For a few people I knew, trying to dive into the lore of D.C. Comics without already being versed in some of its history was like diving into to an Olympic pool filled with concrete. You feel euphoric starting to fall into the material, but then your mind scatters once you hit the large chunks of lore that require prior knowledge. Having characters and histories that are as old as most of your grandparents made this a real problem for new readers; it felt like you needed to be a historian to follow some elements of D.C. plotlines. This was one of the reasons “The New 52” revamp was launched: to provide a fresh start for old and new readers alike. The New 52 wasn’t limited to the comics, and eventually became the main universe for DC animated films, such as Justice League Dark.
Justice League Dark is an animated feature length film centered on the Justice League being faced with a global paranormal phenomenon causing civilians to go mad. The investigation into these dark crimes leads Batman to linking up with Zatanna the magician, John Constantine the Hellblazer, Jason Blood and Etrigan, and finally Boston Brand the Deadman. If you’ve not heard of the latter 3 characters, don’t you worry; the film will irritatingly use a good amount of time giving them their own flashback sequence.
[From this point forward, the film will be discussed in detail, including the plot. Read at your own peril.]
J.L. Dark is a movie with a plot that is only wide enough to provide the means to show people characters that existed in the New 52 which they may not have heard of. Batman, Zatanna and Deadman eventually convince Constantine to aid in their investigation of the dark crimes. They go see Ritchie Simpson, a mystical artifact collector, who gives them an item to peer into the mind. This artifact helps the gang find a mystical ring in the memories of a man afflicted with madness. But all is not as it seems.
While our heroes were visiting Ritchie, a conversation is underway between Ritchie, Zatanna, and Constantine. Here, we are given a side plot that is not shown in the film. Sometime before the events of the film, Constantine screwed up which resulted in Ritchie being afflicted with a magical cancer. You read that right, a magical cancer.
D.C. has a movie that is showing the dark and mystical side of a known universe and all they can come up with for a disease is a magical form of cancer. It’s not even elaborated as to what is so special about this cancer other than incurability. If you think about it grimly, that isn’t much different than some cancers we deal with today. There will be more discussion on creative bankruptcy later.
Since he’s been given a magical cancer, Ritchie is understandably a tad miffed towards Constantine. An additional result of the magical cancer occurs after our heroes’ memory dive; Ritchie dies. Constantine and company arrive at Ritchie’s estate to find soul collecting shrouds surrounding Ritchie’s body, with Jason Blood standing over it. One brief misunderstanding and Bat-revive syringe later, Ritchie is recovering in Constantine’s House of Mystery. Ritchie is shown the ring from the memory, and tells the gang to find Felix Faust.
Constantine’s team, now including Jason Blood/Etrigan, head into a swamp to seek assistance in finding Faust after a locator spell fails. Constantine summons Swamp Thing, who begrudgingly transports the group outside of Faust’s Observatory. A long fight ensues, which felt both grand enough for the main bad guy and chaotic enough to put the final fight in a very far off second place in comparison. Faust is defeated, and which leads Batman to perceive Ritchie is up to something.
Team Constantine returns to the House of Mystery to find Ritchie was seeking an artifact kept within the house, the Dreamstone. Ritchie combines it with a piece of the stone he had himself, and becomes immortal. He has been taken over by the soul of Destiny, a foe that crossed paths with Blood and Etrigan 500 years previously. Destiny explodes the House of Mystery and goes off towards a nearby city to cause madness. The team heads in soon after.
The final fight and finale of this movie is nowhere near anything special. Cameos from the regular Justice League have the Leaguers being overtaken by madness and mostly attack Batman. After all is said and done, Destiny is defeated by Constantine, Deadman, and Etrigan. Blood dies, as does Ritchie (finally). The world is saved, and Constantine attempts to rekindle his relationship with Zatanna, while Deadman tries to court the House of Mystery’s persona. The end.
I couldn’t help but be mildly bored with this movie past the first half. In the first half, the darker side of the world was being developed, with world building, lore, and character development. The second half is nothing new to write about. This film had the realm of pure creativity to work with, yet in battles it fell flat.
Magical combat in JL dark was generic enough that it made the fights involving Faust, and Destiny just boring to watch. Fireballs and magical beams all do the same thing when they make contact with a solid object: they explode. To illustrate how generic this is, I would like to tell you about another use of the character Zatanna.
In the show Justice League Unlimited, Zatanna at one point uses her magician act in conjunction with her actual magical abilities to transform a group of invading demons into pigeons. She then compels the pigeons into her top hat, then transforms them into fireballs which then fly out to destroy more of their kin.
In J.L. Dark, the most creative attack involving Zatanna is her using an unknown artifact to conjure up a massive magical sword. Which would you rather watch? I mean, she doesn’t even have a top hat for the last 90% of the movie. That’s a deal breaker for me. I love top hats.
Justice League Dark is a movie that is generic in mostly everything involved. The only exceptions are animation quality, the writing for Constantine, and one instance where a magical enemy is conjured from a toilet. The music is bland with occasional bouts of distracting dubstep. The final fight is boring, and Destiny was a terrible choice for the big bad. Batman’s presence in this film is very underwhelming, and really is only in the movie because people love Batman.
This all combines with The New 52’s lack of popularity when it was live. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m subscribed to comic RSS feeds, I wouldn’t have known this movie existed.
★★☆☆☆ “Mediocre – A lukewarm experience that only fans will possibly enjoy.”