Josh Reviews the Animated Justice League: Warworld
Justice League: Warworld is the latest direct-to-DVD/blu-ray DC animated film. I knew that there was a recent extended storyline in the Superman comics about Superman’s being trapped on Warworld, forced to compete in the gladiatorial games there, in an effort to free the imprisoned populace and defeat Warworld’s cruel master Mongul. I’d figured this new animated film would tell a similar story. That could certainly have been the basis of a cool animated film. But I was pleasantly surprised that, while this film does feature the villain Mongul and his Warworld, this new animated film tells a totally different kind of story.
I really enjoyed it! This was the first DC animated film in a long, long while in which I happily had no idea where the story was going. I was totally surprised that this film opens with an extended twenty-plus minute opening sequence set in the Old West, with Wonder Woman and Jonah Hex. I loved that totally unexpected opening, and the film kept me guessing right up through till the end. (I do have some questions about the plot; as it’s eventually revealed. I’m not sure it all makes sense. But I’m willing to forgive those plot problems when the result is a film that was so pleasingly unexpected.)
That opening with Wonder Woman and Jonah Hex in the Old West is pretty great. I loved the design of Wonder Woman’s Old West outfit. I liked that this film seemed interesting in exploring shades of grey, as neither side in the dispute between the townspeople seems to be clearly in the right. They actually both seem to be in the wrong, just in different ways. I like that ambiguity in a superhero story.
After what I’d expected to be a short five-minute prologue turned into a twenty-plus minutes-long extended sequence, I thought for sure the film would then jump to present-day and the familiar version of the Justice League characters. Wrong! Instead, the film turned to a depiction of the fantasy world of Skartaris, and the sword-and-sorcery character of Travis Morgan, the Warlord (created by Mike Grell)! Wow, I never thought I’d see this character depicted in a DC film! It’s a joy to see on-screen; animation is the perfect way to bring this fantasy world to life.
The film then takes a sharp turn again, moving into a black-and-white 1950’s-style sci-fi story. Again, I loved it. It was fun to see some familiar DC characters worked into this setting, which in its own way is just as “pulpy” as the swords-and-sorcery world of Skartaris.
The animation is very solid. I liked the simple but strong character designs, and the animation was smooth throughout. There’s some great action in the film. It’s a little more violent than I expected! (I smiled at the pretty gross scene in which the Warlord disembowels a dinosaur!!)
The voice cast is strong. I loved Stana Katic’s work as Wonder Woman. (Though she sounded a heck of a lot like Lucy Lawless to me!!) Ms. Katic first played this role in Justice Society: World War II. Darren Criss returns as Superman (Mr. Criss has been voicing this role since Superman: Man of Tomorrow, the 2020 animated film that kicked off this current continuity of DC animated films) and Jensen Ackles returned as Batman (Mr. Ackles has been voicing this role since Batman: The Long Halloween). John DiMaggio (the voice of Bender on Futurama) is great as Lobo, and Frank Grillo (who played Brock Rumlow/Crossbones in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) has just the right gravely-voice to play Agent Faraday.
Some other thoughts:
- Jonah Hex is often depicted as a hero or anti-hero; it was an interesting and surprising choice to see him take on a more villainous role in the opening.
- One of the few off-notes in the film for me was the suggestion that Hex kept his grandfather’s watch up his ass in prison, just like Christopher Walken’s character in Pulp Fiction. That was derivative and unnecessary.
- I was surprised, but not displeased, that in the Skartaris section they kept the pulpy, sexy costumes for the female characters from the comics.
- It was a fun surprise seeing Lobo at the end. What a weird, random movie this is!! I was continually surprised by the choice of characters they included. But using Lobo actually makes sense, as Lobo was in Superman: Man of Tomorrow.
- They make some interesting choices with the design of Mongul, presenting him looking skinny and sort of desiccated, as opposed to the bulked-up powerhouse he usually looks like. I liked this design, even though it didn’t really feel like Mongul to me.
There are some plot problems with the ending, in my opinion. (Beware some SPOILERS in these next two paragraphs!!) Too much isn’t explained to my satisfaction. Who originally built Warworld? What was its purpose? Why did they create, and then hide, a key? What would the key allow Mongul to do with Warworld beyond what he was already doing? Why use the illusion of fighting instead of real fighting? What did Mongul do before he captured Martian Manhunter? How long had Martian Manhunter been captured? (At first I thought this was the first introduction of Martian Manhunter into this continuity, but then I remembered that he’d also appeared in Man of Tomorrow.) I was surprised that Martian Manhunter blows up Warworld without any effort to save the countless imprisoned there. That seemed crazy to me! I was also confused as to whether the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman we follow in this film were each from different universes? I think they were; Wonder Woman says at one point that Clark is younger than her Clark. But which of these heroes are from the universe we’ve been following since Man of Tomorrow? I wish that was clearer.
I was intrigued by the film’s ending, which seems to be setting up an animated adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths. That seems like fun. (The project has been confirmed!) But the ending was jarring to me. I would have liked to have gotten a real ending to this story, and then gotten the cliffhanger tease (maybe as post-credits scene). (Speaking of post-credits scenes, was the beam of light that zapped away Superman and Batman at the end of the post-credits scene in Legion of Super-Heroes what transported them to Warworld? Or were we seeing alternate-universe versions of those characters here in this film, and we’ll catch up with those versions of Superman and Batman in Crisis on Infinite Earths? I think the former, but I’d have preferred if that was clearer.) I wish this film’s ending felt a little less rushed, with a little more time spent answering some of the questions I’d posed in the previous paragraph, and a little more time resolving what happened to the characters we’d been following in this film.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this film! It was a ton of fun to watch, from start to finish. I loved seeing these obscure corners of the DC universe brought to animated life.
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