Editor’s Note: Warner Bros Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this entry. The opinions I share are my own.


The Movie

For the fifteenth and final film in the DC Animated Movie Universe, Warner Bros. Animation pulled out all the stops and bring us not only a grand finale to a series of films that began with Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox back in 2013, but what might actually be the best film in the series: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Because they are actually wrapping up a continuity that had fifteen films overall, Apokolips War had a lot of heavy lifting to do storywise, tying up a ton of dangling narratives from seven different franchises (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Teen Titans, and Suicide Squad) – eight if you count the Constantine one-shot, City of Demons – in much the same way that Avengers: Endgame did. The similarities don’t end with just the statistics, as both films focus on the aftermaths of our superheroes losing and the earth being devastated.

However, here there’s no real way out. The heroes that die are dead. The heroes that are horribly maimed and mutilated are still all sorts of fucked up in the end. And while the heroes do come out on top, they don’t win a damn thing. This allows the screenwriters Mairghread Scott and Ernie Altbacker to craft a massive amount of gory and brutal violent ends to some of our most beloved DC characters. And while it’s obvious to anybody paying attention (hello, Flashpoint) that there will be a reboot of sorts, this is the end for these iterations of the characters.

Speaking as someone who has watched every single film in this continuity, I’m not entirely sad to see it go, as it was based on DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch, which I wasn’t a big fan of. There was good stuff here, and pretty much every film had something good going for it, but most ended up mediocre or lost some of their potential impact by being forced into the New 52 aesthetic. Hush was probably the most damaged by this, while The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen suffered but muddled through, as these stories pre-dated New 52 and there had to be some wrangling of plot points to fit this new continuity.

Anyway, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War follows on the heels of Reign of the Supermen, and Superman (Jerry O’Connell) has decided to go on the offensive against Darkseid (Tony Todd) – who’s already attempted to invade Earth twice so far – launching an all-out attack on his homeworld, Apokolips. But Darkseid has advance knowledge of the attack thanks to Cyborg’s (Shemar Moore) Mother Box technology and it turns into a shitshow before the credits even roll. We then pick up two years later and Earth is right fucked. Constantine (the only Constantine who matters, Matt Ryan) is trying to drink himself to death and hanging with Etrigan (Ray Chase) who is similarly indisposed since the death of his human counterpart, Jason Blood. When a kryptonite infused, and thus depowered, Superman shows up with a dying Raven (Taissa Farmiga) with a last-ditch plan to save the world, Constantine and Etrigan reluctantly sign on and away we go.

Clocking in at a solid 90 minutes, Apokolips War is the longest of DC’s animated films and it uses every single minute. There’s no fat on this thing, and when we finally reach the finale, every single scene elevates the story and increases the threat level. Before we get there, however, we see virtually every character that has been established and developed in this continuity die a horrible, bloody, R-rated death. We’re lucky if we just get the implied death of having a pack of ParaDooms (Parademon/Doomsday hybrids that are nearly unstoppable) swarm and attack like a pack of zombies in Dawn of the Dead. There are a number of graphic images of heroes being ripped in two, blood and entrails exploding onto the screen, or losing limbs in gouts of blood, usually either in slow motion or as still shots.

But it’s not all gore. We also discover along the way that Constantine and King Shark (John DiMaggio) are ex-lovers.

I’ll just let that one sit there a moment.

So yeah, it’s not all doom and gloom as Scott and Altbacker are able to work in some lighter moments. This is mostly thanks to the inclusion of the Suicide Squad, who with Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch) in the lead, finally get to live up to their name for real, while also engaging in a bit of the old ultra-violence. I mean seriously ultra-violent. And alongside that we also get a number of fantastic emotional moments, particularly between Raven and Damian (Stuart Allan) and a heavenly moment with Constantine and Zatanna (Camilla Luddington).

I’m gonna go ahead and call it. This is going to be a much better Justice League war against Darkseid than we’ll get with the Snyder Cut of Justice League. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it, but I really can’t see that topping the emotional impact of Apokolips War, given the fact that Warner Bros. have allowed these characters to develop and grow on us over fourteen prior films.

