Wow!! Wow, wow and WOW!!! More please!!!
Those were the first thoughts I had as the end credits of Justice League Dark began to roll. For weeks I’d been looking forward to picking this up the day it came to DVD/BluRay, largely because this film features Matt Ryan reprising his role as John Constantine (granted it’s animation and not live-action, but I’ll take what I can get).
I actually haven’t seen that many of the DC animated films, the last one I recall seeing is Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, so it’s hard for me to say where this one ranks in terms of animation quality and etc. But I can say that what I saw, I liked. Some of my favorite parts involved the casting of magic spells, which did look a little reminiscent of the spell-casting in Doctor Strange, but that’s another story. Let’s get down to details!!
The titular Justice League Dark (for this film) consists of:
John Constantine: The extremely reluctant leader, a smartass magician and conjurer, owner of the House of Mystery, lives dangerously by conning demons out of their riches, and has a penchant for getting punched in the face by people he’s pissed off. To be brief, he doesn’t play well with others (watching him interact with Batman is a riot!!)
Zatanna Zatara: A popular stage magician who also possesses very real and powerful magic. She’s the only person Constantine is actually willing to work with (as it is implied they not only worked together previously, but that they also had a relationship of some kind). She’s resisted using her powers to fight evil (as Constantine does), citing that she prefers using her abilities to bring joy to others.
Jason Blood/Etrigan: Jason is a 500 year old immortal and formerly a knight of Camelot. He’s an unwilling immortal because, after being mortally wounded by an insane wizard named “Destiny” (no, really, that’s his name), Merlin bound the dying knight to the demon Etrigan to save his life. To summon Etrigan, Jason must recite a rhyme, and his body is replaced with Etrigan’s. Etrigan is a Hell demon who only speaks in rhyme (and even though he’s a demon, he seems less evil than most). Jason has spent centuries trying to find a way to separate Etrigan from himself.
Deadman: This is one I’d never heard of before now. Formerly a trapeze artist named Boston Brand, Deadman was assassinated during a performance, but his spirit was given power by a Hindu god named Rama Kushna, giving him the ability to possess the living in order to bring his killer to justice. Deadman is a wisecracking smartass, but he started to grow on me as the story went on.
And there’s also…
Swamp Thing (!!!!!!!!): Unbelievably (to me) this is the first time Swamp Thing has ever appeared in a DC Animated film (which is crazy because he’s an awesome character!!!) He doesn’t appear for that long in the story, but when he does appear, he practically steals the show. Swamp Thing is the protector of “the Green” (basically all plant life), and was formerly a human named Alec Holland. Alec was murdered, and his body used as the basis to create Swamp Thing. He really doesn’t like Constantine.
There’s also Batman, yes, I said Batman. I reluctantly understand why they put the Dark Knight in this story, but I hate that they had to do it. Basically, Warner Bros. wanted to ensure that as many people saw this film as possible, and they knew that if Batman was advertised as being in the story, more people would check it out on impulse. But truly, Batman doesn’t do THAT much, he’s more of an observer than anything else (especially when magical things are going on).
The story of Justice League Dark is actually really dark!! The opening sequence became more disturbing as it went on. Here’s the gist: some unknown force is causing ordinary citizens to believe they’re surrounded by demons and monsters that they have to attack/kill to get away from. This results in unspeakable tragedies: a woman mowing down dozens of bystanders with her car; a man who nearly kills his wife and children because he believes “monsters” killed them (in a gruesome twist, it’s revealed he’s already killed several neighbors and their families); and, most heartbreaking of all, a woman throws her newborn from the roof of a cathedral because she believes she’s given birth to the devil. Batman is able to save the baby, but the mother jumps to her death.
MASSIVE STORY SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT!!!
The dark Justice League are led to believe that this is the work of wizard Felix Faust (someone the regular Justice League has encountered in the past). Richie, an old friend of Constantine’s, who is also dying from a magical cancer, also points the finger at Faust, claiming the wizard attacked him. Richie also states that a magical ring seen in the memories of one of the victims belongs to Faust as well. The team goes to confront Faust in his magical observatory, leading to a magical battle for the ages. There is an especially epic sequence when Zatanna goes into total badass mode, unleashing her full magic on the wizard, nearly killing him until Constantine stops her. Then comes a wrinkle: Batman confirms that Faust is NOT the culprit in this attack. But Richie, a dying man, wouldn’t lie to Constantine…or WOULD he?
In a plot twist I did NOT see coming, it’s revealed that Richie is actually possessed by a fragment of the wizard Destiny’s soul (portions of which were bound in a huge gem that partially shattered when Merlin defeated him 500 years ago). Destiny has conned Richie into thinking that if he acquires the rest of the gem (currently sitting in the House of Mystery after Constantine acquired it in a card game from some demons), he (Richie) will become immortal and very powerful. The attack was staged, with blame falsely assigned to Faust so that the team would leave him alone in the House. But Richie has been tricked: the only thing reassembling the gem will do is give Destiny the means of re-entering the physical world, using Richie’s body as a base for his own.
Now the world is in real danger: Destiny is so powerful that he could conquer the world in a matter of days. The trouble is, the wizard is protected by a super-powerful magical shield, and he also wields the power to drive any potential attackers mad, making them think they’re surrounded by monsters. In fact, Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern all become infected by this madness, and the team is barely able to hold them off for a time. Also, Destiny is able to 1) forcibly separate Jason Blood from Etrigan and 2) seemingly disintegrate Swamp Thing by pulling Alec Holland’s aged remains from his plant body (whether this is permanent or not is not explained). It comes down to Constantine and Deadman to provide an opening to defeat the wizard. Constantine allows Deadman to possess him and tricks Destiny into taking him inside the magical shield. Once inside, Deadman launches into the wizard, distracting him long enough to bring the magical shield down, giving Jason Blood the chance to stab the wizard in the back, mortally wounding him. The wizard is destroyed, but Richie remains…for a moment. Throughout the film, Constantine has noted Death Shrouds hanging around Richie’s house (spirits that take souls to Hell). They’ve been waiting for Richie to die, and after everything he’s been through, Richie’s soul is ripe for the taking. He begs Constantine to do something, but after being betrayed, Constantine can’t take the risk that Destiny isn’t manipulating Richie still. The result? Richie’s soul is literally dragged screaming into Hell.
The Earth is saved, but not everyone on the team survives (I won’t say who, but it made me sad when a certain character died). Zatanna has been invited to join the Justice League, and apparently so has Constantine (he laughs at the idea).
I really enjoyed this movie a lot. Seeing Constantine was just amazing (I could literally watch him all day long and not get bored), and as I said before, watching him interact with Batman was downright hilarious! I also (no surprise) loved the music; the main theme was fantastic. I sincerely hope there are Justice League Dark sequels down the road. I will also take a stand alone Constantine film, a stand alone Swamp Thing film, even a stand alone Zatanna film (but I really just want more Constantine).
I highly recommend this film, even if you’ve never read anything about Justice League Dark or Constantine before, this is a great jumping in point, because we get backstory on practically everyone. The film is available on DVD/BluRay as of yesterday (February 7th).
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