In Gotham City a mysterious bat-like creature is responsible for a series of abductions. The media lay the blame on the only-recently active Batman (voiced by Jason O'Mara). When Hal Jordan (Justin Kirk), Green Lantern of Sector 2814, intervenes during one such attack he discovers the perpetrators are alien monsters called Parademons. Luckily the real Batman arrives at the scene to help subdue the creature. As more Parademons continue attacks across the world, heralding the start of an invasion from another world, it falls to an assortment of inexperienced young superheroes to band together and defend the Earth. Even though they are wary of each other and struggle to work as a team.
DC comics fans unimpressed by either the patchwork mess of Justice League (2017) or the po-faced and interminable Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021) may instead glean more entertainment from this polished direct-to-video animated feature. It is a more faithful adaptation of the comics story that inspired the live action films - Justice League: Origin, DC’s controversial 2011 reboot of their flagship super-team by writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee. Like the Snyder film the plot revolves around "Mother Boxes", mad alien warlord Darkseid (Steve Blum) plotting to take over the world and tragic bio-mechanical hero Cyborg's (Shemar Moore) difficult relationship with his cold, distant scientist father (Rocky Carroll). However unlike the meandering Snyder film JLW wastes no time getting to the action, maintains a heady pace throughout and tackles a diverse range of subplots more succinctly with greater clarity.
On the one hand the film is rooted firmly in the New 52 era. Critics of the original comic chastened Johns for going too far in crafting a callow, abrasive Justice League that barely tolerate each other. About as far from Super-Friends as you can get. Thus JLW leaves viewers having to contend with annoyingly snarky incarnations of characters like Hal Jordan and Shazam (voiced by Zach Collison as young Billy Batson and Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin as his grownup alter-ego) more personable in the regular continuity. As well as a hot-tempered Superman (Alan Tudyk, not the obvious choice for the Man of Steel but doing solid work) who immediately comes to blows with Batman and a script peppered with silly Snyder-ian profanity. Some of the cynicism of the "gritty" New 52 era - civilians and authorities alike distrust the heroes, a mob tells Wonder Woman (Michelle Monaghan, who only ten years earlier would have been a decent live action incarnation) she "dresses like a whore", and the leads keep lapsing into dick-measuring contests - prove jarring at first but eventually coalesce to serve an organic function within this origin story. This is about the League slowly finding its feet, learning to trust each other and in turn earning humanity’s trust. Screenwriter Heath Corson does an admirable job pulling off the odd stirring emotional moment (such as Bruce Wayne revealing his identity and back-story to win over a mistrustful Hal) amidst the non-stop crash, bang, and wallop. Along with hitting most of the beats in Johns' original story he also integrates plot points and scenes later showcased in the live action Shazam! (2019) and Wonder Woman (2017) films (in fact Shazam did not appear in Johns' comic and is neatly integrated here via ideas lifted from the 1987 comics series Legends, an event that ironically reintroduced an earlier rebooted incarnation of the League). Including the ever-amusing Wonder Woman discovers ice cream scene.
While budgets have clearly dwindled since the glory days of the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini Batman cartoons, the animation is generally pretty good here with solid design work and especially outstanding action scenes. More than one critic of Johns' comic questioned the wisdom of having the League's first ever battle be with their most formidable foe. Yet it is immensely satisfying to watch the League give the smug alien warlord the thrashing Snyder's film denied us.