Plus, Zack Snyder doesn’t know how to tell a story, while Scott and Altbacker do. He also doesn’t really know how to direct anything other than roid-rage, nihilistic, toxic-masculine, Christ fantasies, while Apokolips War’s directors, Matt Peters and Christina Sotta, actually care about the characters and their emotional development while also knowing how to build dramatic tension.

Um, yeah. So go watch Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.

The Extras

DC Showcase: Adam Strange – Directed by Butch Lukic and written by J.M. DeMatteis, the latest DC Showcase tells a stand-alone story of DC classic sci-fi adventurer Adam Strange. For those not familiar, Adam Strange is an Earth man zapped to the planet Rann by Zeta Beam technology. When the Zeta Beam wore off, though, Strange would find himself zapped back across the universe to his point of origin. The character was conceived of by DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz and designed by Murphy Anderson back in 1958, but it was writer Gardner Fox and artist Murphy Anderson who brought the character to life, first in Showcase and then in Mystery in Space.

This short is based on a story idea by Lukic and then scripted by the legendary J.M. DeMatteis, giving us a new, darker, bleaker interpretation of the character than I’ve seen before. When Thanagar (the homeworld of JLA member Hawkman) invades Rann, Strange’s wife Alanna is killed and their daughter is lost. Then, as luck would have it, the Zeta Beam kicks in and teleports Strange to another planet where he is stuck until the next time the Zeta Beam manifests and zaps him back to Rann.

I’m not sure about how this use of the Zeta Beam actually works canonically, but I’m not worried about it.

Strange ends up a drunken, broken shell of a man on a mining colony and it’s not until the miners accidentally set loose a horde of giant bugs that are a cross between the aliens in Starship Troopers and the Meganurons from Rodan (1956), that he gets a chance to shine.

There’s not a lot of story here, but it’s still one of the best DC Showcase installments so far. The R-rating allows for more graphic violence and some adult language that feels natural to the story. My only complaint is that I want to see more. The story ends just as we get to a point where we might actually get to see some character development and some actual story.

All in all, I loved it and want to see more Adam Strange. I hope you’re listening, Warner Bros.

Darkseid: New God, Classic Evil – First off, DON’T WATCH THIS FIRST. THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THE VERY FIRST SECONDS OF THIS FUCKING THING.

Okay, with that out of the way, this is a very nicely done exploration of the character of Darkseid and an introduction to the work that Jack Kirby did at DC after leaving Marvel. Comics historian Mark Evanier gives a brief but informative introduction to Kirby’s Fourth World and New Gods. Directors Christina Sotta and Mark Peters talk about the influence of Kirby’s designs on the project, and executive producer James Tucker discusses how they’ve adapted Kirby’s concepts in a style that’s more Jim Lee/anime than the Kirby originals.

Ultimately, there’s not enough Kirby in the film, but given the source materials, it’s understandable. I just feel like this could have been even better if they’d leant more into the Kirby origins instead of the more vapid New 52 interpretations.

Sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie, Superman: Man of Tomorrow – When I heard this title I could have sworn that it would be based on an existing comic, but I can’t find any ties to other books with the same name (although there was a 1995 series of the same name and DC has just recently launched a new series with the title, neither seem to have anything to do with this film, although Parasite is featured and did appear in the first issue of the 2020 series).

Basically, this looks like it’s going to be a full-on reboot with an updated Superman (Darren Criss) origin story, an entirely new cast of voice actors, and even a new animation style that I really like the look of. It features the Martian Manhunter (Ike Amadi) as another last of his race alien living in secret on Earth. The thematic focus seems to be on xenophobia and treating the appearance of an alien super being realistically. But then again, we also get an appearance from Lobo (Sons of Anarchy’s Ryan Hurst). Other nerd casting coups are Agents of SHIELD’s Brett Dalton as Parasite and Zachary Quinto as the newest Lex Luthor.

It looks interesting. I’ll check it out.

