NEW YORK (CNS) — DC Comics' new straight-to-video release "Justice League Dark" (Warner Home Video) should come with a label that reads, "Warning: Not a Real Justice League Movie."
Even more important, the fact that this animated feature is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America should be conscientiously brought to parents' attention.
The star of "Dark" is John Constantine (voice of British actor Matt Ryan), an occult detective who solves problems in the supernatural world. Created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, and partly inspired by rock star Sting, the character also has elements of Dr. Strange. Rather than the usual tights-and-capes sock-'em-up, "Dark" is a supernatural mystery.
Though the film is possibly acceptable for older teens, it earns its restrictive rating. It includes scenes of domestic abuse, vehicular homicide, murder and suicide. There are also a handful of vulgar expressions in the dialogue. Bizarrely and sickeningly, the heroes are even attacked by a monster made of living human excrement.
If viewers can endure that, there is ultimately a positive moral in the story about the terrible results of denying our mortality and playing God. Although it's being presented as a fresh take on superheroes, this central theme of the picture goes all the way back, of course, to the Garden of Eden.
Constantine is an anti-hero, and in "Dark" he's depicted as cynical and manipulative, even cheating at cards. Deep down, Constantine does have a conscience, though, as he proves when called into service to solve a mystery that's getting innocent people hurt and killed.
Victims around the world are having hallucinations involving demons, and the Justice League deduces that these delusions are caused by magic — one of the few things that titans like Superman (voice of Jerry O'Connell) and Wonder Woman (voice of Rosario Dawson) aren't able to handle easily.
So it's time call in the nocturnal Justice League: Constantine, Deadman (voice of Nicholas Turturro), Batman (voice of Jason O'Mara), Jason Blood (voice of Ray Chase) and the demon to whom Blood is bound, Etrigan (also Chase), as well as Zatanna (voice of Camilla Luddington).
Ritchie Simpson (voice of Jeremy Davies), a friend of Constantine and Zatanna's, holds the key to the mystery. Simpson is suffering from cancer and has been using a magic Dreamstone to keep the illness in remission. However, the Dreamstone is linked to a bad guy named Destiny (voice of Alfred Molina) who thinks of himself as a god.
The cast does an excellent job, particularly Ryan and O'Mara. While comic book fandom has long considered Kevin Conroy the ultimate voice of the Dark Knight, O'Mara has a resonate timbre and is understated where Conroy was perhaps too melodramatic. Director Jay Oliva ("The Dark Knight Returns") keeps the action scenes smooth and coherent.
The film contains considerable stylized violence with some blood, occult themes, gross scatological imagery and a couple of crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.