JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK: APOKOLIPS WAR (2020) review

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (Warner Bros./DC Comics)

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War hits digital platforms tomorrow (May 5) and arrives on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD disc on May 18, 2020.

Synopsis

Culminating a six-year animated journey that began with the release of Justice League Warin 2014, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War finds Earth decimated after intergalactic tyrant Darkseid has devastated the Justice League in a poorly executed war by the DC Super Heroes. Now the remaining bastions of good – the Justice League, Teen Titans, Suicide Squad and assorted others – must regroup, strategize and take the war to Darkseid in order to save the planet and its surviving inhabitants. This is truly the war to end all wars, and only the victor will live to enjoy the spoils.

Review

Fifteen movies, countless hours of storytelling and a carefully woven continuity have all been leading up to this moment. The end of an era. The closing chapter in the New 52 continuity of the DC Animated Universe which began back in 2014 with the release of Justice League: War. Or did it really begin with 2013’s Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox?

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War has a huge uphill battle from its opening scene as it strives to pull together almost a decade’s worth of storytelling. Luckily for us this film is written by comics’ newest legend, Mairghread Scott (Batgirl, comics) and screenplay writer Ernie Altbacker (Batman: Hush, movie).

Apokolips War is without doubt a jewel in the crown of DC Comics animated universe. The team at DC (and partners at Warner Bros. Animated) has riding a wave of creative success following 2019’s Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen, capping off a very successful year with an adaption of Batman: Hush. But whilst those films brought together plenty of characters from across the Justice League continuity, the studio has never tried something quite a huge in spectacle as this.

No doubt plenty will compare this film to Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame alike and for good reason. It brings together characters from across the franchise, plenty of whom have yet to share screen time together. It pits them against a universe ending, apocalyptic threat. It’s also safe to say that none amongst the cast is safe from potential doom either.

In terms of storyline though, that is where the comparisons between these two franchises end. In terms of emotional payoff there’s a very similar feeling that the viewer leaves with when the credits roll on Apokolips War.

To cover off all the characters who make an impact in Apokolips War would keep you reading until long after the film is released. The masterfully written script allows sufficient screen time for most members of the Justice League: Superman (Jerry O’Connell), Batman (Jason O’Mara), Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), Cyborg (Shemar Moore), Flash (Christopher Gorham) and Green Lantern (Roger Cross) but much of the film belongs to the brilliant Matt Ryan as Constantine.

There’s also place in the narrative for Rainn Wilson’s Lex Luthor, the returning Rebecca Romjin as Lois Lane and members of the extended Bat-family, Teen Titans and Suicide Squad. Demonic characters such as Etrigan and Trigon also put in fairly major performances here.

Despite only running to 1hr 30mins there’s no character in the core cast who feels particularly let down by the narrative. Instead Apokolips War utilises its huge cast to create a truly universe encompassing tale. The stakes have never felt higher and the film succeeds all the more for it.

The story starts with a group of intersecting heroes from all these groups taking on Darkseid (Tony Todd) on his home planet of Apokolips. When the battle goes wrong, many heroes are left for dead and Darkseid leaves the remaining heroes of Earth in disarray.

Superman and Raven (Taissa Farmiga) enlist John Constantine to help them pull together Earth’s remaining heroes for one last stand against the forces of Apokolips.

What starts out as a kind of “what if” from the DC Universe begins to feel incredibly real as the story dispatches more and more of DC’s pantheon of heroes. Plenty of supporting players like Shazam (Sean Astin), Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), Batgirl, Nightwing (Sean Maher), Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch) appear and not all of them make it out of the film alive but the narrative never kills off a character for the sake of it. Everything in Apokolips War feels like it has a purpose.

Each action set piece in the film grows successfully larger and more elaborate than the last until the entire DC Universe is left fighting for its life. But as the action grows larger so to do the emotional stakes. Apokolips War desperately clutches at the heartstrings as Lois makes a plea to a wavering Superman whilst Lex lies dead on the ground, alongside this as desperate Batman shows an emotional and vulnerable side to his character which is rarely shown on film.

As the pieces come together and the chessboard sets itself up for a reshuffle it’s clear to see that DC and Warner Bros. plans for the DCAU have never been clearer or more concise with calculated risks and unexpected twists ensuring that Apokolips War will keep fans on the edge of their seat right through its closing moments.

The film acts as a bookend to the events of Justice League: War and this chapter of the universe. Through its representation of characters from across the franchise it pulls together plenty of disparate plot threads and brings them to a satisfying conclusion. The romance between Raven and Robin feels particularly compelling amongst all the action, whilst Raven is also able to come to some peace with her father, Trigon.

Picking up the plot threads from Justice League Dark, the film also explores the relationship between Constantine and Zatanna whilst simultaneously circling back to the father-son relationship between Bruce and Damian which lay at the centre of a trio of Batman films: Son of Batman, Batman vs. Robin and Batman: Bad Blood.

With a final swell of the brilliant score by Frederik Wiedmann, Apokolips War goes out on a note of hope and despair all at the same time. It’s the ultimate compliment to say that Apokolips War leaves its audience wanting more. I could happily watch hundreds more films starring these versions of the characters whilst accepting that this was a strong ending to an 11-movie continuity that in unparalleled in the world of animation.

Verdict

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is the perfect bookend to the stories which began back in 2014’s Justice League: War. Poignant, emotional and action-packed to the final moment it’s the perfect send off to this era of DC DTV filmmaking.

9/10

Matt Ryan (Legends of Tomorrow, Constantine), Jerry O’Connell (Carter, Bravo’s Play by Play, Stand by Me) and Taissa Farmiga (The Nun, The Mule, American Horror Story) anchor the cast as Constantine, Superman and Raven, respectively – the triumvirate determined to assemble the forces necessary to lead humanity’s final attack. Alongside that trio are the long-running core of Justice League voices — Jason O’Mara (The Man in the High Castle, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Batman, Rosario Dawson (Briar Patch, Daredevil, Sin City) as Wonder Woman, Shemar Moore (S.W.A.T., Criminal Minds) as Cyborg and Christopher Gorham (Covert Affairs, Insatiable, Ugly Betty) as The Flash – as well as JL-adjacents Rebecca Romijn (X-Men, The Librarians) and Rainn Wilson (The Office, The Meg) as the voices of Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, respectively.

Tony Todd (Candyman) is the voice of the film’s key villain, Darkseid. The cast also boasts appearances by Camilla Luddington (Grey’s Anatomy) as Zatanna, Ray Chase (Justice League Dark, Final Fantasy XV videogame) as Jason Blood/Etrigan, Roger R. Cross (24, The Strain, Arrow) as John Stewart & Swamp Thing, Liam McIntyre (Spartacus: War of the Damned, The Flash) as Captain Boomerang, Hynden Walch (Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans) as Harley Quinn, Stuart Allan (Batman vs. Robin, Batman: Bad Blood) as Robin/Damian, Sachie Alessio (Batman: Hush) as Lady Shiva, and John DiMaggio (Futurama, Batman: Under the Red Hood) as King Shark.


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By Neil Vagg

Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & TV and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG