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Constantine, Zatanna, Batman, and Deadman

Justice League Dark (2017) Review

HaydnSpurrell HaydnSpurrell With each of the new Justice League animated films, which seem to loosely follow one another in a franchise that initially based itself off of The New 52 (a connection it has certainly loosened off on particularly since DC "Rebirthed" its line), I approach each new one with apprehension. Justice League Dark becomes the fourth film in a string of Justice League installments, not to mention the three Batman-focused outings, and I'm happy to say that this latest one may just be the best of them all.

Introducing a new cast of characters and putting the Justice League proper on the backburner for the second film in a row (following last year's Justice League vs. Teen Titans), some early scenes felt a little abrupt as events moved from one place to another to establish the characters. Those establishing scenes, though, were effective. John Constantine, voiced by Matt Ryan, and Zatanna, voiced by Camilla Luddington, are the two main draws, though it takes a while before the film actually becomes their film. Batman seems set to play a central role until he thankfully becomes a supporting character, playing an essential but not overbearing part, and supplies some enjoyable quips that toe the line between sarcasm and downright humour. Jason O'Mara continues to impress as the Dark Knight in these films, to the point that I can't imagine anybody else voicing the character.

The art style maintains its familiarity established in past films, and the character designs are crisp, but its also the environments that make the film extremely visually engaging, a commendable feat. This is by no means something that would "wow" on the big screen, but it's solid work. The mysterious tone set early on is only emphasized by the stunning soundtrack, which immediately sets this one apart from Justice League: War, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, and the rest. But where the best scene by far comes around the halfway point, as the two main characters enter the mind of an infected patient, after that it relies a little too heavily on big action set pieces and poorly delivered, somewhat adolescent humour.

Apart from Batman's couple of lines, not much else hit the right notes despite the efforts to create a comedic element. One particular moment amidst one of the film's battle scenes was notably jarring, especially when you consider these films aren't necessarily made for a young audience. While by no means pushing any boundaries, they're rated M, and feature some mild cursing while the violence can become quite graphic. Even that, though, is a little toned down compared to Throne of Atlantis, for example, but the magical elements of the film more than make up for any of that, and supplies the one redeeming aspect to those numbing action sequences.

The film's opening is gripping, with a spate of grizzly crimes hinting at a supernatural conflict. The Justice League considers this, but Batman is skeptical. Still, he seeks out the magical folk that are not really much more than myth, apart from Zatanna, and the film superbly unfolds a whole new angle into the DC universe. From there, we follow the mystery along. Unfortunately, that mystery really dissipates rather quickly, and becomes almost unimportant toward the end. Some mythology-building offers something even for lesser fans of the DC universe, and the character interactions are really quite joyous. In terms of dialogue and character building, Justice League Dark offers the best script in a DC animated film in recent memory.

Justice League Dark is the best entry in the DC Animated Originals. While it does very little to tie into the previous films, the art style and the returning voices more than clarify that this is all part of something of a larger tale. That's less important, though, than the story at hand, which falters in favour for an epic final act that makes it feel as though the franchise could do with a smaller scale drama next time around. Still, Justice League Dark has so much to offer, and opens up an entirely new world for fans young and old alike. And for those not well versed in this side of the DC world, the comic book series might benefit from this solid direct-to-DVD film.

Stunning box art revealed for 'Justice League Dark'
Stunning box art revealed for 'Justice League Dark'

Justice League Dark is available in Digital HD now, and will come to retail shelves in February.

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HaydnSpurrell HaydnSpurrell

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