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Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Jay Oliva
Written by:
Screenplay by Heath Corson, based on based on the graphic novel by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee
Sean Astin, Zach Callison, Christopher Gorham
Length:   79 minutes
Released:   020414-direct to dvd
Rated PG13 for sequences of violence and action, and some language.
“War simultaneously asks you to forget everything you know about the JLA and lug everything you know to the table." 

War. What is it good for? Practically nothing. Based on the opening volley of DC Comics' "New 52" reboot, Justice League: War tosses out the old (and not so old) and ushers in the brand spanking new with aggressive indifference. Creatively, this could be an exciting prospect; a bold, publisher-wide effort to cast eighty years of familiar heroes and villains in a fresh light. Logistically, it's struck many a longtime fan (including this one) as alienating; dividing an already splintered DC fanbase into those hungry for radical change and those tearing out their hair, shaking their fists at the comic book heavens and cursing the DC Entertainment gods. War presents a very, very different JLA (more so perhaps than even its New 52 counterpart), with Batman being the only hero who seems to have escaped DC's scorched earth revamp relatively unscathed. Superman is now an impulsive, arrogant titan with little concern for property damage. You're not meant to like him, and you won't like him. At all. Green Lantern is a quippy, joke-slinging crack-up with a raging ego. You'll laugh, but visions of Ryan Reynolds' Hal Jordan might start to dance in your head. Wonder Woman is an exotic, overbearingly enthusiastic and, above all, irritating off-lander (with a taste for ice cream) who takes her cues from Chris Hemsworth's Thor. Flash is a restrained, nose-to-the-grindstone crime fighter; a speedster with a slug's charisma. On and on and on.

Of course, the JLA costumes are all mostly retooled. With the exception of the Flash and Batman, whose wardrobe remains virtually the same from previous incarnations, the concept is to have the costumes be more appealing to a modern audience. Ok. Then why remake their personalities into something so unappealing?

War has some laughs and well choreographed wall to wall, punchety-punch-punch action. But beneath all the bluster and bombast is a JLA that's difficult to warm to, an animated original movie that lacks subtlety and depth, and a launching point for a shared continuity that, at least at the moment, doesn't seem all that appealing.

When alien creatures begin planting mysterious explosive devices in major cities around the world, Earth's mightiest defenders come together to stop an invasion led by a merciless planet terraformer named Darkseid (voiced by Steve Blum). But first the heroes have to meet one another, not to mention work out their differences. Green Lantern (Justin Kirk) is first on the scene, and soon discovers that Gotham's fabled guardian, Batman (Jason O'Mara), isn't an urban legend. From there, Lantern and Bats track down Superman (Alan Tudyk) in Metropolis, enlist the help of Central City's Flash (Christopher Gorham), run into Wonder Woman (Michelle Michelle Monaghan) while preventing Parademons from destroying Air Force One, and eventually add Cyborg (Shemar Moore) and Shazam (Sean Astin) to their reluctant ranks. Bickering, slinging barbs and overcoming clashing egos, the inadvertently assembled JLA race to stop the alien invaders and save the planet.

War's centerpiece is the Justice League's knock-down, drag-out fight with Darkseid, a city-wide scuffle that chews up a sizeable chunk of the movie. Outmatched and severely out-gunned, Batman and his fellow heroes have to put aside their differences and admit none of them are capable of fending of an invasion by their lonesome. In fact, it's only when the superheroes shut up and get to work that War finds its footing. The first act is full of laughs -- if, that is, you aren't seething over the drastic personality changes many of the characters have undergone (don't get me started on Captain Marvel. OH! Sorry. I mean Shazam)-- and Heath Corson's screenplay has plenty of spirit, channeling the small amount of good from Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's 2011 six-issue Justice League: Origin arc. The back-and-forth between Hal Jordan and Bruce Wayne keeps things light, every hero is given a crucial role to play, and there are only a few hints of reckless implausibility. (Watching Batman lunge at an alien tyrant head-on -- the same alien tyrant who previously swatted Superman out of the sky like a bug -- is a stretch.) It's all played to heavy-handed, feel-good ends, sure, but it also serves as a fitting, arguably thrilling origin tale. (Even if it's a bit difficult to believe Earth's superest superpowered beings are just now meeting for the first time, seeing as Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman are known to the public at large.)

Unfortunately, as is too often the case with DCU animated movies, the hit or miss actioner that rises from War's shallow sea would have benefited from an extra fifteen or twenty minutes. With a slim 79-minute runtime (closer to 70 or 75 if you toss out the opening and closing credits), there isn't a lot room for backstory, supporting characters or subplots, and Cyborg is the only hero that is given all three. Most of the JLA'ers don't earn any. Batman's tragic past is only mentioned in passing and his relationship with Gotham is anyone's guess. Lois Lane is MIA while the Daily Planet is a foregone conclusion. Wonder Woman practically mounts Superman the second she sees him, and it's clear from his reaction to Diana's advances that Lois isn't on his radar anyway. And Green Lantern, Flash and Shazam's beginnings are never detailed, much less fleshed out. All well and good when dealing with the superheroes we've come to know and love through dozens of movies and animated series. Yet these are new heroes, with new personalities, new motivations, new statuses and new stories. War simultaneously asks you to forget everything you know about the JLA and lug everything you know to the table.

But then every DCU project can't be a two-parter a la Dark Knight Returns. For pure bang for your animated comic book buck, Justice League: War throws a haymaker, follows out with a flurry of blows and doesn't stop swinging until cities are saved, crowds are cheering and once-bitter allies are well on their way to Super Friendom. And the voice cast is decent; especially O'Mara, who has the thankless job of replacing fan-favorite Kevin Conroy, to the grumbling of the masses. Just know this: if you stormed out of Man of Steel after Superman put a stop to General Zod's reign of terror, be warned. War is guilty of that and much, much more. Simply put, casual DC Comics readers and DCU animated viewers will be more satisfied with director Jay Oliva's latest than JLA purists and longtime comic book junkies. This isn't your mom and dad's Justice League, kids. For better or worse...I'm leaning towards the worse.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR   © 2014 Warner Premiere Home Video
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2014 Alternate Reality, Inc.



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