Review: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020)

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War Review – But Why Tho?

Taking stock of the cost: Warner Bros Animation

The DCAMU (DC Animated Movie Universe) has been quietly excelling on home media for six years now. These animated movies just get the essence of the characters, their relationships and puts new and interesting twists on some of the comics’ most famous storylines. With JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK: APOKOLIPS WAR, it all comes to an end, and it’s going to be costly for our heroes.

After many years plotting from the shadows, space despot Darkseid finally launches an all-out invasion of Earth, and the planet’s most powerful superheroes sally forth to meet him. But after a costly opening battle every one of the heroes is routed, captured, de-powered or killed and the fate of the world looks bleak. Two years later in an apocalyptic landscape, the survivors hatch a desperate plan to strike back…

Much like Marvel’s ENDGAME, a lot has to be tied up and paid off. Like Endgame an early mission goes badly wrong and we pick up the story years later with survivors putting together the pieces. Characters from the Justice League, the Teen Titans, Justice League Dark, the Suicide Squad, the extended Batman Family and others have been introduced and developed over half a decade in these animated adventures. Batman’s reluctant fatherhood, Robin and Raven’s bonding over unhealthy parental relationships, Constantine’s myriad demons internal and external and Superman’s newfound sense of vulnerability are all given decisive conclusions here.

The great thing about straight-to-video is that there tends to be fewer restrictions on what is considered acceptable – no worries about keeping it 12A here. It never feels excessive, but this war is bloody and brutal and heroes use colorful language when they lose it in the heat of the moment. While the general plot is pretty similar to what was purportedly originally planned with the live-action JUSTICE LEAGUE, it goes to some unexpected places and hits really hard because fans have spent upwards of 20 hours with this iteration of these heroes.

The film’s finale, while spectacular, stages its action in such rapid succession that it can overwhelm your senses – multiple supporting characters meet brutal ends but you could easily miss who’s been killed and how. You also have a sneaking suspicion, much like in Marvel’s INFINITY WAR that not a lot of this will stick, that there will be some timey-wimey messing before all this is over.

If there’s a single main criticism to be had of Apololips War it’s that some of the previous films in the DCAMU expressed their major themes more elegantly through nuanced character work. JUSTICE LEAGUE VS TEEN TITANS was about adult responsibilities forced upon the young too soon, BATMAN: BAD BLOOD was about broken families and THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN was about iconoclasm, also not being a needlessly miserable slog like BATMAN V SUPERMAN. More characters and story means less time for everyone to be done justice unfortunately.

Apokolips War brings the many storylines of the DCAMU to a close in suitably grand-scaled and emotionally resonant fashion. There have been better, more singular in vision individual stories in this series (this film does miss regular director Sam Liu) but this is one hell of a crowd pleaser nonetheless. Hopefully Warner Bros’ live-action superhero movies will continue their upward trend and crib notes from this animated world – get the essence of the characters right and the battle is half-won already. SSP

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Review in Brief: Lucy in the Sky (2019)

Questioning truth and the nature of reality is one of Noah Hawley’s favourite things to do. In FARGO it’s the weekly repeated introduction taken from the Coen Brothers film that “This is a true story”. In LUCY IN THE SKY we have “Inspired by true events”, though the story of a female astronaut’s erratic behavior on her return to Terra Firma has little to do with the real Lisa Nowak. Noah Hawley’s obsession with composing shots around neat lines and geometric shapes from his TV work is present and correct and Natalie Portman is reliable as always, but the film doesn’t really scratch the surface of Lucy as person struggling with living in the moment and Hawley’s usual bonkers imagination is disappointingly absent for the most part. This needed to be weirder or more grounded and as it is this is frustratingly halfway between tones. SSP

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Host (2020) Review SSP

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Mulan (1998) Review SSP

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Review in Brief: Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Following the bold BLACKKKLANSMAN, DA 5 BLOODS is again Spike Lee on fine form, with plenty to say. I loved the choice to not de-age the leads for the flashbacks, that in looking back it’s s them as they are now putting themselves in the place of how they were then. I loved most of the performances, especially Delroy Lindo as Paul, whose fiery and hurt speeches to camera have to be some of the standout sequences of 2020 film. I liked the measured pacing, the time spent to build the characters, their relationships and how they deal or do not with their wartime experience. What I wasn’t so keen on was the film’s final shootout, a trashy action scene where the surviving Bloods fight a small army of mercenaries lead by Jean Reno who’s running around looking an awful lot like Donald Trump. It cheapens everything that comes before and the message of the story is lost in the chaos. SSP

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Review in Brief: You Don’t Nomi (2020)

YOU DON’T NOMI is a pleasingly in-depth documentary deconstruction of Paul Verhoeven’s infamous stripper film SHOWGIRLS. Admittedly, there’s a lot of fun to be had inserting scenes from Showgirls onto handy screens found within other, “better” Verhoeven movies, and they use this trick a few times to entertaining effect to link chapters in the debate. The analysis is insightful, the fans and detractors passionate and the exploration of this film’s life after the Razzies (which were of course accepted in person by Verhoeven) is fascinating. You might never be able to shake the opinion that the film was, and always will be, irredeemably bad, but after watching this it’ll be difficult to deny that it was, and always will be, interesting. You’ll never look at Showgirls in quite the same way again. Different places, indeed! SSP

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Scoob! (2020) Review SSP

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Once More with Feeling: 10 More of the Best Remakes SSP

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The Perfect Candidate (2019/20) SSP

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The Old Dark House (1932) Review SSP

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