Over the last few years, the common wisdom has been while DC’s live action film universe has been lacking (that’s my diplomatic way to put it for those who don’t hate Man of Steel), their animated projects have been pretty good. I’ve echoed that sentiment until the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke came out. I was so irritated with that one that I didn’t even cover it for ‘Geekly. With the release of Justice League Dark I hoped DC was getting back in shape, and while the results were far from great, they were a step in the right direction.
First, let me say that this is not a great jumping on point for those who aren’t familiar with the characters in this offshoot of The Justice League. It wants to be accessible, and to that end they shovel in a couple origin flashbacks for characters like Boston Brand/Deadman and Jason Blood/Etrigan, but it’s not quite enough. There’s a lot of backstory hinted at with Zatanna and Constantine. In fact, there’s a lot of backstory hinted at as to why every character they run across has a grudge against Constantine. If you’ve read Hellblazer or you follow Justice League Dark (the comics), you’ll get it, but if not, you stand around wondering why anyone is supposed to root for this character.
It struck me as clear the people behind the film didn’t trust the audience to know all this backstory, and that’s why I assume they insisted on attaching Batman to the movie. They wanted a recognizable DC hero with broader appeal, and that seems to be his sole purpose in the movie. The rest of the Justice League proper show up in brief supporting roles, but Batman tags along for the ride. There are some decent moments with him, and though Jason O’Mara is no Kevin Conroy, he does well enough with the voice acting. The problem comes mostly when Batman slings batarangs at demons, and the movie’s internal logic about how magic and the physical realm interact get murky. In short, they sacrifice internal consistency to fit Batman into the story.
If you’re a fan of these characters already, I think there’s enough of what makes them interesting to win you over, and you’ll probably enjoy the film well enough. If you’re a hardcore fan, the only character you might feel cheated by is Swamp Thing, whose role in the movie is just a little bit greater than a cameo, so go into it knowing that.
All things considered, this is more like what we’ve seen from DC in the animated film department. While it doesn’t give equal footing to all characters, I don’t think it guts anyone the way The Killing Joke did. I don’t think this is a movie you’re going to feel inclined to own, but if you’ve been hankering for a bit of John Constantine, it’s worth a rental.