Saturday, February 23, 2008

REVIEW: Justice League: New Frontier

Well, Anonymous, I watched the movie, so here we go.

New Frontier

I liked it.

Like any movie from a book, JL: New Frontier does not completely manage to capture what made the book great, but it does a pretty darn good job of translating the comic to animated format. Rather than beat around the bush, I will say that the single biggest problem with the movie is that at 75ish minutes, the movie feels about 20-30 minutes too short.

I'm not sure if viewers of the movie are going to necessarily miss the bits about Dinosaur Island (from Weird War Tales), the greater development of a few plotlines, or more about the Challengers. But they may want to see more of the Superman/ Lois relationship, get a better feel for the existing relationships among the characters, and maybe get a bit more background on The Flash.

I don't envy director Dave Bullock, or writer Stan Berkowitz. New Frontier as a comic was a sprawling epic, taking place over an extended period of time and containing both explicit and implicit inclusion of historical events and a truckload of DC publishing history. Whomever the powers that be at TimeWarner might be, they've been kind enough to greenlight this sort of project and short-sighted enough to dictate the same running time for children's movies.

New Frontier is PG-13, suggesting that DC Animated expected the movie to reach an older audience than, say, the latest installment of the Air Bud puppies series. One of the oddities of comics and their translation to television (especially to animation) is that what happens in comics is often PG to PG-13 rated. And with the opening sequences taking place in a warfield in Korea in the final days of the Korean War, they don't pull too many punches.

Whether the voice talent took part as a lark or because the pay was right, this movie has a great voice cast. Kyle MacLachlan as Superman, Jeremy Sisto's Batman is a worthy heir to Kevin Conroy. Lucy Lawless is a good Wonder Woman, and I was a fan of Vicki Lewis as Iris, and Brooke Shields as Carol Ferris. David Boreanaz of Angel fame plays Hal Jordan, and Miguel Ferrer is a great Martian Manhunter.

The art-style approximates artist Darwyn Cooke's original conception, under the steady guidance of director Dave Bullock. Coincidentally, I used to really like Bullock's cover work on Superman comics about three or four years ago, as he shared a bit of a retro-style with Cooke. Some will make the mistake of believing the late-50's style of cartoon art is imitating The Incredibles, but that's an unfortunate coincidence. New Frontier pre-dates the release of the Incredibles. I did miss some of the characterization, especially of Wonder Woman, that Cooke brought to the page, but budgetary concerns and a slightly more modern style was probably required for a general audience.

The plot holds up well, and in place of the sprawling story of the original mini-series/ graphic novel, the story is tightened up nicely in the film, with most of the major beats getting attention. From The Flash is Vegas, to the origin of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, it's pretty well covered. The overarching storyline of The Center, that holds the film together, was surprisingly well-paced and handled with an appreciable amount of narrative economy, all while building tension.

The action scenes are very well choreographed and maturely handled. There's a great big-screen feel to the whole movie with well-staged scenes, from art direction to "blocking".

There are some scenes where they've taken some liberties, and where they've integrated sequences, etc... but as far as a film goes, I don't have any complaints.

Folks not particularly familiar with the Justice League or superheroes beyond Batman and Superman will find something to like.

Folks who are DC geeks will find a bag of things to enjoy, from the Challengers of the Unknown just sort of being there, to Madamoiselle Marie as a Fed. It's just a lot of fun.


The preview copy I received was not the two-disc set, but did contain the film and a short documentary on the history of the Justice League.

Superman/ Doomsday contained a similar documentary, produced as a companion piece to the movie you may have just finished watching.

In this case, the documentary covered the publishing history of the Justice League, and contains some great interviews from folks who were there, or who worked with the original creators (many of whom, like Gardner Fox, have passed). Comic geeks will be excited to see the faces and hear the comments from well-known creators, but may have known some or much of the history of the Justice League of America. Non-comic geeks may be surprised at the grown men talking so lovingly about the Super Friends, but will still enjoy.

On the Whole:

I think this came out extremely well. It's tough to separate out my love of the original book from the movie, and that works in two ways. I am somewhat bothered by what was excised for time, but I'm also finding it hard to pick at the movie too much as it animates and brings to life a comic I think is top notch.

If there's one thing I think was missed, its at the very end when Lois sees Superman again. I recall seeing that page the first time I read the comic and felt it was just a perfect Superman moment. If comics can slow when you read and really impress a feeling upon you, Cooke had pulled it off. Here, I kind of felt it was rushed. But, you know, 75 minutes.

I still recommend. I will mention that I wouldn't show this to, say, very, very young kids. But if they can handle Star Wars, they can handle this.


Michael Corley said...

I cannot wait to see it. I have greatly enjoyed the JLA genre via the animated show, and miss only the more mature take that is often lacking. Plus, I like to watch superheros beat up villians. It's a thing.

The League said...

Hurm. Well, this movie is mostly devoid of Superheroes beating on villains. It's more of a "Right Stuff" for Superheroes sort of thing.