Title: Justice Society: World War II
Release Date: April 27, 2021 (Digitally), May 11, 2021 (Blu-Ray)
Studio: Warner Brothers
Director: Jeff Wamester
Release Format: Digital On-Demand/Blu-Ray
Whereas Marvel rules the superhero silver screen, DC leads in terms of its animated home movies. The long-running comics company churns out at least a couple a year, each to varying degrees of quality. Yet, regardless of their quality, you can’t deny they’re entertaining.
Justice Society: World War II is the latest addition to their DC Animated Movies canon, and as usual boasts a cast of vaguely-familiar faces you’ve seen on TV somewhere. Wonder Woman is played by Castle‘s Stana Katic, for example, while Spartacus‘s Liam McIntyre voices Aquaman. Apparently, DC Animated Movies aren’t big enough to cast Hollywood stars, but those D-listers you’ve seen on the occasional serialized TV drama? They’re fair game.
Anyhow, I digress. You’re here to find out whether Justice Society: World War II is worth your time. So, is it? Well, maybe. Let’s jump into it, shall we?
The Flash to the Past
While the movie’s name boasts the name of the Justice Society, The Flash is the audience surrogate in this tale. Barry Allen and his love interest, Iris West, are debating whether his commitment to herodom is making their relationship nonviable. However, it isn’t long before an explosion goes off in the city, disturbing their picnic and propelling Allen into a fight between Superman and Brainiac. However getting caught in the energy generated by Brainiac’s Kryptonite weapon somehow sends Barry into the past (the era of World War II, just in case you didn’t already guess!).
It’s not immediately clear why this happens – and an explanation is later attempted via groan-inducing jargon – but that isn’t the point. Because look – the Flash is in World War II! And double-look! He’s joining forces with fellow colorful heroes Wonder Woman, Jay Garrick’s Flash, Black Canary, and Hourman. And there’s animated action and superhuman drama abound.
Can’t Find the Enemy
Justice Society: World War II suffers greatly from too many characters in a 90-minute movie. This is a shame because since the plot itself is bare-bones, the film depends partly on character interactions to make things interesting. The relationship between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor is sweet to watch, and Chris Diamantopoulos plays a calm, cool love interest for everyone’s favorite Amazon, but these scenes are so numerous that they feel forced in to justify a moment in the final act. However, it’s great to see Diana take the lead of the heroes and her fight scenes are excellent. An early scene sees her leaping through buildings in a French village, taking on multiple Nazis, evidently inspired by Patty Jenkins’ 2018 blockbuster. Hell, Katic even adopts a Gal Gadot-esque WW accent for her role.
The cast of heroes is likable enough, with Matthew Mercer’s Hourman receiving the least development, but again, the film’s length limits their potential. We get one scene between Black Canary and Hawkman reflecting on being forgotten as heroes and having somebody to return home to, again a scene utilized to set up a pivotal moment in the final act. But despite the attempt, the limited personal time with these characters makes said moment less powerful than the movie wants it to be.
The film’s stakes are made low by the fact that the main villain isn’t known until just after its mid-point. Talking about him is a spoiler, but it’s honest to say he receives no real setup. For the film’s first half, the enemy is merely ‘the Nazis’, which isn’t so much a villain as a villainous ideal. When the main villain pops up, he boasts cliched ideals that are remarkably groan-worthy considering the interesting era in which the story takes place. He could have had more interesting motivations than the stereotypical ‘I want to destroy the world!’ yarn. But alas, it isn’t so.
Acting Out The Part
The upside to Justice Society: World War II is that the cast nail their roles. As stated, Katic is great as WW and Matt Bomer kills it as Barry Allen’s Flash. For the most part, the cast plays their roles as characters, not stereotypical superhero clichés. There’s an admirable attempt to make the Justice Society sound human and relatable – and damn, does it work. In the earlier-mentioned Black Canary/Hawkman scene, for example, the actors really deliver their lines with aching honesty and humanity that truly bolsters the writing.
And while I’ve complained about multiple characters in one movie, Justice Society‘s decision to focus on the relationships between the characters is a smart one nonetheless. Again, this isn’t a kids’ shallow Super-Friends-type deal. You get the sense that the Society is friends and actual people, not clichés. Their likability and relatability are what makes up for an otherwise bland plot and so-so villain.
Action Animation Hour
But another thing makes up for the film’s narrative shortfalls – the fight scenes. Now, the character designs and drama scenes still retain the Archer-esque stiff animation from Superman: Man of Tomorrow and Batman: Soul of the Dragon. There’s nothing mind-blowing there – but the fight scenes? They’re pretty thrilling.
Dinah Lance’s awesome acrobatics are painstakingly articulated on-screen alongside her iconic Canary Cry. The final fight scene where the heroes go up against a giant monster also provides some epic action. It’s a solemn and much-needed reminder that 2D animation isn’t completely dead – and can often provide just as much impressive action as 3D. There’s nothing short of octane-fueled entertainment raging across the screen and it’s abundantly clear the animators put ample effort into these sequences, with commendable results.
Is Justice Served?
Justice Society: World War II is very much a mixed bag. It takes present-day Flash to a superhero-populated WWII but fails to make good use of its setting. It gives us the Nazis as adversaries while giving us a cliched villain who just wants to destroy the world with unexplored motivations. It gives us commendable voice performances while not being able to fully flesh out the motivations of its characters. But you know what? There’s a sense the movie tries at a few of these things and it shows.
VERDICT: Justice Society: World War II isn’t winning any awards for home-video cinematic brilliance. But it is at least a watchable superhero romp with likable characters, a commendable voice cast, and engaging fight sequences. Justice isn’t fully served here, but a passable superhero movie is.
- Great voice acting
- Fantastic fight scenes
- Soundtrack is pretty good
- Film can't properly develop its whole cast
- Some of the Wonder Woman-Steve Trevor scenes can get tedious
- The villain is an absolute bore