Wrapping up a 7-year-long movie universe in only 90 minutes is a gargantuan task. There are bound to be missteps in the form of neglected characters, plot lines and a lot of shocking deaths that range from arbitrary to heartbreaking. But with a fast-paced storyline and great action to smooth over any rough edges, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War manages to bring the curtain down on the New 52-inspired world with just enough grace and style to satisfy.
Things are not going well for Earth and its denizens at the start of Apokolips War, except for maybe John Constantine who has finally found happiness with Zatanna. Darkseid and his parademons have their sights set on Earth so Superman rallies heroes from various teams to preemptively attack planet Apokolips. Although some are hesitant, Damian Wayne among them, the heroes put their trust in Superman only to be lead right into a trap…and then things only get worse. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War may put the magic based team in its title, but the end of the world stakes bring characters in from all around the DC Universe to take back Earth from Darkseid’s reign before it’s too late.
The opening isn’t the movie’s strongest point and actually worried me that this final chapter may fall under the weight of its ambitions. All the hallmark weaknesses of the DC Universe animated films are on full display, such as stiff animation and voice acting that doesn’t always capture the range of emotion the characters are going through. Luckily, the heroes’ failed attack on Darkseid is merely the set up as we are immediately thrust back to Earth two years later, which is now in near ruin as Darkseid drains its resources for Apokolips. This is when the movie starts working. Matt Ryan’s Constantine serves as the emotional anchor for our journey here on out. Ryan has the character down to a science by this point, with just the right amount of snark and sincerity laced through his rants which bounce between nihilistic to self-deprecating.
Most of the voice acting rises to the occasion as well despite a few weak links. Taissa Farmiga’s Raven has the second biggest weight on her shoulders as her interior struggle with her father, Trigon, makes her doubt her every move. Luckily, she imbues Raven with equal parts vulnerability and strength which makes her arc from near emaciated to heroic warrior all the more engrossing. There’s also her romantic relationship with Damian, capably voiced by Stuart Allan, that acts as a counterweight to Constantine’s doomed romance with Zatanna. These characters are the real heart of the story, despite the ever growing cast that emerges around them. Less endearing is Rainn Wilson’s Lex Luthor who punches up his whininess a degree too high and even Jerry O’Connell’s Superman lacks a sense of authority when things get dire.
A general weakness against many of DC’s animated films is the slow, scattershot pacing, which typically front and backloads the action and emotion, leaving the middle a slog. Thankfully, Apokolips War overcomes this by leaving very little downtime between action sequences, but changing up the structure of encounters frequently enough to keep things from getting repetitive. The first act follows Constantine, Raven, Etrigan, and a depowered Clark Kent as they recruit allies to take one last shot at Darkseid. This segment of the film works primarily due to the solid character work with Raven and Damian, whose reunion works due to their burgeoning relationship and solid voice acting. Stuart’s Damian captures his youth, without verging into being a grating, entitled mess which some depictions are apt to do. Meanwhile, the stakes for Superman are at their highest due to losing his powers after being injected with liquid kryptonite at the hands of Darkseid. Without spoiling too much, Batman himself is separated from the core group, but his eventual return to heroism is compelling, if not a little convenient, and Jason O’Mara does a good job at capturing the heart deep within Batman’s stoicism.
Convenience is the Achilles heel of the film and its plot. Everything adds up a little too neatly, which makes the dire odds feel surprisingly surmountable. Characters are introduced without saying much more than a word, then unceremoniously killed off without much fanfare, but the death and destruction becomes inconsequential and numbing after a while. The eventual plan that comes together feels too simplistic as well, but does give the gargantuan cast something to do, even if it is to fight for a few seconds before being killed. It all comes down to attacking a few different objectives to draw Darkseid’s new “Paradooms” (Parademons mixed with Doomsday DNA) away from Apokolips to give our main cast enough time to blow it all up.
