Justice League: Warworld
"Justice League: Warworld" begins with an amnesiac Wonder Woman riding into an embattled town in the Old West era then to a similarly amnesiac Batman hired as an assassin in a prehistoric world of warlords and wizards and lastly to, you guessed it, an amnesiac Superman working as a federal agent assigned to investigate an alien invasion conspiracy in a post-World War II era. The trio soon finds each other and begins to feel flashes of their memories only to discover they are just pawns in a grander scheme, fuel for a Multiverse-hopping planet killing super weapon known as Warworld! "Justice League: Warworld" releases on July 25, 2023 on 4K, Blu-Ray, and digital then Blu-Ray Steelbook edition releases a month later on August 23, 2023.
The movie's defining feature is how the portmanteau movie format gives audiences a taste of Elseworlds, DC's take on what-if styled stories, interwoven with familiar DC lore and story genre. In this case, Wonder Woman is a no-name drifter with no memories but a clear sense of right or wrong and super powers. A very handy combination as she arrives in a town in the Old West besieged by outlaw forces led by Jonah Hex. Or Batman in a Conan the Barbarian-esque world on a perilous quest with band of rebels led by Warlord to take down an evil wizard with his hands on some oddly modern technology. And lastly a B&W 1950s alien crash landing investigated by federal agents Kent and Faraday which dovetails into paranoia as the witnesses realize one of them is the alien but the shapeshifting aliens, plural, reveal themselves and make their move to silence everyone. The core theme that prevails through each story is even with a lack of memories or sense of self, these three individuals still do the right thing and prove there's more to heroism than putting on a flashy costume. Wonder Woman chooses to go against Hex after his men almost murder an entire family. Batman betrays the evil wizard who hired him and fights alongside his target to liberate the world. Superman stands up for an alien rather than open fire under orders from his fellow agent and legend in the field of intelligence.
In Wonder Woman's story, Jonah Hex alludes to the Revolutionary War, Mexican-American War, and Civil War while talking about his family heirloom then name drops Sweetwater, which I believe comes from a Lobo comic... set in the Old West. Batman's story is mostly a nod to Mike Grell's Warlord comics but there is a moment when Batman briefly remembers some of his famous rogues gallery. The minotaur reminded me of this Conan comic from Marvel but maybe it was in a barbarian movie from the 80s. In Superman's story, it is revealed Faraday fought in the Battle of Iwojima in World War II then founded the Central Bureau of Intelligence from DC and took part in the Janus Directive, a comic book arc in which the terrorist organization Kobra made a big move against the intelligence community. Faraday also name drops Majestic 12, an alleged secret committee of scientists, military leaders, and government officials, formed in 1947 by an executive order by U.S. President Harry S. Truman to facilitate recovery and investigation of alien spacecraft. Some of the fake witnesses appear to be DC characters like the Langs and Snapper Carr. The whole of Superman's story definitely took inspiration from The Twilight Zone's "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" episode from May 1961. Mongul alludes to the Crystal Key needed to fully operate the Warworld's arsenal as well as the Largas, the previous owners of Warworld in the comics.
Lastly, the movie's ending is another not-so-subtle reference to what appears to be an upcoming adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Rumors of such a movie have hit the Internet off and on the past few years. Hard to deny when Harbinger shows up. Or the "Old Man" voiced by Matt Bomer who appears to Warlord and Batman briefly. Hmm, now who else has Bomer filmed in this movie canon. Interesting and seems the payoff will be in a later movie. In "Superman: Man of Tomorrow," Lobo told Superman and Martian Manhunter there are other Martians and Kryptonians out there. He turned out to be telling truth: White Martians on Warworld and Supergirl in the previous canon movie "Legion of Super-Heroes." In "Justice Society: World War II," we first met Wonder Woman she was a variant version on parallel Earth in the Multiverse. Spectre alluded to the universe reacting and what looked like an anti-matter wave at the end of the Constantine: House of Mystery short. Warworld's confirmed to have a Zeta Beam, which we saw first in the Adam Strange DC Showcase short and "Green Lantern: Beware My Power." In "Legion of Super-Heroes," Brainiac states he foresaw "threats." So clearly, the DC Universe animated DTVs are on the Multiverse bandwagon that the comic book movies are delving hard into right now. Has the audience for these canon direct-to-video movies been paying attention and/or remember all these connecting threads and does the movies do enough to remind us about said threads? Will audiences still have the patience and stomach for all this when this Crisis movie finally comes out? The Multiverse is a fad now, will it be when this all concludes? We'll see.
