I have been a huge fan and advocate of the DC Comics Animated Universe over the last seven years in which the connected universe has managed to succeed far more than the big screen live action attempt. There have been a few missteps along the way for sure but on the whole, this really became the best series of DC Comic story telling in quite some time. But now we have reached the natural end as the sequel to 2017’s Justice League Dark film will serve as the big finale to this universe and this is definitely not one for the younger fans!
I really am not kidding, this is a Justice League animated film with a Mature Rating for a reason so if you have young DC fans in your home, you will probably want to wait till they are a little older to watch this. The first Justice League Dark film allowed access to all the dark and supernatural elements of the DC Universe bringing all the magic, demonic and dark humour of one character in particular…John Constantine. What I and fans did not know at the time, was that this would end up being the stepping stone into the final story of this connected Universe of animated films and now for the 16th story in seven years, it will see the Justice League face their gravest challenge.
The story opens with Superman summoning all League members to the hanger on the Watch Tower as Planet Apokolips has been detected appearing near Earth and Superman strongly believes that Darkseid is preparing for another attempt to invade earth. This time however we see a very different tone in Superman who has only recently survived death at the hands of Doomsday, a creature made by Darkseid to remove the greatest threat to his invasion of Earth, Superman. He is actually advocating that the Justice League go on the offensive and attack Apokolips rather than waiting for the fight to come to Earth but this is a strategy that not everyone is on board with, especially John Constantine. But a plan is formed to attack Apokolips but little do the Justice League know that Darkseid is watching the whole thing via the cybernetic implants of Cyborg who in the very first Justice League film, became Cyborg as a result of combining with Mother Box Technology.
So not only does Darkseid know the Justice League is coming, but he able to plan a counter attack which he does, and not only is the Justice League defeated, they are completely decimated by Darkseid and his forces who kill most of the minor leagues and incapacitate the heavy hitters and I do mean decimate which the film shows the audience. The League expected to only face the Para Demons they have fought in each encounter with Darkseid before but not this time, this time he has Para Dooms…a hybrid of Para Demons and Doomsday who absolutely and literally, tear through the Justice League but as the battle begins the story then jumps 2 years forward and we find London in flames and a John Constantine and Etrigan drinking heavily in a Pub when Teen Titan Raven and a hooded man enters, clearly looking for them. Raven is clearly struggling under the pressure of keeping her father and demonic god Trigon contained and that strain is showing by her now weak and gaunt appearance. The hooded man slowly reveals himself to be Superman but a Superman who has been depowered due to having liquid Kryptonite injected into him by Darkseid which is not enough to kill him, but enough to take away his powers and leave in in daily pain, forced to watch helplessly over the embers of a world he failed to save.
It was really disturbing on some level to watch as flashback are shown to the audience as Superman explains to Constantine what happened as he himself ran away from the battle. Not since watching the original Transformers the Movie as a kid where Autobots suddenly died left right and centre has such an opening hit me as a fan. We are so used to seeing our heroes fall but always getting back up and winning the fight but here, they did not just lose the battle, they were utterly swept away. Seeing Hal Jordan dead, other heroes like Shazam and Wonder Woman herself having limbs torn off and then Superman himself, Earth’s most powerful defender, rendered powerless leaving only the Teen Titans to defend Earth but they themselves would fall to Darkseid’s invasion forces really hit home in a big way. Darkseid had won and the Earth was his.
The tone and pace of the story completely builds on the fifteen films before of this DCAU (DC Animated Universe) and you can see how those stories lead to this final and ultimate failure of the Justice League. Superman was emotional and overconfident and bloodthirsty in his desire to not just stop Darkseid from being a threat to Earth but to kill him himself. Wonder Woman’s more warrior nature leads her to support this plan and Batman, the master strategist also is caught unaware and unprepared for what is about to go very very wrong. To see fan favourite characters beaten is a powerful way to start the story and the moment that you discover that Darkseid has been able to spy on the Justice League via Cyborg is chilling and a true “oh Shit” moment.
Familiar cast members return to lend their voices to the film with Shemar Moore as Cyborg, Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Jason O’Mara as Batman, and Jerry O’Connell as Clark Kent/Superman. The standout MVP character and performance of the story however is Matt Ryan who has become the only person who should voice John Constantine, continuing his performance from his own sadly failed TV series but now member of the Legends of Tomorrow team in the ArrowVerse. Constantine is really the audience looking in on this mess of a situation and he brings both the dark humour and the only real hope the remaining League members have of fighting back. The pace of the story telling has a nice snap to it and the humour is cleverly placed and very natural in amongst the very dark themes the story features. Constantine is one of my favourite characters in the whole DCAU and though it took a long time for him to finally star in the films, the way he can sass people like Superman, holding him account for his failure that lead to this.
Darkseid is flawlessly voiced by Tony Todd and his performance is powerful for the New God that is Darkseid, who really becomes the ultimate villain that quite frankly no other use of his character has really been seen as before as often he simply gets beaten back by a pissed off Superman. But in this story he wins and not only that but we get to see his supreme capacity for cruelty as he not only kills many of Earth’s heroes and turns Superman into a walking symbol of his victory but also takes Batman and bends him to his will, turning him into an instrument who leads Darkseid’s forces across the galaxy taking more worlds and the final capture of Earth itself.
At the 90-minute run time, this story manages to keep the pace very well and when the action kicks in there is just so much to take in on screen at times. I love that the story really has three arcs to it with the rising up of the last possible resistance on Earth of remaining Leaguers and Harley Quinn’s Suicide Squad to the issue of facing your Father as Raven and Damien Wayne as Robin are forced to finally confront their own Fathers which their own story arcs in other films have really been leading towards. But it is Constantine that struck most for me, the reluctant hero who would rather lose himself in a bottle of Glenn Morgan whiskey than face even more death and destruction but it is he who ultimately must lead the fight against Darkseid in the end. You feel the loss and the pain of the fallen Justice Leaguers and you find heart and laughter in the former villains who rise up when the heroes are gone, in the end there is only one bad guy to fight and that is Darkseid!
As entertaining as Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is to watch, it is also extremely satisfying to fans who have been following the DCAU from the beginning. It has been a universe that managed to capture all the characters in it just as well as the classic DC Animated show Justice League and Justice League Unlimited managed to do. The Animated universe has delivered in a way that the big screen live action DCU films just failed to do and they did it consistently with only a few drops in quality along the way. This is a fitting and satisfying finale to this universe that I am really rather said to see come to an end but the end is a logical one, the Justice League were always set to have this final battle and it is handled perfectly by the team lead by directors Matt Peters and Christina Sotta and written by Ernie Altbacker and Sotta. Like great DC Graphic Novels, the DCAU has standout must own films in it just as Justice League Dark and Flashpoint Paradox with Justice League Dark: Apokolips War being their finest work to date for me.
Refreshing and highly entertaining, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is a powerful end to a brilliant animated universe that dared to tell stories to an older DC Comics fan and in the end, held nothing back and gave fans everything they had to give.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is available now for Digital Download and available on DVD/Blu Ray on May 19th 2020.