Justice League Dark (2017)

I’m still not sure why DC commits to creating new branches of their animated universe with only a little under eighty minutes to spare. I think it wouldn’t hurt if something like “Justice League Dark” was given two hours to tell its story. Instead it rushes through just about everything possible, from prologue, set up, character introductions, villain introduction, villain back story, and the final showdown. And there’s no guarantee we’ll see a sequel any time soon, since DC and Warner are planning a live action version. So unless you’re a hardcore DC fan, you won’t get to learn a lot about folks like the Demon Etrigan or Zatanna, since we speed right through their characterizations.

Who is the demon? Is he a bad guy? Is he like the hulk? And what are the limitations for folks in the movie regarding magic? Even Superman has limits, so do Constantine and Zatanna control similar forms of magic or different? “Justice League Dark” is a fine animated movie, just not a great one. It’s a break from the Justice League and their modern models, in favor of a very supernatural narrative involving many of DC Comics supernatural and fantasy heroes and anti-heroes. Around the world, many people are murdering their neighbors and attempting to kill their families, convinced they’re being possessed by demons.

When the Justice League hits a dead end in their investigations, Batman is called upon by Constantine for help (because DC) in finding out what is causing this phenomenon. While searching for clues and answers, the team all come together including living spirit Deadman, the magician Zatanna, the anti-hero Etrigan, and the enigmatic Swamp Thing. “Justice League Dark” works with a quick pacing, allowing a lot of less spotlighted characters to take center stage. Through and through Batman is supposed to act as the avatar for the viewer, learning about these dark heroes. Sure, Dr. Fate would make much more sense, but DC and Warner are terrified to sell a new property to fans without Batman’s inclusion. For all intents and purposes, “Justice League Dark” is a serviceable fantasy adventure that peeks in to the darker side of the DC Universe that doesn’t involve tights, capes, and magic rings.

These are all dynamic characters, all of whom have had their times in the spotlight, allowed to spin wonderful stories. It’s a shame they feel so haphazardly tossed in to this adaptation that never gives them enough room to breathe. If anything, Constantine manages to steal a lot of the moment as the charismatic leader of the new League, and the animation is pretty sharp. I especially love the character models for Etrigan and Swamp Thing, which more than compensate for once again featuring the dopy modern designs for Superman and Wonder Woman. “Justice League Dark” is not a travesty like “The Killing Joke” ended up being, I just wanted so much more and a lot more focus on these supernatural warriors, in the end. I hope we can at least get a sequel very soon to help us delve deeper in to their mythology and interesting dynamics.