DC Universe: Justice League Dark
The rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel has been around for nearly 70 years and at no time has the competition been at such an extreme level or the stakes involve a multibillion-dollar industry. While Marvel continues to dominate the cinematic side of this competition, both in revenue and critical acclaim, DC Comics continues to push on mainly in the arena of television and animated films. In the connected universe that DC Comics has established on the CW has been incredibly well received in the franchise of animated movies continues to push the envelope creating movies that are far more mature and content than ever before.
This latest instalment of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series, ‘Justice League: Dark’, is the 27th offering of the franchise and serves as an example of the growing trend towards, darker, more mature stories. The character of John Constantine has already been establisted in DC through the TV series fearturing him and a single episode of the CW’s ‘Arrow.' Reinventing the role was actor Matt Ryan who protrayed Constatine in both of appearances, returning here as the charater's voice. The trouble is bringing the character of Constantine to broadcast television was to portray the character accurately themes beyond the scope of the media where required. Even as a digitally released animated film, Constantine forcefully brings the material into the purview of an ‘R’ rating. Stories and characters that at one time would be impossible to consider in the somewhat innocent s have now evolved into something not for the children, consistent with a growing trend on both sides of the rivalry. Films and other content by DC and Marvel are growing increasingly dark in nature. This is great as provided by the growing importance of premiering content on streaming video services such as Vudu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix. Unhampered by the restrictions imposed by the FCC, films, and series presented in such a fashion a reasonably unfettered and what they can present as part of the storyline. An ideal example of this new paradigm found in this film. It is a tightly written story with excellent character development that so intensely portrayed as to s to warrant the restrictive rating.
One thing that has become increasingly important in television shows and movies originating with comic books is the use of the supernatural. Magic and supernaturally based abilities have always been part of both of the major comic brands, but in the last few years the importance of this plot device has become exceptionally crucial to the storylines.’ Justice League: Dark’ movie opens with people all around the globe the grips of terror. People begin to see everyone around them as demons resulting in the tragic death of many innocent people. Ever vigilant the Justice League of America leaps into action. The conclusion is that magic is responsible and realized it would have to adjust their standard strategy to deal with it. Batman (voiced by Jason O'Mara), dissents with the groups plan and leaves their headquarters. Back at stately Wayne Manor, Bruce falls asleep and posseted by the supernatural creature known as Deadman (voiced by Nicholas Turturro). Upon awakening find one word repeatedly written all over his walls, "Constantine."
This leads to the requisite expository flashback as John Constantine shown five days prior. The investigator of the occult is in Las Vegas playing poker with Jason Blood (voiced by Ray Chase), a man bound to the demonic entity known as Etrigan. Rounding out the poker table is a group referred to as the Demons Three, Abnegazar (voiced by JB Blanc), Rath and Ghast. Constantine is known to be a heavy gambler, which is just one of his many anti-heroic personality traits. Convinced of the hand is holding you Constantine enriches the pot with his home in a box of occult artifacts. As it turns out the demons were cheating, something that should’ve been a foregone conclusion. When Constantine calls out their dishonesty, a melee ensues. To emerge victoriously, Constantine invokes a spell that summoned the demon of his friend Jason. Again, nearly mandatory plot contrivance inserted here; the demons swear vengeance on John Constantine.
The story return to focus on Batman. He pays a visit on the stage magician, Zatanna (voiced by Camilla Luddington). Known to Batman was a potential source of magic, Zatanna had had an on-again/off-again relationship with Constantine. She agrees to bring Batman to his home,’ House of Mystery'’, calling a tornado to transport them. After the pairconnecting with the cultist. Impeding theirjourney the attack attempts to prevent access to Constantine’s home, the ‘House of Mystery.' The source of this attack appears to be an incredibly powerful sorcerer with the ability to work from a distant location. Upon entering the house, they are greeted by The Black Orchid Capital (voiced by Colleen O'Shaughnessey), a physical manifestation of the magic infused in the house. After quickly gathering themselves the trio seeks out a mutual friend of Constantine and Zatanna, Ritchie Simpson (voiced by Jeremy Davies), another practitioner of the occult immediately brings another adversary into the picture, the personification of death was come to collect Richie’s soul.
This movie turns out to be a major entrance for DC into the realm of the supernatural. The cast of characters consistent such a broad selection of their comic book paranormal lineup that this movie serves as an excellent introduction to this part of the DC universe, even for those unfamiliar with the stories in the comic books. Such strange and iconic creatures such as The Swamp Thing and Felix Faust (voiced by Enrico Colantoni), become intrinsically crucial to the plot. The fight sequences are epic, among the best that the animated series has yet offered. The only significant difference is that the powers wielded by the forces derived on both sides from the occult and supernatural rather than more scientific origins as high-tech gadgets and extraterrestrial backgrounds. It is typically a significant amount of continuity maintained throughout theentire series of animated films. Once again, as seen in both television and real action movies, there is a significant change in course to encompass mystical forces.
This trend towards adult themes has been building for the past few movies. In the previous film, ‘The Killing Joke’ not only was the level of violence substantially ramped up, but there is a scene where Batman had sex with Bat Girl, something I never would’ve been considered during the Silver Age comics of our youth. That particular installment of the franchise was less than stellar and considerd disappointment by most. The team of people at Warner Brothers Animated Studios has once again found their stride. One out one of the best of the franchise this is a solid hit of the Production Company and DC comics in general. What a shame that the Constantine television series met an untimely cancellation after just one season. As mentioned it was just too dark and intense for the venue. The character John Constantine is one of the more interesting in the DC universe and highly reminiscent of one of the most popular supernatural detectives in literature, Harry Dresden. Ironically, Dresden also had a one season run on broadcast television. The fact that much of the back story by John Constantine had already been covered by the TV show and summarized some expense by his one episode appearance on ‘Arrow,' little time had to be allocatefdto such exposition here. The result is an efficient use of the running time of just over an hour. Warner Brothers demonstrates respect for their audience for this election of additional content provided on the Blu-ray. Featurettes included covers the origin stories of a couple of the major characters and provide some foundation for how the existence of magic within the context of the DC universe is handled. There is also a little figurine of John Constantine included using Matt Ryan as a model. There’s for improvement as Warner Brothers animated delves deeper into the R-rated territory but this is a significant step in the right direction.