compliment I can give it is that its now got me motivated to investigate these characters further – and even look forward to seeing them on the silver screen one day.
General Audiences: Recommended
True Believers (DC): Recommended