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Justice League Dark: Apokolips War Is a Thrilling, Fitting End to the DC Animated Movie Universe

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BY May 8, 2020
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In 2013, DC animation launched a series of films that only just culminated with the new film Justice League: Dark Apokolips War. The 15 films in this new saga are adult-themed stories loosely based on the New 52 line of comics. Like that series, the DC Animated Movie Universe, as it’s been branded, ends with a high-stakes showdown between Darkseid and the Justice League. It’s a dark tale, with moments of humor, with what may ultimately turn out to be a controversial ending amongst die-hard DCAMU fans. Still, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War represents the fantastic dichotomy of serial comic book storytelling. They told a story with real stakes, real loss, and (mostly) failure on the part of the heroes. Yet, they were able to end the tale in a way that allows them to start the whole thing over again.

Like Crisis On Infinite Earths or Avengers: Endgame, the storytellers expect you to have done your homework. At the very least, you need to see ever DC Animated Movie Universe film with “Justice League” and “Teen Titans” in the title. This film features the emotional culmination of a number of character arcs, especially Damian Wayne. Still, if you’ve seen all the DCAMU films, you’ll note plenty references to those stories and characters. Some characters, like the DCAMU version of Batwoman, only get fleeting cameos. Still, there are plenty of characters to love.

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is a bloody, violent, and if it had a rating it would be “R.” These DCAMU films are not the last Warner Bros. will put out featuring these characters. However, for these characters it’s all she wrote. (Literally, in this case, as the story comes from Mairghread Scott, with Ernie Altbacker assisting on the teleplay.)

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War Delivers a Lot of Laughs for a Dark, Deadly Film

Justice League Dark Apokolips War Lois v Harley Dawn of Justice Featured image via Warner Bros. Animation

Given the title and the events of the first ten or so minutes of the movie, it’s expect that things get “dark” pretty quickly. So, the most surprising thing for me in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is how funny it is. It’s not a rapid-fire joke and witty patter-fest. Rather, the storytellers embrace absurdity when they can. Such small moments land as big laughs, like Clark Kent cheering on Lois Lane in a perfectly “Superman” way. As with the rest of the story, they work better if you are familiar with this ongoing story. King Shark and Etrigan are equally hilarious in very different ways. And, of course, Harley Quinn always delivers.

Sure, superheroes spend most of this movie getting their butts kicked or worse.  Yet, unlike another DC film series that involved the Justice League, it wasn’t so grimdark that the film wasn’t fun. That said, this is no Harley Quinn the animated series. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is a serious and deadly story that ends poorly for everyone involved. (Maybe even the audience, but more on that later.) It’s full of epic action and final showdowns for a lot of beloved characters. It’s clearly an ending to this series of DC stories, but it’s not maudlin or overly grim. There are plenty of moments providing thrills and even laughs in the 90-minute film.

If you’ve not yet seen Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, you might want to bookmark this review and come back after you have. Because now we’re getting into spoilers territory.

Why Some Fans May Be Disappointed, and It Has Nothing to Do With the Story

Justice League Dark Apokolips War The gang Featured image via Warner Bros. Animation

As mentioned above, the movie may actually disappoint fans who are fond of the DC Animated Movie Universe. Just like the New 52, this timeline began with “Flashpoint,” or the effects of Barry Allen changing the timeline and then changing it back. In the comics, this leads to the DC Rebirth era of stories. However, the way they facilitate this in the film could upset fans because, essentially, they feel everything the characters went through was for nothing.

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War ends with Darkseid defeated but not before the planet Earth was damaged beyond repair. Thus, the only solution is for Flash to run back in time once more and hit the reset button. To be fair, the bleakness of the ending justifies this because it really can’t get much worse. Still, erasing this timeline (especially when the DC heroes exist in a multiverse) feels like a bit of a cheat. Some fans can make an argument that the ending means that nothing that the DCAMU heroes did matters. Even if they fail to save the planet and Earth is destroyed, at least those events happened. Another time-travel reset means that they all get erased.

Personally, this doesn’t bother me. The stories still stand on their own and aren’t really erased. That decision is just a comic book story device that allows for another reboot of the universe. Also, give the way sci-fi magic works, it’s possible versions of these characters could appear again in some way. Even if they don’t, we got 15 films telling a cohesive story with a real ending that, despite the final minutes, have real stakes. The ending does not undercut the emotional storytelling throughout.

What’s Next for the DC Animated Movie Universe After Justice League Dark: Apokolips War?

Justice League Dark Apokolips War Superman Damian Wayne Raven Etrigan John Constantine Featured image via Warner Bros. Animation

There is no question that for these versions of the Justice League, the story is over. The final death toll in this film is pretty high, with very important characters making that list. (King Shark truly was a shark.) Stranger things have happened in comic book media, but it’s likely the next series of films from Warner Bros. Animation will tell new tales about these classic characters. In fact, we probably know where the movies are headed next.

As the DCAMU is loosely based on the New 52 run of comics, I expect that we will get a version of what followed those books. We can likely expect new origin stories for our favorite heroes based on the DC Rebirth stories. I also would not be surprised if they didn’t work their way to adapting a version of Doomsday Clock for animation. Warner Bros. definitely wants to capitalize on the characters from Watchmen. Since Damon Lindelof will likely not be bringing a second season of the live-action sequel show to HBO, animation seems like their best bet to keep that money-train going.

So, along with DC Rebirth stories we might also get to see adaptations of the Before Watchmen series that deepened the backstories of those characters. (Though, Hooded Justice’s origin from the HBO series should become the definitive canon for the character.) Whether or not you agree with creator Alan Moore that the Watchmen characters should be left alone, there is no denying that these stories are, just like Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, both dark and fun.

What do you think? Did you enjoy the final film in the DC Animated Movie Universe? Do you think DC Rebirth or Doomsday Clock adaptations are in our future? Is King Shark a shark? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Featured image via Warner Bros. Animation

DC ComicsMoviesReviewsDC AnimatedDC ComicsJohn ConstantineJustice LeagueJustice League DarkWarner Bros.

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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