Going Out Definitively

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (DCAMU 14)

While Marvel and DC have been battling it out on the big screens, Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. vs. DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. -- or, really, it would be more accurate to say that Marvel has been dominating while DC has faffed about, unsure of what direction to take their cinematic universe -- DC has been quietly building a solid, sometimes spectacular, cinematic universe with their direct-to-DVD animated films. Technically started with Justice League: War (and then later retconned to include Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox), the DC Animated Movie UniverseWhile DC Comics was amping up production on this big "MCU-killer", the DC Extended Universe they were also quietly putting together another shared movie continuity, the DC Animated Movie Universe. This series was more closely related to the comics, directly adapting a number of famous storylines to, arguably, better effect than the live-action movies could. has been everything the DCEU never was: fun, interesting, and with a number of great stories told during its length.

And now DC is taking it one further than even Marvel has been willing: with their latest film, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, the DCAMU comes to a close, officially. This is like if Marvel decided to end the MCU with an Avengers movie and then, instead of saying, "this Phase is over, wait for the next one," they never made another phase again. It's a pretty big deal, if you care about this kind of thing.

This isn't to say that DC isn't going to make more animated films, mind you. Hell, even while the DCAMU was going on, DC was producing other animated films along side (such as Batman Ninja, Batman vs. the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Superman: Red Son). But the intricately built continuity, the steady building of all these characters over the course of 15 movies, that's all over now. It's bold and I appreciate the way DC did it.

In Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, the Justice LeagueThe premiere team at DC Comics, their version of the Avengers (which actually came before the Avengers and, really, has existed in some fomr since the early 1940s), the Justice League is the team-up to end all team-ups, featuring some of the most popular, and longest running, characters in all of comics history (and also Booster Gold). finally knows that the big bad, Darkseid, is on his way to invade Earth. Instead of fighting the big bad on Earth, the heroes all decide to take the fight to Darkseid's home turf, to launch a surprise attack and take out the villain before he even sees them coming. Unfortunately he does see them coming, and the whole force of Earth, ever hero sent there, is defeated, most of them are killed, the Darkseid makes Earth his next conquered world.

Two years later, we find John Constantine sitting in a bar, drinking his way through all the alcohol there in alphabetical order. SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s. (depowered by Darkseid with liquid Kryptonite) and Raven (struggling mightily with her demonic father in her head) come to Constantine for help, to gather the last remaining heroes still alive so they can launch a last attack on Darkseid. The villain has been setting up pylons to leech the magma from Earth's core and if they don't fight now the Earth is well and truly doomed, a dead planet that won't be able to sustain life. It'll take the combined forces of everyone left, from the remnants of the Teen TitansStarted in The Brave and the Bold back in 1964, the Teen Titans were a supergroup formed of the younger sidekicks of the more famous heroes in the DC Comics line. Over the years the team has been reformed, rebooted, and relaunched, but always with that basic premise in place. to a rather powerful team of the Suicide Squad, to take on Darkseid. It's a suicide mission for all of them, but it's the only way to save the world.

Launched during the heights of the "New 52", when all of DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. continuity was rebooted in a giant "Crisis", the DCAMU films were a good way to introduce, and build upon, the versions of these characters. But, over the years, DC moved away from the New 52 versions of the characters, relaunching and rebuilding them over many more events, until now the DCAMU versions, which kept going in their own continuity, seems very different from the ones in the pages of the comics. I can see why DC decided to end this cinematic universe and move on, but I have to applaud them for handling it the way they did. Without spoiling anything, I will say that they bring this continuity to a definitive close.

But what's more impressive is that the movie is willing to go dark, to show a version of the world that's been truly dominated by Darkseid, where so many of the heroes we've gotten to know have been killed off (or enslaved by Darkseid), and the film doesn't blink. It doesn't say, "okay, so first this we do is find the Flash so we can time travel and rest this back to two years ago." Nope, that's not the solution and the movie never treats it like it's going to just pull a big reset button. In the end, after everything is said and done, and when some of the heroes are left standing, ever consequence of what's happened over the course of this movie is left standing. It's a film that goes dark (as the name "Justice League Dark" would imply) and sticks to its guns).

Unlike the dark films in the DCEU, though, it does know how to actually be fun. It might be an bleak view of what would happen if Darkseid did conquer the Earth (not just a "What If?" scenario), but it still tries to find ways to have a little fun. It injects humor through Constantine and the Suicide Squad (led, now, by Harley QuinnCreated to serve as "Joker's Girlfriend" as well as his primary minion for Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn quickly grew to be one of the most popular characters of that show, eventually finding a solid life beyond the cartoon in comics, movies, and media.), and then finds genuine emotion from Superman and Lois. This film might be bleak but it still has a soul and, at times, hope.

The action, too, is well done, with a few smaller sequences building to the grand finale on Apokolips. Every thread from this film (which is really all threads built up from the various movies throughout the whole series) comes together in the conclusion, tying up loose ends and letting all the big moments play out. And, yes, it's satisfying to see the film smash all its toys together in a kind of cathartic release of action and derring-do. The film knows how to build up the characters and then how to unleash them so they can have a satisfying punch-out to work through their feelings (and get a little justice).

The ending of the film may be the one thing that annoys some viewers, although I personally liked it. Spoilers, of course, for the rest of this paragraph: After everything is said and done, Darkseid is defeated and the last few heroes stand on a beach on Earth lamenting their dying planet, Constantine tells the Flash that he has to run back in time, that he has to create another Flashpoint and reset things, to give the Earth a fighting chance. Yes, it's a reset, but we don't see the reset, we just see the world end in a flash as time's changes pour over them. It's not a cop-out in my eyes, just a way to say, "this universe is done, the world has at least been avenged, so let's bring it to a close." The hope it gives is that the next time around will be better, but these characters, in these versions, are done.

That's what I like about this film: its level of commitment. It gives us a proper capper to the series, makes us feel and think and get invested, and then it closes out the run without dangling a thread saying, "oh, hey, here's how we set it all back like nothing happened." Avengers: Endgame wasn't willing to do that, but here, in this little animated universe, DC was willing to actually end a continuity and commit to it.

I'm a little sad this continuity is over. I've really enjoyed many of the films in this series, even if, as a reviewer, I've bitched about a few of them (as is my job). This film left me feeling drained, but in a good way, as it brought it all to a close. I wouldn't want them to change anything, to try and resurrect this version of the continuity, I'm just gonna miss it a little bit. DC did a fantastic job here and I think they did right by this film series. Now here's hoping the decide to start up a new run at some point and treat it just as well.