WAR--What is it good for? The Justice League: War mini-review
So, this past week has been the definition of GEEKGASM.
We had the official unveiling of Singer's versions of the Sentinels for X-men Days of Future Past (i.e. sorry Bryan but after Superman Returns--I just don't trust you). Our next great looks at the oh so impressive Captain America: the Winter Soldier and Amazing Spiderman 2. The increasingly train-wreck state of 2016's Batman/ Superman -- now with Jesse Eisenberg (not the preferred 'Heisenberg') as Lex Luthor. Not to mention a little thing called the Super Bowl.
A lot to get upset and excited over.
Buried under all of that information however was the launch of the next phase of DC's EXCELLENT Animated movies, JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR.
Why was it important that week? Because if successful, it represents DC's unique advantage in the battle for mainstream superhero dominance that Disney/ Marvel have owned for the past few years. But does it really have a shot at helping Batman and Co. stand up to Marvel's Avengers onslaught?
Since Bruce Timm pitched a Batman the Animated series back in the early 1990's, DC has embarrassed Marvel at the game of successfully translating their characters into the popular culture. While Marvel had a semi-successful run in the early 1990's based largely on the Jim Lee powered X-men era, DC's universe spanning efforts that began with Batman: The Animated Series went on to encompass Static Shock; Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Great animation that inspired a new aesthetic for even the most anime-infused critic, the real GEM of the DC animated universe was the STORY. Just thinking about the awesome NEW takes on characters like Mr. Freeze, Brainiac, Joker, Lex Luthor, The Royal Flush gang and Harlequin (just to name a few) is enough to wish that the glory days of the 1990's to mid-2000's were coming back.
Perhaps this is what inspired DC Entertainment (the newly realigned comics publisher/ movie studio) to go back to the shared universe theme and make all future direct to video releases part of one complete narrative. Much like Marvel has done with their Avengers' series of films, DC has attempted to mimic this with their own relaunch of Superman in last year's Man of Steel but to very questionable effect. Whereas Marvel is so far ahead of the pack on their films that now the Marvel brand means something very special for families around the world, DC stands to lose the brand solidity that they once had. When a Grade C characters like Quicksilver (Avengers 2) and Lady Sif (upcoming episode of Agents of Shield) threaten to become more popular and recognizable than the Flash and Wonder Woman--then it's easy to see why DC has decided to go the animated route.
Using the New 52 line of rebooted DC comics stories, DC is deciding that a line of connected animated films may just be the ticket to placing a stake in the next generation of youth's desire for superhero content. And therein is the problem. This Justice League is NOT the JUSTICE LEAGUE. The battles amount to needless punching and screaming which was never what DC's heroes were about. One of the things I always cherished were the cool moments in Justice League where they always figured out a clever way to win--yes, the action would heat up but it was only to a certain point before cooler heads would come up with some awesome world beater of an idea or make the ultimate gamble or sacrifice. Not so in War though! Whereas Marvel characters literally just keeping beating/ piling on until the enemy is defeated--so too do the Justice League in this new version. Hell, even Green Lantern, who has always been bland, now becomes a jack-ass that is trying to be the team's always wise-cracking Robert Downey Jr. clone. Meanwhile, somehow what seemed just an oddly poor decision in Geoff John's and Jim Lee's lame Justice League 'origin' story (which helped to launch the New 52) has become alarmingly apparent:
WHAT THE HELL HAS HAPPENED TO BATMAN, SUPERMAN AND WONDER WOMAN?
While Batman was always the coolest character in DC's pantheon, he now seemingly takes a backseat to the action in a way that comes off as even less realistic than a guy who dresses as a bat among (literal) gods. Superman's lack of red trucks has somehow also caused a lack of brain cells as this one clearly enjoys fighting, causing needless destruction and making inane 'tough' guy dialogue. And finally, Wonder Woman--not only does she look different (is this the new WW costume for the upcoming movie?)--she acts like a 17 yr. old character from 'Mean Girls' who knows she's awesome and revels in it. Oh, and as if not ridiculous enough--somehow this movie literally pulls from the horrible Man of Steel with a one-note plot about an alien invasion and 'terraforming' and the unforgivable sin of wanton superhero-caused destruction while not one hero offers to save those caught in the crossfire (and no, the accidental discovery at the end doesn't count).
So was anything good about Justice League: War?
No. Actually, the animation even is a bit stiff which is unfortunate compared to the EXCELLENT Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths film (which featured the far superior scripts of the late Dwayne Mcduffie). Well, I will stop and say that Cyborg is pretty cool in this. Good voice performance, a cheesy but effective melodramatic plot point between Vic Stone (Cyborg's real name) and his father help to make his story one of the truly well-written bits here. Adding to the diversity, Cyborg seems like an honest part of the Justice League line-up and what impressed me more than anything was how he literally towered over the other members of the League. While Shazam also came off as an alien character vs. their traditional concept (and in this case, I actually enjoyed John's original comic book depiction of this new version)---atleast his camaraderie with Cyborg was well-done.
Also, the WW fight scene on Air Force One--is surprisingly strong but again, coming off Justice League Crisis on Two Earths as well as Justice League Doom's--many kick-ass fight scenes--this was cool but just one of vs. films with atleast three strong fight scenes.
Otherwise...ugh---I just don't know what to say. This was trite and certainly not worth the cost of a Blu-Ray or even HD Streaming copy. Loving DC Comics and their characters for most of my life, it's hard to imagine why the execs at DC Entertainment are struggling to match Marvel's focused, quality output.
DC vs. Marvel is more like DC trying to be Marvel. Not a joke btw--they even have an after the credits sequence "teasing" another movie.
And for this, they fired or got rid of Bruce Timm??? Ugh!