Release Date(s)2023 (July 25, 2023)
Studio(s)DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Animation (Warner Home Video)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C-
Justice League: Warworld is the latest direct-to-video entry into the DC Animated Universe, mixing some legitimately R-rated action into three different milieus that effectively act as self-contained Elseworlds tales—although looks can be deceiving in that regard, as they’re actually nothing of the sort. The framing story that holds them together acts as a springboard into the next phase of the DCAU, with the appearance of a new character offering a portent of that which is to come. That means that each of the sub-stories are ultimately little more than diversions in the grand scheme of things, but they did offer director Jeff Wamester the opportunity to place familiar characters into unfamiliar contexts—Wonder Woman (Stana Katic) facing off against Jonah Hex (Troy Baker) in the old west, Batman (Jensen Ackles) reluctantly teaming up with Warlord (Teddy Sears) in a sword and sorcery adventure, and Superman (Darren Criss) trapped in a black-and-white episode of The Twilight Zone. Yet they still serve the purpose of helping to lay the foundations for the multiverse shenanigans that are already on the way from DC Animation.
Warworld has a long history in the DC Comics universe, with many variations cropping up over the years since its original appearance in 1980. In one form or another, it’s a mobile artificial planetoid that serves as an ultimate weapon of sorts (although the exact nature of that weapon varies from universe to universe), with the world-conquering alien Mongul serving as its leader and/or controller. Warworld had previously made an appearance in the DCAU during the first season of the Justice League animated series, in that case based on the Gladiator storyline from the 1989 run of the Superman comics. Superman and Martian Manhunter were captured by alien slavers and sent to fight on War World, where Mongul stages gladiatorial duels to the death in his arena.
For Justice League: Warworld, writers Jeremy Adams, Ernie Altbacker, and Josie Campbell reconceived Warworld as a planetoid powered by the hate and anger of those who are trapped on it (shades of the Day of the Dove episode from the third season of the original Star Trek television series). That provided the framework for Mongul (Robin Atkin Downes) to place Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman into different scenarios involving hate, fear, and especially violence—all with the goal of helping him to gain control of Warworld’s powers. It also set the stage for an appearance by another familiar DC character who has had a long history in the Warworld multiverses, as well as another one who doesn’t, although it’s a character who’s always welcome in any context. When the different threads are finally tied together at the conclusion, they open the door for the introduction of yet a third character who has only had a single previous appearance in the entire DCAU—this time, to offer a warning about the fractured future that everyone will soon face.
Regardless of the framing stories involved in any anthology project, the individual episodes still tend to feel a bit disjointed, and Justice League: Warworld is no exception. On the other hand, it’s fun to see things like Diana Prince using the Lasso of Truth a western setting, Bruce Wayne in full Conan the Barbarian mode, and Clark Kent trying to prove that the truth is out there. The action is competently staged, but while the R-rated violence does fit vaguely into this conception of Warworld, it still feels gratuitous—the same idea could have been conveyed just as easily with a PG-13 rating instead. Justice League: Warworld may not be one of the high points in the DCAU, but it’s an important step on the way to delivering a real event for their next title.
Justice League: Warworld was rendered digitally at 2K resolution at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. For this Ultra HD release, the 2K Digital Intermediate was upscaled to 4K and graded for High Dynamic Range (only HDR10 is included on the disc). Warworld blends different techniques that Warner Animation has been using for recent DCAU titles, using the same Archer-style heavy black lines to outline the characters that Legion of Super-Heroes did, but with a more naturally textured look for the backgrounds. In this case, it throws the characters into sharp relief, since the flat 2D inking within those outlines really stands out against the more detailed backgrounds. There’s some nice texturing in those backgrounds as well, even if they don’t really exhibit 4K worth of detail. Still, everything is rendered with just a bit more crispness in 4K than it is on Blu-ray, though much of that comes down to the greater breathing room on the UHD. Despite having a relatively modest bitrate for the format, there’s still enough data here to reduce the artifacts that often plague DCAU Blu-rays. Warworld also mixes the color schemes for each of the segments, ranging from black-and-white to sepia-toned to full color, but the HDR grade does provide some benefits to all of them. It’s most noticeable in the vivid coloration during the finale, but even the sepia-toned material offers some rich glows to scenes set by firelight. While nothing here offers dramatic improvements compared to the Blu-ray, there’s just enough to make the 4K upgrade worthwhile.
Primary audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. It’s a fairly typical DCAU 5.1 mix, with occasional directionalized effects like horses riding past the viewer into the back of the room, but most of the sonic energy is focused toward the center channel. There’s a bit of ambience, but much of it is provided by Michael Gatt’s score, and his music also provides most of the stereo spread across the front channels. There’s a bit of bass punch during effects like explosions, but the dynamics are otherwise limited. It’s not a bad mix, but it lacks the impact that other DCAU titles like Legion of Super-Heroes have had. Additional audio options include French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The Warner Bros. 4K Ultra HD release of Justice League: Warworld is a 2-Disc set that includes a Blu-ray copy of the film in 1080p, a slipcover, and a Digital Code on a paper insert. The extras are available on the Blu-ray only, both of them in HD:
- Illusions on Warworld (7:45)
- The Heroic, the Horrible and the Hideous (7:52)
Illusions on Warworld and The Heroic, the Horrible and the Hideous work together in tandem, so they could have just as easily been blended into a single featurette. They both feature interviews with the same pool of talent, including producer Jim Krieg, director Jeff Wamester, DC Comics writer Tim Sheridan, voice actor Darren Criss, and executive producer Butch Lukic (who had previously helmed the War World episode of Justice League). Illusions focuses on the nature of the story, and how they took a different approach to Warworld by using it as a way to place familiar characters into unfamiliar milieus. The Heroic, The Horrible and the Hideous covers the new characters that were involved, and how they were reimagined to fit into the nature of the stories being told. At barely fifteen minutes between them, these featurettes don’t offer much depth, but there’s still some useful information here for anyone who wants to learn a little more about Warworld and its denizens.
DCAU titles aren’t necessarily known for the breadth of the extras that they offer, but this is still a slim collection by any measurement. Given the fact that many viewers won’t be familiar with Warworld in any of its iterations, it would have been nice to delve into its history in a bit more detail. It also might have been a good idea explain what the ending really means, although that would have required spoiler warnings, and these kinds of featurettes don’t usually go into that territory. Setting all of that aside, this is still a fine presentation of Justice League: Warworld in 4K, offering slight but noticeable improvements over the Blu-ray, and it’s definitely recommended for fans of the DC Animated Universe.
- Stephen Bjork