The plotting gets the job done, but it’s clear that the main focus is on Constantine, Raven, Superman, Etrigan, and Damian who do the actual important stuff. Some fans may grow irked at some of their favorites being largely ignored and then slaughtered, but the movie does a decent job at juggling a cast comprising of almost the entire DC library of characters. The least engaging group unfortunately consists of Harley Quinn and Lois Lane who take the Suicide Squad on a mission to overtake and defend turncoat Lex’s building. Rebecca Romijn’s Lois Lane doesn’t do much to inspire chemistry between her and Superman, and her team up with Harley and the others feels random at best. But even the weaker parts of the film feature exciting action and a few minor characters who steal the spotlight from the A-listers. King Shark has one joke the entire movie, but it made me laugh every time and a depressed Etrigan lights up the movie whenever he takes center stage.
After the plan is set and the teams established, the last hour of the film is essentially one long action sequence. While the bloodshed and R-rated approved profanity veers on the edge of being obnoxious, the changing of the moment to moment stakes in the action is impressive. We get glimpses of the “B-teams” fighting to distract Darkseid, but then rejoin our more developed super teams take on more personal obstacles, such as Raven’s unwillingness to unleash her full power at the risk of releasing Trigon. It’s not all just mindless action too. We see our core hero team find the remnants of the Justice League on their journey, including Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Cyborg, which serves as a smart way to structure the chaos. Some of them have become brainwashed warriors, while others are imprisoned and forced to use their unique powers to labor on Darkseid’s behalf and it’s fun to see our leads figure out ways to tackle each obstacle.
There’s also some less emotionally taxing gags sprinkled throughout that offer some levity, such as Constantine basically tricking Swamp Thing into serving as a distraction. The vast majority of the movie operates this way, effortlessly jumping from fun banter, gruesome battle scenes, and emotional character arcs with a minimum of whiplash. It’s impressive that it never completely falls apart even if some moments are betrayed by a lack of polish on the animation. Darkseid floating through the air and killing vast amounts of the Green Lantern Corp. should be badass and intimidating, but looks awkward as his character model floats through the air with the bare minimum of animation. However, Tony Todd’s intimidating voice work does a great job at maintaining Darkseid’s imposing nature.
The finale does scrape along the edge of uninspired, despite it fulfilling its characters emotional arcs. Constantine’s development from self-loathing drunk into a hero willing to sacrifice himself lands brilliantly as does Damian mending his relationship with Batman as they both find themselves face to face with death. Raven’s struggle with Trigon has the most impact on the plot itself, however the finale does stretch the plot’s plausibility to its utter limit, which is saying a lot given how boisterous the entire production is. Characters die without much purpose beyond shock value and others come back to life under the flimsiest justifications of “destiny”, which threatens to derail any sense of consequence. Also, the final battle against Darkseid finds itself playing second fiddle to the bevy of emotional catharsis the characters undergo as they prepare to face him, which undercuts some of the tension. However, it’s a small price to pay to see the characters we care about grow and become whole. Overall, Apokolips War pulls off a near impossible task by making such a huge spectacle feel tethered to the development of the characters we care about. For more spoiler filled thoughts on later developments, hit the tag below.
- You want to see the grand conclusion of the DC Animated Universe movies.
- Constantine is one of your favorite characters.
- Seeing many fan favorite character get brutally slaughtered doesn’t drive you away.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War miraculously works as both a satisfying stand alone experience as well as the conclusion of a seven-year saga. Even though the plotting is straightforward, there’s a deceptive amount of nuance to how the chaos plays out. Character motivations are clear and varied, the action satisfies on a visceral and emotional level, and the fast pacing keeps your attention away from some of the movie’s weaker elements. The resolution for the entire universe of movies is a little abrupt, but there’s a sense of grace to how things wrap up, ensuring that most fans will be more than satisfied with Apokolips War’s final note.
Disclaimer: Batman News was provided a copy of the film by the studio for the purpose of this review.