Warner Brothers Animation second foray into R-rated territory doesn't quite make-up for the debacle of The Killing Joke, but it's a step in the right direction. Justice League Dark takes our venerated superheroes into supernatural territory. I was slightly aware of the Justice League Dark comics. The film is worthy of the R-rating. It's markedly violent and truly dwells in the mystical realm, but is burdened by an overly intricate plot with multiple characters. The digital release allowed me to rewind a few times to check on confusing points. In a sense the film had my rapt attention, but is overloaded with details. Blink a few times here and you'll be completely lost.
Justice League Dark opens with ordinary people committing horrific crimes. They are hallucinating being attacked by demons; then doing anything possible to fight back. Superman (Jerry O'Connell) and Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson) bring the global events to the attention of the Justice League. They surmise that there must be magic, or some kind of supernatural force, at cause. Batman (Jason O' Mara) is not convinced. He initially chalks up the attacks to crazy people, but changes his tune when a ghostly visitor leads him to a vital clue... John Constantine (Matt Ryan).
Justice League Dark is the Constantine and Zatanna (Camilla Luddington) show. There are other magical characters from the DC universe that also join the action. The primary Justice Leaguers, sans Batman, have very little screen time. If you're a fan of the core league with little interest in the B-squad, this may not be the cartoon for you. Honestly, I had very little knowledge of Constantine and Zatanna's back story. I saw the Constantine film with Keanu Reeves, but not the short-lived television show.
Justice League Dark immerses you utterly in Constantine's world. To say he's got a lot going on is a vast understatement. Key plot points come fast and furious as Constantine works to unravel the mystery. We're constantly introduced to new characters that actually have important roles. Confusion sets in early. Thankfully I was able to rewind and ascertain who was doing what. Fans familiar with the JLD storyline and Constantine won't have this problem. Newbies and people like me who know the Justice League, but not this comic series, may be baffled by the labyrinthine plot.
There's the requisite blood, gore, violence, and cursing to warrant the R-rating. It doesn't stray into sexual themes like The Killing Joke, so not nearly a mature audience only cartoon. The animation is stylistically similar to Justice League War and both of The Dark Knight Returns. Those films and Justice League Dark were all directed by Jay Oliva. He's a veteran of Warner Bros. Animation and knows how to deliver compelling action. The fight scenes are entertaining. So even though you might not have a clue what's happening in the story, the supernatural duels are pretty cool to see.
From DC Comics and Warner Bros., Justice League Dark is a mediocre entry in the canon. It could have been much better if the script were simplified. Another issue I have is the capabilities of Constantine and Zatanna. They seem to be able to do anything they want with magic. I understand the need for heroes like these in supernatural combat, but the limits to their powers must be explained. I know what Superman can and cannot do. In Justice League Dark, the leads can conjure the right spell for any situation. That means they are invincible and are never in real danger. Warner Brothers Animation has made some great, thematically dark stories. They just haven't quite hit the mark yet for the R-rating.