Warning: There are some spoilers ahead for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War!
The fact that an early clip for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War has gone viral for stating that John Constantine got intimate with King Shark…says quite a lot about the movie in general. Warner Bros. may never release that fabled Snyder Cut of Justice League, and they are certainly never going to make the Snyder Sequel with a Darkseid-ravaged future Earth. But this might be the next best thing. Now out on digital, with a physical media release date of May 19, Justice League Dark; Apokolips War heavily emphasizes the “dark,” to a point that angsty teenage boys should love. Older viewers may just laugh. Many fans jokingly call the live-action DCEU a “murder-verse,” but in terms of deaths and mutilations, those movies have nothing on this one. If Superman snapping Zod’s neck felt distasteful, Superman wanting to commit planetary genocide on Apokolips goes exponentially bigger.
Though it might not have been obvious to the casual viewer of an occasional DC animated film, the primary installments (i.e. not the Elseworlds) connect like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This purports to be an ending like Infinity War/Endgame, to which it owes a few pointers. It’s set more or less in the New 52 inspired animated universe — now minus the excessive piping on the costumes. Members of the Justice League, Justice League Dark, Teen Titans, and Suicide Squad team up to take out the threat of Darkseid (a wonderfully cast Tony Todd) once and for all.
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Things kick off with the serenity prayer onscreen; the one favored by alcoholics anonymous about the serenity to accept the things one can’t change. It’s oddly thematically pointless, as this in no way a movie about serenity, but it presumably serves mainly to remind viewers that John Constantine (Matt Ryan) is an alcoholic. Just in case his unapologetic drinking throughout isn’t enough of a pointer. Constantine first appears onscreen in bed with Zatanna, onboard the Justice League satellite. Soon thereafter, every major hero from the League is en route to Apokolips for Superman’s aforementioned death mission. And…there’s a time jump. Two years later, Earth is a smoking, post-apocalyptic ruin, and most of the heroes are gone. And this is just the introduction to the movie.
Constantine remains the protagonist, shamed by the fact that he ran away during the League’s last battle. He spends his life pub-crawling through ruined cities with Etrigan, the rhyming demon so bummed that he’s given up on poetic utterances. But Constantine’s conscience mildly awakens when he encounters Raven and a depowered Clark Kent. It’s time for one last stand, before Darkseid destroys the planet literally as well as figuratively. However, it’s going to take a lot more than a Martha reference for the former Superman to survive.
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Because this is the New 52 universe, there’s a freedom to do almost anything before putting it to bed. As such, no character is safe, and most of them swear gratuitously. This is the sort of movie where, after a climactic saving move is pulled, the superhero in question will say, “Suck it, bitches!” There’s a gleeful nihilism to it all that will not be to everyone’s taste, probably ruffling the feathers of more than one parent who just expected a “superhero cartoon” for the kids. If it bothers anyone for not being sufficiently canon, just accept upfront that this is an alternate take. And it’s kind of hilarious.
The voice cast reunites most of the series’ core favorites: Jerry O’Connell as Superman, Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Jason O’Mara as Batman, and the rest. But for maybe the first time, Rainn Wilson finally feels like a natural Lex Luthor. Wilson’s nasal take on Luthor never quite felt comfortable in some previous iterations. Finally given an arc to play, Wilson rises to the challenge. As a more ambiguous Luthor, Wilson has a ball. Call it the vocal equivalent of poker face.
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If there’s any issue with the plot, it’s that the heroes’ final play should be screamingly obvious by the time they actually figure it out. No matter; that’s not really the point. While Avengers: Endgame may be the obvious narrative inspiration, the tone feels more like Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe. “John Constantine Watches the New 52-niverse End” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. However, it does suggest that on the big screen, the blunt-talking Brit has been way underutilized. Yes, Keanu Reeves did fine, but Ryan shows –as he so often also does on The CW — that DC can do even better.