When the powerful Darkseid and his massive, relentless forces invade Earth, a group of previously unaligned super heroes -- misunderstood and, in some cases, hunted by the authorities -- discover the only way to fend off the attack will be to work together as a cohesive unit. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Shazam and Cyborg combine their respective talents in an all-out battle to save the planet. Based on the 2012 graphic novel, "Justice League: Origin," by writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee, Justice League: War provides a glance into the world before the Justice League was created, and offers the initial animated incarnation of DC Entertainment's "The New 52."
'Justice League: War' is DC's animated adaptation of the 'Justice League: Origin' comic book story, which launched the 'New 52' (named so because that was the number of comic books DC was relaunching/rebooting) back in the fall of 2011. Which means it's a reboot for the Justice League in animation as well, so it's a good 'jumping on board' title for those who don't want to have to worry about going back and picking up or watching prior incarnations of these superheroes in the animated world.
If there's a downside to this title, it's that DC has to introduce (or re-introduce, as the case may be) no less than seven superheroes in less than 80 minutes of run time. The good news is they do a pretty good job of it, glossing over backstories for characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman (making the assumption that most viewers already know about them) to spend time on lesser known or less popular characters like Cyborg and Shazam. In fact, 'Justice League: War' actually serves as an origin story for Cyborg, as we learn how star quarterback Vic Stone becomes the metallic hero throughout the course of this movie.
The plot gets underway when Green Lantern (voice of Justin Kirk) teams up with Batman (voice of Jason O'Mara) to fight off a large metallic alien in Gotham City. While there's plenty of action in this opening sequence, the real purpose is the development of a love/hate relationship between Batman and Green Lantern, which is pretty fun to see develop onscreen. These large aliens are popping up all over the world, however, and leaving behind mysterious boxes, which viewers will soon learn will be used by the evil Darkseid (voice of Steve Blum) to invade our dimension with thousands of the types of aliens that Batman and Green Lantern had to fight off. Batman and Green Lantern then head off to Metropolis to make contact with Superman (voice of Alan Tudyk), marking the first time – at least in this rebooted universe – that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel meet face to face.
Before 'Justice League: War' focuses too much on Darkseid's invasion, it takes time to introduce us to the rest of the not-yet-a-team, starting with Wonder Woman (voice of Michelle Monaghan), who is surprised to find people protesting her in Washington, D.C. In fact, one of the cool things (which was also part of the comics story) as 'Justice League: War' opens is that our superheroes are pretty much feared by the general public. The world sees them as dangerous vigilantes and not as protectors.
As I noted above, this movie serves as an origin tale for Cyborg (voice of Shemar Moore), who winds up in his metal prison after suffering the effects of one of Darkseid's boxes exploding. Cyborg is closely tied with the Shazam (voice of Sean Astin) character here, as young Billy Batson (voice of Zach Callison) was a huge fan of quarterback Vic Stone before he turned into Cyborg.
If there's any character that gets the short end of the stick here, it's The Flash (voice of Christopher Gorman), who has a decent amount of screentime, but not a whole lot of character development. DC fans will note that Aquaman doesn't appear in this title at all (even though he was in the comics' version of this story), and that's because DC was saving his debut for the follow-up to this release, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.
The biggest problem with 'Justice League: War' is that at its half-way point, it abandons any character development for a long and overdrawn fight sequence between Darkseid and his army of aliens and our heroes. Had the fight been about half as long, it wouldn't have been so bad, but it goes on for such a big chunk of the movie, it really wears out its welcome. Still, there's a lot to like about the first half of this title, and enough that I think most DC fans are going to want to add this to their collection.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Note: The description of the Blu-ray package that follows is based on a Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack that no longer contains either the DVD or the slipcover that came with the original combo pack release. This condensed version is apparently the only type currently for sale on Amazon. One's mileage may vary finding the DVD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack through other e-tailers and/or brick and mortar stores. Also, upon initial release of this title in 2014, there were a few exclusive versions, including one from Best Buy that included a Superman action figure and a steelbook version from Target. Again, one's mileage may very tracking down either one of those exclusives.
'Justice League: War' fights its way onto Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the 50GB dual-layer disc, along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet copy of the movie. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with an ad for UltraViolet, along with trailers for The Lego Movie and Son of Batman. The main menu is a standard Warners one, with a still of the box cover image and menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is region-free.
Another DC Universe animated release, another transfer with banding issues. To be fair, the issues seem to be related to the way the animators are creating these releases, as opposed to something that's not there in the source and only showing up in the 1080p transfer. There are some pixilation/microblocking issues as well, and some very minor aliasing, but not nearly to the degree I've seen them on other DC releases.
In terms of what's good, lines are pretty smooth here around the characters, so jagged edges are not really a problem. Color and detail are also well done, although often shots seem to have a 'haze' over them and sometimes the animators intentionally blur the action to try and give the animation a more cinematic/realistic feel – but it just manages to make the picture less appealing. Overall, though, this is on par with what we've seen before, so frequent buyers of these titles should know what to expect.
There's a lot of fun to be had listening to the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which fares much better than the video in terms of quality. There's a lot of action in 'Justice League: War' and there's a lot going on with the audio, as directionality and an immersive feeling are almost in constant use. There's some entertaining LFE moments as well, thanks to the many explosions that occur in the movie. Everything comes across fairly crisp and clear as well, and the dynamic range here is very good. If there's one complaint, it's a small one as the spoken word is just ever so slightly mixed a little lower than the other bits of audio – although not nearly as bad as I've experienced in a lot of mainstream live-action releases.
There are no glitches to speak of – so no problems with dropouts, cracking, hissing, or muddiness with the DTS-HD track. This is one of the better and most active tracks I've encountered on a DC animated release.
In addition to the featured English lossless track, there are also Dolby 5.1 tracks available in Spanish and French. Subtitles are available in English SDH and French (with Spanish subtitles available only on the bonus materials).
'Justice League: War' is a tale of two movies, with the first half concentrating on characterization and the second half featuring action almost exclusively. I found myself liking the first part quite a bit, but felt the rest dragged a bit and almost wore out its welcome. Still, there's more than enough here to like and this is a decent introduction to the 'New 52' version of the Justice League. Recommended.