Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it, I didn’t like Justice League: War. It was just a big boring fight scene, filled with bad characterisation and a generic plot (The Justice League fights Darkseid? Haven’t seen that before). There was no heart to the film. The only character I managed to get any kind of emotional connection to was Cyborg. Here’s a tip for you, if you want people to be invested in a fight, to care about the outcome, they have to care about the people involved in the fight first. Well with that out of the way, let’s see if the sequel can do any better.
So what’s the story? After defeating Darkseid’s army everyone loves the Justice League (the name tested better than Super Seven), the only problem is there isn’t much of a Justice League. Our heroes aren’t really a team, preferring to spend time on their own problems and situations rather than getting together. Meanwhile in Mercy Reef, Arthur Curry is mourning his late father when he is sent for by his mother, who just so happens to be the Queen of Atlantis. She hopes Arthur will be the bridge between Atlantis and the surface, and prevent a war, a war Arthur’s half-brother Orm so eagerly wants. When the missile payload of a sub is stolen, our heroes must band together to defend the world from the ambitions of the underwater Prince.
Thankfully the characterisation in this film is much improved, still not perfect, but definitely better. I mean there were scenes were Superman actually sounded like Superman (there were also scenes were his eyes glowed red and he warned the bad guys to retreat or else, so there’s still work to be done). I think this is mostly down to the fact that there is more of a focus on the human aspect of the characters, whether it’s Cyborg being haunted by his implants, or Arthur struggling with who he is. We get a couple of little quiet moments for the characters to breathe, though I did notice that the Flash and Shazam were kind of left just hanging around. They didn’t even contribute to the investigation of who attacked the sub like everyone else (which was pretty nice to see the others using their different skill sets and experience to piece bits together).
Unfortunately these are just moments, and they go by before you can even blink. And as the film goes on there’s less and less of these moments, leading to instantaneous character growth such as Arthur deciding to become Atlantis’ king, or his relationship with Mera sprouting out of thin air (or should that be thin water?). I still don’t understand why DC’s original animated movies are slaves to a 72 minute run time. I know animation is a costly business, and every single frame counts (it’s not like regular film where you can just let the camera run, in animation just one extra frame can take forever sometimes). Bu I can’t help feeling that this just keeps hurting the films. This film especially feels cramped and rushed, struggling to squeeze in all of its plot and characters. It robs the ending of the emotional triumph it was aiming for.
How does this film handle Aquaman though? I know he has the reputation of being a bit of a joke, but I think one of the few things the New 52 has done really well is showing how much of a badass Aquaman really is. This film manages it too. We get to see that Arthur is a competent fighter. He shows he has the brooding hero stuff down in the moments we get to explore the loss of his father and his feelings of not knowing who, or what, he is. We also get to see that his powers go beyond just being able to talk to fish (though when you can control sharks, whales and an entire army of sea creatures, that’s not as lame a power as it sounds).
Probably the weakest characters in this whole film, unfortunately, are the villains. Black Manta is criminally underused. He hardly gets any lines or development, he doesn’t even get any motivation outside of just being evil. In his last scene he tries to throw out some evil plan as he monologues, but the film cares so little that Arthur just summons a shark to eat him (the scene is pretty hilarious actually, though I’m not sure that is supposed to be the intended reaction). And Prince Orm is even worse, he just comes off as a whiney little brat (much like Shazam). It’s painful to watch him act like a sullen teenager when I know how great a villain he can be, same goes for Black Manta. In the battle at the end they try to make Orm this big villain who can easily take on the League singlehandedly (because we didn’t see that at all last time with Darkseid), but I don’t buy it for a second. This arrogant moron wouldn’t last two seconds.
At least the animation is good, but then this is DC (where Marvel rules the cinema, they rule animated stuff). I am worried that I happened to notice some CG sneaking into scenes. Come on DC, your original movies are one of the last bastions of hand drawn animation. I’ve already lost the Disney cinematic releases; don’t let me lose you guys too.
There’s one last thing I want to talk about with this film, and that’s the excessive violence and blood. It’s been a trend in these DC animated movies of late. I really don’t understand it. There wasn’t an excessive amount of violence in the source material beyond the usual superhero stuff (I certainly don’t remember seeing dozens of people being chopped in half in the comic). I don’t mind violence and bloodshed if it adds to the end product, but here it’s completely pointless. It adds nothing, and only means that a younger audience won’t be able to appreciate this film, which I imagine is robbing it of a considerable chunk of viewers (how else are they going to learn of the awesomeness of Aquaman, you know, outside of the comics?).
Overall this is a decent film. It’s definitely better than Justice League: War, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. It’s rushed, has a load of underdeveloped characters (especially the villains), excessive violence and some spots of bad characterisation. If you want to see Aquaman kicking butt on the screen, give this a shot, but if you want a good Aquaman movie (heck, just a good superhero movie), I suggest you try elsewhere, perhaps some of DC’s earlier original animated movies.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.