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Friday, January 31, 2014

Justice League: War (2014) direct-to-video animated movie review


Overall verdict: 7.5/10

The Good: snappy well written dialogue, cast chemistry, fluid action, timely humour,  brisk plot pace, characters well fleshed out

The Bad: some weird character designs, lacklustre animation, clashing CGI, underdeveloped villain, unnecessary liberties taken with source material. 

3D Readiness: none
IMax-ability: none

******************************Review*****************************

DC's "New 52". Love it or hate it, it is here to stay. So strong is this line wide continuity reboot that it has now entered the realm of animation in the form of JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR. Adapting the first volume of Geoff John's and Jim Lee's graphic novel "Justice League: Origins", WAR is a brisk animated superhero blockbuster, heavy on action and snappy dialogue. Compared to the bleak and morally ambiguous FLASHPOINT PARADOX, WAR returns an element of fun to DC's superheroes by crafting a tradition, clear cut "Good versus evil" tale.

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and more. Superpowered beings have only recently made their presence known to a suspicious world. Admired by some, but feared by most, they struggle for acceptance while fighting the good fight. A typical night on the job turns into a conflict of epic proportions when Batman and Green Lantern uncover evidence of a clandestine operation carried out by techno organic aliens. Superman gets roped in due to his alien origins and an experiment gone wrong leads to the metamorphosis of Vic Stone into a techno organic "Cyborg". All this culminates in a full scale invasion, pulling in the likes of Wonder Woman, The Flash and Shazam, who just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Facing down the invasion forces the squabbling heroes to set aside their differences and work together.

Perhaps the best part of such superhero team ups is to see how the heroes play off each other. Thanks to an expertly written script and fine acting, our characters share memorable moments of dialogue punctuated with wit and a bit of humour. It feels like Marvel's AVENGERS only that the humour is more controlled, more witty, and less outright comedy.

Miraculously, with so many heroes, our script gives ample development to the characters and fleshes most of them out perfectly. Cyborg's tension with his father, Green Lantern's over confidence in his power and Wonder Woman as the stranger in a strange land are a treat to watch. All the characters are played by an excellent bunch of actors who ease right into their roles.  Special mention goes to young Zach Callison who nails Billy Batson as a streetwise but insecure kid, hiding his insecurities behind a seemingly brash little tough guy act. Little sub-plots lend meat to the story such as Cyborg and Shazam's issue with trust, Green Lantern learning some humility, and a budding romance between Superman and Wonder Woman. Superman himself however is a big letdown. His simplistic dialogue,  and muscle bound design makes him seem like a clueless one dimensional bruiser.

Of course, what would a good superhero movie be without action?
In JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR, the action is intense and wild. Featuring a soundtrack that combines orchestral fanfare with some sinister sounding synths, essentially makes JUSTICE LEAGUE WAR sound more like the sci/fi invasion flick that it is than a traditional superhero movie. Legions of parademons storm the major cities of the world while their leader Darkseid personally confronts the heroes. Moi Animation studio brings their best to the fight scenes. The animation is smooth and dynamic, yet the level of detail remains constant. Director Jay Olivia, who also directed the superman slugfest SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY shows off some beautiful combat scenes, including a cool first-person sequence from the point of view of Wonder Woman slicing her way through a horde.

Unfortunately, the slower scenes in the movie show off some areas where the animation is lacking. With TV shows like Young Justice and Legend of Korra, the art detail in this movie is barely any better than that in the aforementioned TV series. Then there is the ubiquitous CGI used to render vehicles and parademon hordes in the background. They clash rather obviously with the 2D art, a true crime when others shows can successfully integrate cel shaded CGI into the traditional 2D animation. Some character designs are also just as iffy. While most of the characters look fantastic, with a slight japanese anime touch, Superman looks like a dumb beefcake. Not that his simplistic dialogue helps this impression. His face is too wide, his shoulders are huge, nothing at all like the sleek and handsome Jim Lee art in the original graphic novel.
  
And that is perhaps the greatest sin this movie commits. In touting itself as an adaptation, it makes many unnecessary changes from the original comic. Polarising your audience is never a good thing. Fans of the comic would be turned off by the changes. Not that JUSTICE LEAGUE WAR is not a good movie, it is. It succeeds in re-introducing these well known characters in a new light, and in setting up a whole new universe for subsequent animated movies to be set in. As a pilot film, not bad. But perhaps with the critical acclaim that the graphic novel got, it should not have been too much to expect more advanced animation techniques and better character designs that were closer to the comic art.

DC now has it's New animated movie universe up and running. Would a live action one follow soon?
*****************************Review End***************************


Entertainment: A-
Story: A-
Characters: A-
Animation: B 
Art: B
Music: B+
Voice work: A-
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": C-

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