Hey guys, here’s a TiFaux guest contribution! I got my straight guy friend Rob to write up a review of the Justice League: The New Frontier. I keep a few straight guys in my circle of friends to make it seem like I’m open minded about other lifestyles. Seems like most of them have beards these days (Rob, folk singer Justin) — go figure. Anyway, here’s what he had to say…
(Oh, and he wants me to tell you that this probably deserves a PG-13 rating because heads blow up at certain points in the movie.)
When Dan made sure that a review copy of Justice League: The New Frontier made it into my hands, I couldn’t have been more pleased. I’m a big fan of the comic book it’s based on, and pretty much everything by its author and artist, Darwyn Cooke, who served as a creative consultant for the movie.
So, apparently the DC comics animation guys who made Batman: The Animated Series and the Justice League cartoons have moved away from television and into the direct-to-DVD market. Fine by me, if it means they can do more mature, long-form stories but still, while The New Frontier is a great book, it’s kind of an odd fit for a film. Y’see, the story takes place in the 1950s, involves a huge cast with several separate storylines and takes its atmospheric cues from Cold War-era paranoia. I can see the instant appeal for comic book readers, but to the uninitiated who haven’t subjected themselves to decades of comics lore, it might be a little bit jarring.
There’s a lot to love in the first two-thirds of the film, though. For the most part, the animation is nice – better than the Batman cartoons, although not on the level of, say, Spirited Away. The book’s cast list was chopped down, so what we’re left with two main plotlines: a hotshot pilot’s path to becoming the Green Lantern and a Martian visitor slowly learning the ways of earth. There are also a handful of other supporting players with their own stories, including a morally conflicted Superman who’s been drafted as a government agent, a really cool interpretation of Wonder Woman who’s built like a linebacker, and my personal favorite, a nice-guy version of the Flash who has a couple of sweet moments with his fiancé. The narratives are filled with fun little 50s-era flourishes, especially Green Lantern’s, which clearly draws much of its inspiration from Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.”
Unfortunately, all of those storylines come together in a messy pileup at the movie’s end, which pits the assembled heroes against a poorly defined superthreat that turns out to be (spoiler alert) a flying dinosaur island that can shoot energy beams. And, although the movie makes some weak attempts at foreshadowing, this thing basically just appears as an excuse for everyone to provide a common enemy. Plus, a bunch of heroes from the book who were mostly cut from the film appear for the climactic scene, but you’d have no idea who they are, because they have no lines.
Of course, I know all of the characters and I’ve read the book, so I was OK. But, just to test my accessibility theory about this movie, I watched it with the girlfriend. Here’s a sample of our conversation:
g/f: What’s that Wonder Woman’s flying in? A cage made out of blood?
me: No, Wonder Woman has an invisible plane. I think she was just bleeding all over the cockpit.
g/f: Wonder Woman has an invisible plane?
g/f: That’s awesome.
So, yeah, the uninitiated would probably find much of this movie – especially the last 30 minutes – almost incomprehensible. It seems like the writers either should have further simplified the original material even further or given the story more room to breath, which would have required more than its meager 75-minute run-time. But even with those fairly glaring flaws, it’s still fun for nerds, though, especially those who want a companion piece for the book.