Despite the current Justice League animated film series being mediocre so far, I was actually hyped for Justice League Dark. The first reason is because Matt Ryan, who was fantastic as a live-action John Constantine in the short-lived Constantine TV series, is reprising the role, though through voice acting. Secondly, though Batman isn’t a member of the actual Justice League Dark team in the comics, I thought that his seemingly de facto addition (as implied by the trailer and promo art) to this animated version of the team is brilliant. Yes, DC tends to overexpose Batman, and he’s clearly only in this team so that the audience could see a more traditional face in this movie made up of second-tier DC characters. But think about it. He’s the Dark Knight. He’s a grim, tortured character. Though he’s not a supernatural-type of character like the other members of the Justice League Dark, he definitely has the “dark” vibes. He thematically fits in the Justice League Dark. As one joke from Justice League Action goes (in the episode, “Speed Demon”), Goblins tell each other Batman stories to scare each other. I love the idea of him on the team.
Unfortunately, beyond Matt Ryan’s performance as Constantine and Batman’s presence, there’s nothing really much to enjoy about this movie. It’s notable to point out that this movie is pretty dark – at least, when compared to the prior installments of the New 52-ized Justice League franchise. Right off the bat, the opening scenes show a woman running over pedestrians with her car, a man murdering his neighbors in his shed and about to do the same with his family, and a young mother contemplating of throwing her baby from a high height to the pavement below. Really dark stuff. But its storytelling never really did much with such tone. The plot is bland, and the pacing is a mess.
John Constantine, Etrigan, and Swamp Thing are the characters I enjoyed watching the most in this movie. As expected, Matt Ryan has the most vivacious performance in the cast – he was born to play Constantine. Etrigan is always a fun character, especially with his Arthurian rhyming. And Swamp Thing is a character that deserves his own solo movie (something based from Alan Moore’s run), so it was a bit disappointing that he didn’t have as much screen time as I wanted to.
The members of the main Justice League – aside from Batman – only have cameo roles. But I think it would have been more fun if they had more participation, especially in the climax. Also, though Batman teaming up with the likes of Constantine, Zatanna, and Deadman is pretty cool, the movie didn’t make something specially fun about the setup of a non-powered Batman being surrounded by the supernatural (on the other hand, Justice League Action makes use of this setup wonderfully).
Overall, there are some nice dialogue and entertaining sequences here and there, but Justice League Dark is not as complex and fascinating as it could have been from such premise. Hopefully, the attempt of a live-action movie, if that’s still a thing, will fare better.