Once I got started on the Justice League Dark comic, I had to go back and check out the 2017 animated film. If anyone is expecting a film version of the new comic series, guess again: the film was released before the new series was even announced, and while there are similarities, they are very different sorts of critters.
Violent murders are taking place in Washingon, D.C., Gotham, and Metropolis, committed by people who are convinced that they are killing demons. The Justice League concludes that magic is involved, and Batman (Jason O’Mara), who is somewhat skeptical, is briefly possessed by Deadman (a/k/a Boston Brand, voiced by Nicholas Turturo) with some instructions: get hold of Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), and then together they must talk to Constantine.
Flashback to a poker game between John Constantine (Matt Ryan), Jason Blood (Ray Chase) and three demons. Needless to say, everyone’s cheating (except maybe Blood), but Constantine kicks the whole thing up a notch when he bets his house, the House of Mystery, to call the demons’ bet. Things get a little out of hand, and Jason is forced to call up the demon Etrigan (Ray Chase, in a dual role) to deal with the three losers.
The group visit Constantine’s friend Ritchie Simpson (Jeremy Davies), who is near death, in hopes of getting some more information. They take him back to the House of Mystery where he can be cared for by Black Orchid (Colleen O’Shaughnessey). Jason Blood wanders off in search of the Dreamstone; Constantine corners him, and Blood tells him that five hundred years before, a sorcerer who called himself “Destiny” (Alfred Molina) used the Dreamstone to incite violence, making people see their worst nightmares. The Dreamstone is the key.
And so the hunt begins.
Much to my surprise, I was thoroughly absorbed by this one. I have this thing about “Saturday morning cartoons” – it has to do, mostly, with the same voices being the same character, no matter which character they are portraying. This film is not in that realm at all: the story sucks you in, the characters are believable, both in visual and vocal characterizations, and the pace is better than good – it builds enough momentum to carry us through the necessary exposition (although, like the comic, there isn’t really much of that). Even the music, by Robert J. Kral, is exceptional.
I happen to have the BluRay disc, and the clarity is amazing – maybe more than can be accounted for by the technology. (This is certainly not my first experience with BluRay, and there’s a marked difference between this one and live-action films.) I was much impressed by the cleanness of the drawing and the very good fluidity of the movement: it all just made the film that much more believable. This one is a plus all the way around.
Justice League Dark is part of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series – number twenty-seven, as it happens. If the rest are this good, I’m really going to have to check them out.
Rated R; running time 76 mins.
(Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, 2017) Full credits at IMDb.