Last week saw the release of the trailer for the animated film Justice League Dark, which teams Batman up with the DC supernatural universe to combat a force that threatens the souls of humanity. This week director Jay Oliva provides Empire with an exclusive breakdown of events taking place in that trailer.
Justice League Dark Get An "R" Rating in America
If I knew that I could get away with a rated R, I would have made it a hard R. When we make these films, our goal is always a PG-13, so there's certain things that we know we can get away with and things that we can't; we can't do beheadings and we can't do arterial blood spray or anything like that. I'm just trying to tell the best story that I can, and from there we edit some things out, or we try to hide things. Instead of showing a beheading, we'll cut to the shadow on the wall as you see the beheading in the shadow, but you don't actually see it. The Killing Joke was kind of a godsend in the sense of, because of its success and because Home Video took a chance of releasing it as an R, it paved the way for this to be an R.
Dark Entity With A Ring
The idea of the sequence is that it’s showing an example of the paranormal activities that are happening around the world. This is one of the scenes where you're actually seeing it first-hand as opposed to second-hand accounts of it. And, no, I wish it was a Green Lantern power ring you see on that entity, but it’s not. That's supposed to be a tip off for later, for when they start to investigate who or what this thing is. I guess they should have colored the ring differently, because honestly, I look at it and it looks like a Green Lantern or Sinestro ring to me.
The Justice League
This control room was introduced in the animated film Justice League Vs Teen Titans, and it’s inside the Hall Of Justice. We haven’t shown an exterior yet. It could the Watchtower in space, but it’s not something we’ve shown one way or another.
The Justice League, despite the title, is integral to the story. Remember, we’re setting up the fact that there are things in this world that even the Justice League can't handle, and that's why Justice League Dark exists. The Justice League can handle things like Darkseid, aliens, or supervillains trying to take over the world, but when we're dealing with entities that want to take over your soul, there's not really much Superman can do against that, you know what I mean? That's what we're setting up.
We make her a badass. In this world, at least the way I see it, she's probably the most powerful wizard or magical entity, but the way I played her up is that I wanted her to be afraid of the power. Magic is intoxicating, and magic doesn't make you evil or good, it's just this force of nature kind of thing. It's like the One Ring in Lord Of The Rings, where the ring is very intoxicating, it's very corrupting, and the compulsion to use it is so strong. She's very afraid of using it, and so what she does is she relies on small parlor tricks and that kind of thing, because she knows that she can go full out nuclear. She also knows that by doing so, she might not ever come back, and so she's afraid of that power, which I think is a really good take on her; something that I don't think we've ever really explored in the past so much, at least not in Young Justice or any of the other stuff that I've had Zatanna on.
Cloud With A Face
The cloud is some kind of magical entity that's trying to stop Batman in his investigation and from reaching John Constantine, who Batman, Zatanna and Deadman are trying to get to.
The House Of Mystery
The House Of Mystery is kind of like the TARDIS, you know? It’s more or less Constantine’s base of operations and home as well. He also stores the most dangerous artifacts in there, in the vaults. That's why you have a lot of artifacts that are all around. They're all magical things, and the House Of Mystery exists in its own dimension, so that's why it's a good place for safekeeping some of the most dangerous magical tokens and weapons. Constantine's kind of like the guardian of it all.
The way I see it also is that Constantine is kind of like the supernatural version of Batman, in the sense that Batman uses all these gadgets. Constantine, I feel, is not magical. He can't create magic on his own, at least not to the level of Zatanna. Constantine is right in the middle. He's not totally non-magical, but he has an affinity to magic, which means that he can use magical items as well as maybe he can do just limited, small tricks like create fire. But he can't, like Zatanna, go full nuclear. He can't create portals and all that kind of stuff. We don't really see it too much in the movie, but I feel he uses the items that are in the House Of Mystery in the same way that James Bond uses the gadgets from Q Branch. Throughout the movie he uses quite a few different artifacts; these are all things that I believe were stored in there and he now uses them to protect him or to help him in his investigations.
Like I said, Constantine has an affinity to the supernatural and to magic that he can tap into, and that's why he can talk to Deadman. In the beginning of the movie, Batman can't talk to Deadman, can't even see Deadman, but John, because he has an affinity to that world, can. He sees spirits, he sees demons, he sees all the things that we don't see in our everyday life.
Matt Ryan Reprises The Role of John Constantine
Having Matt Ryan was great. When I found out that I was going to be doing Dark, I thought, “This is awesome,” and I asked, “Is Constantine in it? Can I get Matt Ryan to do it?” We didn't know whether or not he would do it. We knew that the series had finished. We knew that it might not be coming back, so we weren’t sure if Matt would be a little bit too bitter to play this role. Some actors might think it's a step down, doing an animated thing, you know? So we reached out to him, and he said sure. It was one of the easier pieces of the puzzle to cast. And the thing is, he loves the character and I didn't know this until I went to New York Comic-Con and I got to really hang out with him outside of work. He's a really, really cool guy, and here's how cool he was: He was in London, because he lives there, and we were going to just record him from there, we would just rent a studio there and he would go there, and we would direct him from L.A., which is what sometimes we've done for some actors. Matt's, like, “No, I'll come out.” I don't think he's ever done voice work before, so he wanted to really be there, just in case. If he was doing a terrible job, he wants to know that he's doing a terrible job. He came out here and did a fantastic job. He was really very gracious, very kind and loved talking about his experiences on the series and how great it is to be playing this character and being known for this character.