Preview of Justice League Dark – Even though Justice League Dark was released in 2017, there’s a preview for it here for obvious reasons. But it’s not just a trailer. We actually get a full-on sneak peek of the making of the film and interviews with cast and crew. It’s worth a look, if you haven’t already seen the movie.

Preview of Batman and Harley Quinn – Similarly, this preview is another sneak peek for a film released in 2017, I guess because Harley is in Apocalypse War? Anyway, there are short interviews with Bruce Timm (who developed the story), writer James Krieg, and the actors involved. This was a weird one, as it struck a more adult tone, but still adhered to the classic Batman the Animated Series style and brought back Loren Lester, who originally voiced Robin, to play Nightwing.

I haven’t seen this one, but it looks like fun.

Justice League Action: “Zombie King” – The Justice League Action show was over far too quickly, with just 52 11-minute episodes stretched over three-ish years. They were fast-paced and extremely fun. In this episode, included because of the appearances of Constantine, Zatanna, and Swamp Thing, Solomon Grundy gets his giant undead paws on a magical crystal that will turn the whole world into zombies that he controls unless Batman and the gang stop him.

It’s fun, action-packed, and over before you know it.

Justice League Action: “Abate and Switch” – This time out, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are trying to stop the Brothers Djinn from doing something. I don’t know. It involves a volcano. Anyway, after they depower Superman and Wonder Woman, Batman calls in reinforcements. This is the true joy of this series, as anybody from DC could show up at any time. This time, after Constantine saves them, we get a team-up with Green Arrow, Swamp Thing, and Plastic Man, before the Djinn free Black Adam, which then inspires a Shazam appearance.

Again, it’s fun, action-packed, and over before you know it.

Teen Titans: “Nevermore” – I didn’t watch Teen Titans when it debuted back in 2003. I saw that it had an anime-inspired look and seemed to be more comedy than drama, so I checked out. That was probably a mistake. If this episode is any indication, I was being a cartoon snob, because while there’s plenty of goofy shit going on, there’s just as much actual character work, drama, and action.

“Nevermore” is the sixth episode of the first season, and the characters are still getting to know one another. Nobody knows what to make of Raven, who is ill-tempered and just wants to be left alone most of the time. When Cyborg and Beast Boy find themselves sucked inside of her mind, they discover that she’s sectioned off all the different parts of her personality and as they make their way home, we see happy, sad, brave, and angry versions of Raven before she shows up to save them by accepting all of these parts of herself.

It’s very cool and really makes me want to go back and give this show a chance.

Also, it’s got the best theme song of any DC animated series ever.

Commentary Track featuring executive producer James Tucker, co-writer Ernie Altbacker, and directors Matt Peters and Christina Sotta – Sometimes with these commentary tracks you can skip around and still get the gist of what’s going on, since there’s a lot of cutting up and goofing off. Occasionally, you get detailed discussions of the creative decisions and stories of the filmmaking.

Listening to Tucker, Altbacker, Peters, and Sotta was a pleasant mixture of both and I never felt any inclination to skip or fast forward. Tucker has produced all of these films, starting with Flashpoint Paradox, and tells the story that Flashpoint wasn’t originally intended to kick off a new continuity, but after it was finished, he was told that Justice League: War would be spinning out directly from it, so a new teaser scene was added to the end before release. These are the types of stories that I love hearing during commentary tracks.

Peters and Sotta also discuss how they split up the directing duties, each of them taking on the scenes with their favorite characters and then an uncredited Sam Liu (director of nearly every other Warner Bros. Animated project over the past decade) helped out directing some of the more quiet scenes in the back half of the production. There’s talk of ad-libbed dialogue between Matt Ryan and Liam McIntyre (who spiced up the insult battle between Constantine and Captain Boomerang) learn that Altbacker was brought onboard because of the success of his writing in Justice League Dark.

Oh, and he hates Damian and really enjoyed the final confrontation between Robin and [REDACTED].

This is a pretty fun and enlightening commentary track. It’s definitely worth a listen.


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