Superhero Sundays: Justice League: War (2014)
Matthew Turner | On 28, Feb 2021
Director: Jay Oliva
Cast: Alan Tudyk, Jason O’Mara, Michelle Monaghan, Christopher Gorham, Justin Kirk, Shemar Moore, Steve Blum, Sean Astin, Zach Callison
Watch Justice League: War online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Directed by DC animation regular Jay Oliva, 2014’s Justice League: War is the 18th film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. It’s also the second movie in the DC Animated Movie Universe series (following 2013’s The Flashpoint Paradox), a sub-set of films based on DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch. To that end, it’s based on an original New 52 comics story, namely Justice League: Origin, by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee.
Since this is an origin story, it depicts most of the characters meeting for the first time. However, it squanders the opportunity to make those moments significant or memorable; the first meeting between Superman and Wonder Woman (involving Air Force One) stands out, so it’s a shame the writers couldn’t come up with similarly great moments for the others.
The whole thing revolves around pesky old Darkseid again, now voiced by Steve Blum. (DC really needs a new ultimate villain, because at this point Darkseid is severely overplayed, both in live-action and animation.) He’s up to his old tricks, getting his Parademons (flying, armoured, fire-breathing monster henchmen) to abduct people off the streets for some reason and planting “boom tubes” (worm-hole-opening devices) in preparation for a full-scale invasion of Earth.
Fortunately, Batman / Bruce Wayne (Jason O’Mara) is on the case when it comes to people being abducted, largely because he’s getting the blame for it, seeing as the Parademons have bat-like wings. When he catches one mid-abduction, he’s joined by smart-mouthed Green Lantern / Hal Jordan (Justin Kirk), who’s dumbfounded to realise that Batman is “just a guy in a bat costume” and doesn’t have superpowers. They soon realise that they’re going to need the help of this guy in Metropolis called Superman (Alan Tudyk), if they’re going to defeat the aliens.
Meanwhile, fierce Amazonian warrior Diana / Wonder Woman (Michelle Monaghan) arrives in Washington to meet the President and ends up fighting a horde of Parademons, while Barry Allen / The Flash (Christopher Gorham) has his hands full with the blighters in Central City. Elsewhere, college football player Victor Stone (Shemar Moore) becomes Cyborg when he’s caught in a boom tube-related accident at his father’s lab, and young Billy Batson (Sean Astin) transforms into adult superhero Shazam (Zach Callison) when the Parademons attack. Soon, with the invasion in full swing, Darkseid himself arrives on Earth and the seven heroes have to join together to defeat him.
Action-wise, Justice League: War lives up to its billing, as it’s more or less a full-on Parademon-punching fest until Darkseid shows up with his direction-seeking laser eye-beams. Given that one of the key elements of the New 52 animated movies seems to be heightened violence (see also: The Flashpoint Paradox), it makes sense to have the Parademons as villains, because it means they can be straight-up killed by the heroes in a variety of different ways (sliced in half by Superman’s laser-vision, chopped up by Diana’s sword, etc) and no-one cares. However, call us crazy, but it doesn’t seem right for superheroes to go about stabbing people in the eyes, deadly laser eye-beams or no deadly laser eye-beams.
That ultraviolence is indicative of a more general problem whereby the New 52 movies struggle to find the right tone. Here you also have characters swearing – only mildly, admittedly (Cyborg says “Shit”, Green Lantern says “Kick his ass!”), but it’s still not what you want from superheroes.
The animation is decent enough, at least. It’s fast-paced and the action is frequently entertaining, especially when Green Lantern is around. Some thought has gone into the different fighting styles too, as befits a story about the seven heroes realising the value of teamwork.
As for the character designs, some are better than others. Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern are all fine, while Shazam has been given extra lightning elements in his skillset. However, the jury is still out on Wonder Woman’s new costume (at least if you’re an old school purist), while Superman just looks plain wrong, both facially (he looks like an anime character) and in terms of his costume.
On the plus side, Darkseid looks better here than he does in several other iterations of the character, perhaps because he closely resembles the version originally created by Jack Kirby. A bit more effort has gone into the Parademon design here too, even if it’s still never made entirely clear what a Parademon is.
As for the performances, the regular voice actors are all greatly missed, but the new voices make sense for what is essentially a reboot. O’Mara makes a passable Batman, while Gorham has good comic timing as The Flash, but Tudyk never seems entirely comfortable as Superman and Monaghan’s Wonder Woman is a little too one-note (that note being “Fight! Fight! Fight!”). Kirk does a good job of making Hal Jordan the most obnoxious Green Lantern to date, which was presumably the intention, although it backfires and makes him less likeable. Also notable is that voice director Andrea Romano’s cameo as Green Lantern’s ring.
As far as Justice League movies go, War does have a handful of successes, such as the touching subplot between Shazam and Cyborg, with Billy idolising Victor and encouraging him to embrace his new identity. Similarly, the film is credited with popularising the Wonder Woman ice cream scene (which would eventually be used in the live-action movie), even though it’s a direct lift from the source material.
Ultimately, Justice League: War is entirely watchable and delivers nicely on the action front, but the interactions leave something to be desired and your enjoyment of the film may well depend on how willing you are to embrace the New 52 relaunch. Oh, and one more thing – there’s a mid-credits sting that teases the next film in the series, if you like that sort of thing.
Justice League: War is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription.