(Disclaimer: Major spoilers for Justice League Dark below — continue at your own risk!)
The DCEU is still in its infancy, and it has been a bit of a bumpy ride so far. While Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad have all been financial successes, they have not been received well critically, and have polarized audiences. There are still a ton of DC properties that have been officially announced for the DCEU, and one of these is the team of brash mystical heroes of Justice League Dark.
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Warner Bros. has some of the most iconic superheroes ever in their roster; however, they have had a hard time transferring them to live-action. On the other hand, the animation division of Warner Bros./DC Comics has always been solid when it comes to representing beloved comic book characters. It certainly seems like one could learn from the other, and we would all benefit from the result.
The newest addition from the Warner Bros. Animation roster is Justice League Dark, and it revolves around a team of magic-based heroes, who are called upon when a threat is outside the purview of the Justice League. The team consist of John Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Jason Blood/Etrigan, Orchid, and Swamp Thing. On paper, the idea of a "magic" Justice League sounds silly; however, this animated film is brilliant.
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Since I am such a big fan of the mystical side of DC, I was delighted that they could do justice to my favorite characters. However, I am a bit concerned for the live-action Justice League Dark, because the DCEU hasn't had the best track record. Now that the animated film has come out, Warner Bros. has a perfect blue print for their live-action Justice League Dark. So, let’s look at the Justice League Dark animated film to see what the #DCEU could learn from it, and apply it to the live action version.
Justice League Dark is an excellent addition to the DC animated universe, and told a cohesive story. From beginning to end it follows one specific story, and it all revolves around an object in Constantine's possession (which I like to call the "McGuffin Stone"). It used the characters from the comics in appropriate ways, and they all fit together well. Zatanna and Constantine have amazing chemistry, and they use Batman as the comic relief (think K-2SO from Rogue One).
The front half of the film had a fair bit of exposition, but they had to introduce all the characters, and set up a brief backstory for each of them to serve the plot. Even then, the intros felt organic, and didn't bog down the pace of the film. The second and third acts have the big action set-pieces, that feel like natural occurrences, instead of feeling shoehorned in.
Most of the points I listed have been missing to one degree or another in the DCEU films. This is concerning because the animation division has been thriving. Down the road, when Warner Bros. tackles the live action adaptation of Justice League Dark, it would be wise to take certain elements from this animated version, that are necessary to tell the story correctly. They need to keep the plot simple, and rely on the characters to push the story along.
Constantine Is Not A Hero
If the live action Justice League Dark uses Constantine as the leader of the team, Warner Bros. must remember that Constantine is not a hero. For the most part, John Constantine is a selfish asshole who tends to screw over everyone he deals with. The animated film really leans into this idea, to the point where every person they ask for help has been wronged by Constantine in the past.
John Constantine's narcissism is extremely important to who the character is, and adds dramatic weight to the moment when Constantine does something for the greater good. Much like Tony Stark and Stephen Strange, John Constantine needs to be unlikable to a certain extent, because that is part of his charm.
Discovering True Potential
Throughout Justice League Dark, Zatanna is shown to be a very powerful magic user. However, through her conversations with Constantine, we learn that she is afraid to explore her full potential. In DC comics, when a magic user taps into an energy source, it contains both divine and evil magic. If the person tapping into the magic doesn't know how to control the dark side, it can consume them, and their soul will be lost.
In a moment of desperation, Zatanna gives in to the source of her magic, and becomes incredibly powerful. This act has two equally important purposes. First, it's a moment of growth for the character, showing how she faces her fears. Second, it's an interesting way to resolve the conflict with Felix Faust, who is easily stronger than the team combined. The DCEU needs to utilize their version of Zatanna in this way; because it is a great plot device, and it keeps the focus on the character.
Justice League Dark is about a team of mystical heroes, and they all have a certain role to play. Zatanna and Constantine are the leaders, and everyone else acts as supporting players - even if they are very powerful. When they all come together, they can tackle certain obstacles that they couldn't alone.
Batman is the proxy for the audience, and is used as a device to bounce exposition off of. As a result, the explanations of the mystical elements of the story seem more organic. Deadman plays the comic relief, and is often used as a lookout during stealth operations. Swamp Thing is very powerful and is used in a similar way as Hulk in Marvel's The Avengers (in small doses, with lots of smashing). Jason Blood/Etrigan is the person who ties the plot together, since he was the person who defeated Destiny before. When Jason Blood turns into Etrigan, he is very powerful, but they used him sparingly, in order to focus on the main characters.
Warner Bros. has been very reactionary when it comes to their DCEU properties. This lead to Deadshot and Harley Quinn being focal point of Suicide Squad, and everyone else felt shoehorned in. Ultimately, the titular team didn't work well together as a unit, and a lot of the side characters weren't well defined. Warner Bros. must remember with a team like Justice League Dark, everyone has a part to play regardless of the size.
Full Character Arcs
Justice League Dark does a great job at fleshing out our two leads, Constantine and Zatanna. When we are first introduced to each character, they are both a bit lonely and restless. Through the course of the movie, Constantine and Zatanna grow emotionally, and by the end of the story, they have been made better by their struggles. They find renewed purpose, they find each other, and they won the day.
The DCEU has been having a real problem with its character development. Don't get me wrong: it's not completely lacking, it just isn't as clear as it should be. Suicide Squad was a great example of what not to do with your characters. They were all one-dimensional, and hard to connect with emotionally. If you have lesser-known characters, you need the audience to become attached to them, or the story will have less impact.
If you compare Superman's sacrifice in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to Groot's in Guardians of the Galaxy, the latter has more impact due to the audience's connection to the character. The DCEU needs to focus on developing its leads in the Justice League Dark live action film, or the film won't connect with audiences.
When it comes down to it, the DCEU Justice League Dark film needs to focus on good storytelling above all else. They need to develop the characters, so they become the driving force of the story. If they stick to the fundamentals of storytelling, everything else will fall into place. Justice League Dark is available for digital download now, and will be available on DVD and Blu-ray February 7, 2017. Make sure you stay tuned to MoviePilot for all the latest updates on everything in the DCEU!
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