Back in the eighties, his limited series was one of the first non-Batman books that I picked up. I've been a fan of his since then, so it's really kind of cool that I got to do Deadman. This is the first time I've used the character, but I know he's appeared in the past. I think he was in Justice League Unlimited as well as Brave And The Bold. There’s definitely a line between what Deadman does — inhabiting somebody else’s body — and the TV show Quantum Leap, where the lead character leapt into the bodies of different people very week.
Constantine may have been my first question, but Swamp Thing was the second. We were actually kicking around the idea of doing a Swamp Thing direct to video movie years ago, but that never saw fruition. When this came about, it was the perfect opportunity to use him. He and Constantine know each other, but they don’t like each other. Then again, not many people like Constantine, because he kind of rubs you the wrong way, you know? He's kind of like Batman in some ways. He's the supernatural version of Batman. Basically Constantine and Batman give zero fucks about anything.
Basically this is the Demon that we all know and love, but the nice thing is we do tie in Jason Blood to the storyline. He's actually in it a lot. It's probably, as much as it's a Constantine movie, it's kind of a Demon movie as well. Jason Blood and Constantine have run into each other a lot, and just like Swamp Thing, they don't really like each other very much. What’s funny is that, now that I look back at the Dark movie, nobody likes Constantine. Constantine kind of rubs everybody the wrong way, and like I said, he's like a honey badger, he gives zero fucks. It's funny, because he's the integral part of the team, but nobody likes him. Hell, even Zatanna doesn't really like him. She just tolerates him now.
It’s actually good for a group dynamic. In the Justice League, they're all friends. Nobody gets into arguments, really, but with Dark, it's nice because they all don't really like each other. They don't hang out at each other's apartments afterwards, you know? They do their job and do their thing, they know that they're all integral parts to the whole, and without them the world would basically not exist, but they're all such strong personalities. They're all butting heads in a sense, but they end up coming together and doing what's right and protecting our souls from things that are out there that we don't even know exist.
John Stewart As Green Lantern
This is the first time you see John Stewart in one of these films, so this movie is our introduction to him in this timeline. If you notice in that earlier section of the trailer, we have Hawkman in there and Martian Manhunter and all these other characters, so instead of us trying to do another Justice League movie where we take the time to introduce these characters, we felt that enough time has passed between these films that they've already recruited more guys, and let's just put them in there now, so that way we don't have to make it such a big event every time we introduce new people. We do establish in this one that Hal Jordan is in a different galaxy or something. In the meantime, John is here to oversee the sector.
Like I said, I think this is a Jason Blood/Demon film more than anything. You're going to see his origin. I wanted to try to play up this whole Highlander feel to him, in the sense that Jason Blood is cursed, and he's cursed that he cannot die until something happens, and so he's basically walking the Earth. And he's kind of like The Hulk. When he loses his temper or whatever, he turns into the Demon, and he's trying *not to turn into the Demon, because the Demon is really his curse. He has to carry the Demon within him to stop this evil, if the evil should ever arise. Now, this happened back in the time of King Arthur, and hundreds of years later, he's, like, “When is this evil going to show up? I need to find peace.”
This is how I was putting it. The luster of being this superhero faded and now he's a little jaded. He wants to distance himself from the Demon part of him. He just wants to find peace. Actually, he wants to die, because he realizes that he's lived too long, and he's seen the world change from the idyllic Arthurian legend into what it is today, and he's a little disenfranchised. That's how we've played him up, and I thought it's kind of an interesting take. That's what I like about his character, is that he's a man out of time, but instead of what we would expect him to be, like, “I'm going to be a hero,” for the most part he's stayed back and just let humankind almost destroy itself, because he's been waiting for this other thing — this thing that is an even greater threat than us killing each other.
A DC Astral Plane
This is the other dimensional kind of place. The nice thing about Justice League Dark is that we get to explore places that you don't normally explore in Justice League, Batman movie or Green Lantern movies. Normally with those things we're dealing more with science fiction. It's like alien worlds or exotic locations, like a supervillain hideout on the moon or a 20,000 League Under The Sea type of thing.
With Dark and these characters, we explore areas that are more in the H. P. Lovecraft type of world, with Cthulhu and The Exorcist kind of thing, things that, I think I mentioned this earlier, where it's not your life that's at stake, it's your soul. You may die, a parademon might kill you or Darkseid might enslave you, but at some point death will free you of that. With what Constantine and these characters are dealing with, they're dealing with the fact that these demons or these supernatural entities will kill you, but even after killing you, they will torture your soul for eternity. That's pretty heavy, and in some ways, what they are safeguarding us against is something greater than even the Justice League can ever safeguard us against: Our entire being.
Batman Cracks A One-Liner
I really like Batman's role in the movie, because he's pretty much the Scully to the Mulders of the Justice League Dark team. They're all believers, they all live and breathe magic, and Batman is the forever scientist, the forever skeptic, and we kind of use him as the straight man throughout the movie. Honestly, his funniest lines are in this movie. I'm not saying that this movie's a comedy, I'm just saying Batman, to me, is very charming in it, because he stays Batman when faced with things that would drive any of us mad or we would pull our eyeballs out because we don't want to see it. Batman would be, like, “You know, there's a way to explain this. I don't accept that you are seeing what you say you are. I think it's something else. It's got to be swamp gas or something like that.” He's always trying to explain it scientifically.
Justice League Dark will be available for digital download on 24 January 2017, and in America on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on 7 February 2017.