Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is a wildly entertaining encapsulation of everything the superhero genre has always been: larger-than-life, character-focused, and impermanent but impactful. But it’s also more than that. An epic of cosmic consequence, Apokolips War takes super-folly to a deliciously dark place and pulls no punches when doing so.
Following an ill-fated attack on the Darkseid-ruled Apokolips, the surviving Justice League members must regroup and rain hell on the despot and his minions. The result? A balls-to-the wall throwdown that will shake the very foundations of the universe. Pretty typical, right?
But while it’s incredibly accessible to longtime fans (often to the point of near-esoteric appeal), this latest entry reinforces the need to have seen (or at least be somewhat familiar with) what came before. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just something to keep in mind.
It’s smoothly plotted and it benefits from a manageable number of moving pieces. With the film’s focus so scattered, it becomes increasingly difficult to juggle the main players. But writer Ernie Altbacker sticks the landing. Apokolips War wants to explain/show the fates of every involved DC character, and it does so without sacrificing its streamlined storytelling.
The superhero betrays a prescriptive fear of real, consequential change, often forfeiting risk so that heroes emerge with super-powered appendages more or less intact and survival remains an obligatory guarantee. Refreshingly, a story as decidedly bleak and emotionally laden as Apokolips War must have its stakes and its casualties and it absolutely does. It’s the same aversion to risk that characterizes many comic book stories, and some (only a few, thankfully) earlier installments are very much at the mercy of their sporadically shaky direction.
Thematically, Apokolips War busies itself with the deconstruction (and literal destruction) of a beloved universe and has a blast doing it. There’s no doubt that directors Matt Peters and Christina Sotta put considerable time, effort, and love into crafting an adventure worthy of our geeky sensibilities. For the most part, their endeavor is a success. The two rightly emphasize consequence as both a cause for reflection and a call to action. And Apokolips War is ripe with them. From Damian Wayne botching a Lazarus Pit resurrection to Superman costing lives in the heat of war, there are a ton of ramifications threatening to break these heroes during their darkest hour. It’s this focus on cost and choice that elevates the film from apocalyptic action flick to poignant swan song for these versions of fan-favorite characters.
As a showcase of disparate power types, it all works. The picture’s occult-centric plot points, coupled with the cosmic threats characteristic of most superhero ensembles, makes for a chaotic mashing of two wildly different sub-genres. Those familiar with that comic book-y lack of restraint won’t be jarred by it and neither will casual fans.
But the film’s strongest asset is its recognition of and respect for the origin of superhero appeal. Regardless of a super-story’s depth or darkness, there will often be that bottom line, that foundational message that’s as timeless as it is ageless: that these godlike archetypes inspire us to be better, more elevated versions of ourselves. Not everyone connects with them on that level. But those who do will revel in the hard-won battles and personal triumphs emphasized in the movie. It’s impressive, really, and Apokolips War reminds us why these heroes resonate.
VERDICT: The last installment in the DC Animated Universe delivers in almost every way it can. It functions as an evocative send-off and, even better, as a promise: that these heroes, in whatever form/version they take, will return. And that we’ll be here when they do.