When innocent civilians begin committing unthinkable crimes across Metropolis, Gotham City and beyond, Batman must call upon mystical counterparts to eradicate this demonic threat to the planet. Enter Justice League Dark, reluctantly led by the Hellblazer himself, John Constantine. Like Batman, Constantine is a cunning, often cynical loner who is the best at his chosen profession – but quickly realizes the sinister forces plaguing the planet will require help from other supernatural alliances. Forming a new "league" with sorceress Zatanna, otherworldly Deadman, and Jason Blood and his powerful alter ego Etrigan the Demon, this team of Dark Arts specialists must unravel the mystery of Earth's supernatural plague and contend with the rising, powerful villainous forces behind the siege – before it's too late for all of mankind.
Actor Matt Ryan, who set the standard for the role of Constantine on the Warner Bros. live-action television series, returns to the role in animated form alongside Jason O'Mara (Terra Nova, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Batman, Camilla Luddington (Grey's Anatomy) as Zatanna, Nicholas Turturro (NYPD Blue) as Deadman, Ray Chase (Final Fantasy XV videogame) as Jason Blood/Etrigan, Roger R. Cross (24, Arrow) as John Stewart/Swamp Thing, Jeremy Davies (Justified) as Ritchie Simpson, Rosario Dawson (Daredevil, Sin City) as Wonder Woman, Jerry O'Connell (Stand By Me, Crossing Jordan) as Superman, Enrico Colantoni (Flashpoint, Veronica Mars) as Felix Faust, and Alfred Molina (The Da Vinci Code, Spider-Man 2) as Destiny.
In Washington D.C., a woman has her car attacked by demons and she starts running them over...only to realize (when Wonder Woman arrives on the scene) that she's actually killed people instead. In Metropolis, a man is about to shoot a demon inside his house, but when Superman arrives he realizes he was about to kill his family instead. The Man of Steel then discovers the man's barn is full of neighbors he has killed...also believing they were demons. In Gotham, Batman arrives on a rooftop to stop a woman from throwing her baby off it...yes, she believes it's demonic as well. The Dark Knight saves the baby, but can't stop the woman from jumping to her death.
What you've just read is the fantastic opening to 'Justice League Dark', a movie that sadly is never able to live up to its first few minutes – a shame, since this opening is flat out the best sequence the DC animated universe has ever provided. The story, in case the box cover wasn't already a dead giveaway, takes Batman (voiced once again by Jason O'Mara, and the only member of the Justice League to get any significant screen time here) and teams him up with a more magical 'Justice League', made up of John Constantine (Matt Ryan, voicing the same character he did on the short-lived NBC series), Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), Deadman (aka Boston Brand, voiced by Nicholas Turturro), and – in a more limited role – Swamp Thing (Roger Cross). And while it's great to see some "fresh blood" in the DC Universe, I'm not sure fans of these characters will be thrilled with the proceedings, as the plot trades characterization for a lot of action sequences and magical spells.
In fairness, I'm not all that familiar with Constantine at all (other than the poorly received Keanu Reeves flick) and have virtually no knowledge of the other characters here (other than Batman, of course), so it's possible that more die-hard fans of these heroes will get a lot more out of 'Justice League Dark' than I did. Once Batman – whose only reason to be in this movie seems to be for better sales of the title – realizes that citizens' demonic visions may be the result of dark magic (including having the word 'Constantine' appearing all over one of his rooms in Wayne Manor thanks to Deadman), he reaches out to Zatanna to try and get in touch with Constantine. He eventually does (but at the expense of the batmobile!) and the newly formed foursome begin their investigation.
It's at this point in the story that I felt the plot got needlessly convoluted. Their search for answers revolves around a magical "Dreamstone", the possessor of which – as the name implies – can make people see things that aren't really there. Their quest leads them into – and I swear I'm not kidding here – an extended fight in a hospital ward with a giant poop monster. Kevin Smith should sue (see Dogma). After a long middle part of the movie that, honestly, confused the heck out of me and delved back in time to a story that involved Merlin the magician and a spell he casts involving two other characters seen here, things pick up again at the conclusion – which is a large battle that includes Batman and the others having to take on members of the original Justice League, who have fallen prey to demonic hallucinations along with the rest of humanity.
'Justice League Dark' is the second DC animated title to get an R rating, but it's hard to see exactly why. There's some language in the movie, but none that crosses the PG-13 realm, and the violence isn't particularly anything worse than what would be seen in a PG-13 live action movie either. I suspect that given the dark themes of the movie, as well as those opening scenes that involve people being run over and Superman finding dead bodies (although, again, there's nothing too graphic about the depiction) that the raters just "played it safe" and slapped an "R" on this, given that it's an animated title. I'm willing to bet if the exact same story was created for live action, this would have easily gotten a PG-13. Worried parents out there can take that for what it's worth, although I still wouldn't show this to anyone not yet in their teens.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Justice League Dark' battles its way onto home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD limited edition gift set (well, kind of "limited" as 60,000 of these babies have been produced). The keepcase, which includes a slightly embossed slipcover that slides overtop, arrives housed inside a larger cardboard box that also contains a John Constantine figure manufactured by Gentle Giant Ltd. The 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD are housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital version of the movie.
The Blu-ray is front-loaded with a trailer for the upcoming 'Wonder Woman' feature film, and the main menu on both discs is the standard Warners' design, with the box cover image and menu selections across the bottom of the screen.
In addition to this gift set release, a standard combo pack release is also available. Also, as is usually the case with these DC animated titles, a couple of retailer exclusives are out there. Best Buy has a version that includes the same Constantine figurine along with the Justice League Dark graphic novel 'Into the Dark', while Target has an exclusive steelbook version.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Justice League Dark' is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio using an AVC MPEG-4 codec. Although the animation style here is consistent with prior DC animated releases and there's a minor touch of banding here and there for the sharp eye, it actually appears as if the folks over at Warners are doing a better job with these animated titles. I detected no problems with aliasing this time around, and the black levels (important in a darker title such as this one) are pretty decent throughout. There is some very minor pixilation in the background of some shots, but it's not a distraction (only those with significantly large screens will even pick up on it), and likely due to the bit rate (surprisingly low considering the space available) Warners continues to use for their animated titles. The overall style used by the animators for these titles (with the exception of the bright-looking Return of the Caped Crusaders, which really isn't considered to be part of this realm of the animated DC Universe) leans toward a less-saturated look, but still manages to provide a nice range of colors throughout.
The featured track is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one and while it's short of being reference quality, it is one of the better tracks I've heard on a DC animated release, with lots of surround use (the rears are not only used for ambient noises, but for directionality and the occasional off-screen bit of dialogue) and some nice LFE use when explosions or the rumbling of the batmobile are at play. The remainder of the dialogue is front and center and presented both crisply and clearly. Since a big chunk of the second half of the movie is almost all non-stop action, this track provides enough to keep viewers engaged and entertained.
In addition to the lossless English track, Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are available in French, German, Spanish (Latin), and Portuguese. A Dolby Digital 2.0 track is available in Spanish (Castilian). Subtitles are an option in English SDH, French, German, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
I can't help but feel that 'Justice League Dark' is a missed opportunity. The movie has a very strong opening and a solid ending, but much of the middle feels like a whole lot of magical mumbo jumbo that only the very die-hard fans of these characters are going to be able to appreciate. Still, there's enough here for me to offer up a solid – if not overwhelming – recommendation.