Saturday, February 4, 2017

'Justice League Dark' film and extras review

Who does the Justice League call when the team faces demonic threats they can't handle?

Not the Ghostbusters. (And there's only one acceptable group of those for this fan. Just saying'!) The Justice League calls John Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Jason Blood (aka Etrigan/the Demon) and even Swamp Thing, of course!

"Justice League Dark" expands the New 52 continuity of the DC Universe Original Movies obviously. Even the standard team from "Justice League: War" and its sequel, "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis," gets two blink-and-you'll-miss-them additional members in Martian Manhunter and Hawkman.

But this isn't the Justice League's movie; DC has just used the name to grab fans' attention. The team has a cameo at the beginning to get the action rolling and bring in the mystic arts specialists.

Even Batman is a secondary character, despite being in nearly all the movie. He's front and center on the front-cover artwork for promotional purposes.

"Dark" is Constantine's flick.

And who you gonna call to voice him? Welsh actor Matt Ryan, of course. He played Constantine in the barely-there live-action TV series and reprised the role for "Arrow."

Ryan handles the animated version splendidly, giving him the right balance of charm, snarkiness and road-weary cynicism. Constantine's relationship with all the characters is precarious and complicated. The way he interacts with Zatanna, Batman and Swamp Thing is the best part of the film.

Aside from Ryan, there are two voice-acting standouts: Nicholas Turturro as a street-wise and wisecrackin' Deadman and Ray Chase, who gives the Demon a wonderfully grumbly voice. (That almost makes up for Etrigan's obnoxious way of speaking in rhyming, iambic pentameter couplets. Almost.) I know Turturro from his role as Detective James Martinez in "NYPD Blue," a must-watch for me during Jimmy Smits' unforgettable run of episodes.

As you may know by now, I'm no fan of the mystic arts in superhero stories. But "Dark" is solid entertainment, not quite on the level of the live-action "Doctor Strange," but enjoyable as a break from the standard cape-and-cowl crowd. Grade: B

The "Justice League Dark" Blu-ray extras are interesting and well worth watching.

The four super-short "Did You Know?" featurettes are nothing more than space-fillers. They are full of one blurb of trivia that didn't fit in well with the rest of the extras. Grade: C 

"The Story of Swamp Thing" featurette focuses on the character's comic book, uh, roots. (See what I did there? Purely coincidental, I promise!) It's the most intriguing of the extras.

Co-creator Len Wein breaks down his run with artist Berni Wrightson and shares his appreciation of writer Alan Davis later making Swamp Thing an elemental plant-being. Artist Kelley Jones (whom I'd never seen or heard interviewed before) plays homage to Wrightson, his predecessor on the first SWAMP THING title. Great stuff. Grade: A

I'm normally not a fan of comic-book convention coverage as Blu-ray or DVD extras, but the "2016 NY Comic Con Panel" is good.

Who knew Jason O'Mara's Irish brogue was that strong? His Batman certainly gives no indication he's Irish and you can see why casting directors found his baritone speaking voice a good fit for the Dark Knight. For once, the fans ask great questions you actually want to hear O'Mara and Ryan answer. Grade: B-

The two "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" episodes are entertaining, as they always are. (What a fantastic series! It's a shame Warner Bros. can't have this much fun with the DC characters on a regular basis in animation and certainly live-action.) Each show features Gentleman Ghost as the villain, which is more of a coincidence then anything else.

"In Dawn of the Dead Man!," Batman teams with Deadman — and eventually Green Arrow and Speedy — to keep Gentleman Ghost from creating an undead army. The schtick of overtaking Speedy's body is well played.

"Trials of the Demon!" has the Caped Crusader combining efforts with Sherlock Holmes and the Demon to take on Gentleman Ghost in Victorian England before he becomes GG. Grade: B+ 

If nothing else, take time to watch "A Sneak Peek at 'Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.'"

The creative team makes Brother Blood, featured in the three issues before the "Judas Contract" storyline, the big baddie and he hires Deathstroke (back from the "Son of Batman" animated movie) to do his dirty work. The late Miguel Ferrer reprises Deathstroke, likely his last role before his death.

"Teen Titans: The Judas Contract" is the sequel of the poorly named "Justice League vs. Teen Titans" and introduces Terra (Christina Ricci — yessss!), who is now part of the team. Remember we saw her briefly near the end credits of the last movie. The creative team promises Terra will break our hearts, just as she does in the comics. The Teen Titans now includes Nightwing, Robin (Damian Wayne — bleck!), Blue Beetle and others.

This looks like a promising take on the original storyline — with some unknown twists. I definitely will need to find a copy of THE JUDAS CONTRACT trade paperback at my library before the movie is released in the spring so I have a point of reference. Grade: A

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