The final 20 minutes of the movie were disappointing and frustrating. While the theme of heroes always doing the right thing is sort paid off with Martian Manhunter making the ultimate sacrifice but not spending a second on trying to save the prisoner clones or those working on Warworld. The actual ending is a freefall and the big action set piece is bland. Trying to explain and settle everything in 20 minutes is a feat unto itself but then the ending is overshadowed by a deus ex machina that literally comes out of nowhere to set up the next movie. The movie has to explain what's going on with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman but then it crams even more – the victims of Warworld are being endlessly cloned, negative emotions fuel a planet-shaped weapon whose history is haphazardly explained, it can travel the Multiverse somehow, Lobo's working for Mongul for reasons then other reasons because he's the proverbial loose cannon, Mongul wants to use Warworld for bad guy stuff, Martians were given some key that makes Warworld fully operational, Lobo's a double-crosser but it's really because Martian Manhunter planted the idea in him off screen, everyone's gonna die, and some new character plucks Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman away to her ship at the last second and says there's something even worse coming. Uh... yeah.
Worse yet, this continuity of movies continues to have a villain problem. Mongul was completely interchangeable and lackluster. The problem with the villain only appearing in the final minutes of the movie is no impression is made. Sure it seems there's some level of irony that he was trapping people in illusions while he himself is trapped by the allure of Warworld's power akin to a drug addict but it's a speed date. There he is, he says some lines where you get a baseline gist, and then guess he died in the explosion. The title of the movie is about the same bait and switch this line of movies has to rely on to get past marketing and get a greenlight. While something in the vein of "Trinity: Warworld" would have been more appropriate... for a movie called "Justice League: Warworld," the actual organization doesn't appear in full force at all. The only members are Batman, Superman, and Martian Manhunter but the League isn't even acknowledged and Wonder Woman isn't from their universe. Do Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman even regain their full memories by the end? It didn't feel clear enough. In a more ideal scenario, Warworld could have a two part movie with the first part dealing with the mini-stories and ending on a reveal they're really on Warworld then spend the second part on Warworld: the reveals, building up Mongul's arc better, and the Trinity fighting their way to Mongul level by level and then putting the Harbinger scene in an end tag after the credits.
The movie's special features are only a pair of two informative featurettes that focus on what went into making the movie. The 7:45 "Illusions on Warworld" is a behind the scenes look at the process that went into designing and creating the three distinct genres used for the movie. Producer Jim Krieg explains Warworld came from a want to explore corners of the DC Universe hardly explored and Butch Lukic elaborates he always wanted to do a western, a Conan sword-and-sorcery, and a 1950's sci-fi with a twist of the Twilight Zone. Writer Tim Sheridan explains the framework of the movie allows audiences to see Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman in a new light. Character and background designs are shown throughout the featurette along with finished animation of the movie and comic book interiors related to the discussion. The discussion goes from story to story, Old West and Jonah Hex to Skartaris and Warlord, and 50s Sci-Fi and Agent Faraday. The black and white Red Scare setting is compared to how Agent Kent lives in a black and white, good and evil world. Darren Criss comments on going with less bravado because this Kent is unaware of his powers. Lukic ends the featurette explaining he's trying to finish off a 30 year career in animation before he himself heads off into the sunset.
The 7:52 "The Heroic, the Horrible and the Hideous" is a primer on the origins and histories of the key characters of the movie. Jim Krieg, Butch Lukic, and Tim Sheridan discuss how movie provided an opportunity to create a much different Warworld than seen before in animation, a mechanized planet powered by hate and anger and almost a drug to Mongul, giving him power but also dooming him. Krieg goes so far as to compare this version of Mongul to a combination of Sauron and Gollum from the Lord of the Rings franchise, asking does he have the "ring" or does the "ring" have him? The featurette also touches on Martian Manhunter and how he was used by Mongul to conduct psychological warfare and on Lobo and his infamous self-interest. Lukic comments on the final moments of the movie as part of something they have been planning since day one.
It is a let down there are no commentary track or once again not even a sneak peak of the next movie. The sneak peek is supposed to be a staple bonus feature and that's been removed. Not even bonus episodes from the DC Vault are present. The drive now seems to be an absolute bare minimum set of featurettes to summarize some of the cast and crew's thoughts on key aspects of the movie's creation.
"Justice League: Warworld" breaks into new territory with an anthology format and leaning into classic genres and reinterpreting the Trinity of DC but the movie ultimately falters when it breaks into the actual story and crams anything and everything into the final convoluted 20 minutes, when it becomes apparent the central villains are generic or misused, and an over-the-top dogpile of sci-fi ideas in lieu of a disciplined exposition and resolution. The cast is top notch, the genre-bending what-if vignettes are entertaining, animation and acting were solid, and the recurring theme of what defines a true hero makes this a recommended purchase.
Main Feature: 3 out of 5
Special Features: 3 out of 5
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5