Jason O’Mara as Bruce Wayne/Batman
Written by Mairghread Scott
Following a poorly executed preemptive attack on Apokolips by the Justice League resulting into their gruesome defeat at the hands of Darkseid, Earth is decimated and ravaged by Darkseid’s armies. Now the remaining heroes and anti-heroes must band together to save Earth and defeat Darkseid once and for all
At one point, in Warner Bros. Animation’s very R-rated Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, a character called King Shark, who looks exactly like you’d imagine, leaps into a truck and savagely rips apart two helpless men while his cohorts watch the bloody carnage from afar in stunned silence. Later, Harley Quinn, caked in blood, bashes someone’s face in with a giant mallet. Heroes and villains alike drink, swear, and rip each other apart in hilariously gory fashion. This is a dark superhero film. Get it?
You could never get away with any of this in a live-action motion picture, but I suppose that’s the point.
Here we have film that caters to a specific comic-book reading demographic. All others need not apply. From the magicians and sorcerers, including Raven, a young woman who holds her demon father hostage insider her own head, to the poker-faced line delivery — “When I asked you to join me in leading the League of Assassins, I didn’t do it because you’re a good fighter. I did it because I had feelings for you” — and ridiculous plot machinations, this animated adventure works hard to please die-hard fans longing for “darker” versions of iconic characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
And therein lies the main attraction of these Warner toons: they serve as quasi-fan fiction for those of you who have waited years to see Swamp Thing battle alongside Bane; or longed to witness a fight to the death between Etrigan and Wonder Woman. Of course, as the 38th film in the long running DC Universe Animated Original Movies line, you should know what to expect from this particular animation division by now. And, at this point, you either enjoy this style, and its exquisite animation, or you long for something more profound.
For me, personally? I liked Apokolips War in spades, but grew tired of its relentlessly grim tone. I liked the scene where Superman, now branded powerless (and essentially useless outside of a few speeches), goes in search of Lois Lane and finds her stuck in a boxing match with a cancer-joke spouting Harley Quinn and her Suicide Squad. I enjoyed Constantine’s unyielding (and hilarious) cynicism; and laughed at Etrigan’s indifference to the world following the loss of a close friend. I liked watching familiar heroes deal with loss and defeat in their own way; even if it basically amounted to variations of punching something (or someone) real good.
I do have to ask: why do all heroes wait until the last-possible second before finally unleashing their inner unstoppable power? I suppose because spontaneous costume changes and power-ups make for high drama in these sorts of films. Or, maybe because the writing team can’t think of any other way to get these immortal beings out of sticky situations. I don’t know. Except to say, these predictable plot points have grown tiresome amidst the endless barrage of superhero films we receive (or did receive) on a weekly basis.
In fact, Apokolips War follows similar beats to those found in Avengers: Endgame where a group of superheroes also suffered great loss at the hands of an unstoppable titan and were likewise forced to regroup and … fight the titan again, except with more powerful weapons. Where once such spectacle would induce a fist pump, now, I find it harder not to empathize for villains like Apokolips and Thanos, whose well-earned victories are snatched from them by absurd plot devices.
As such, I think superhero films are in dire need of a small-scale reset. Epic space-based smackdowns are fun to watch for a spell but grow tiresome quickly as there are only so many ways to show a person beat the living shit out of another person. These larger-than-life storylines also have a way of reducing our beloved heroes to mere action figures. Superman stands for truth justice and the American way, but you’d never know that in Apokolips War because he’s too busy heat-ray blasting some poor alien to a crisp on a war-ravaged planet billions of miles outside our solar system. When was the last time you actually saw the big blue boy scout save a cat from a tree?
Superheroes aren’t defined by their abilities, but, rather, in how they choose to use said abilities. That’s what makes Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 so special — those movies work hard to understand the person under the mask; and use their super-villains as a means to test their heroes mentally and physically.
Apokolips War, on the other hand, is the type of superhero film I imagine Zack Snyder would direct. An overloaded action extravaganza coated with explicit violence and a relentlessly grim tone. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. I can appreciate a harder edged action flick, especially one that’s animated, all the while longing for a more measured superhero experience.
Apokolips War certainly knows how to make its heroes look cool but can’t quite figure out how to make them truly super.