Saturday, 5 May 2012
Justice League: The New Frontier (Film Review)
For an adaptation which has had so much praise heaped upon it, it seems that The New Frontier is very flawed. It has a number of good strengths, there’s no arguing that, but the whole thing feels like it’s by the end it is largely incomplete. I’ll try to explain:
Justice League: The New Frontier is a film adapted from the comic series DC: The New Frontier. It shows what happened to the DC heroes during the mid 1950s to early 60s as they turned from the Golden Age to the Silver Age of comicbooks. Rather than ignoring previous canon or going for a reboot it takes a lot of previous events into account and goes so far as to make both the heroes of the Golden Age and their changes believable. It goes about fleshing out the beginnings of some heroes in many cases and setting up situations which trigger developments in their characters.
For example, many superheroes who fought in the Second World War against the Axis forces have become disillusioned with the Cold War – none more so than Wonder Woman. Who is opposed to the inaction of the war and simply wishes to get involved with countries which have war crimes being committed in them, political fallout be damned.
She, Superman and many of the more idealistic superheroes are forced to sign loyalty pacts to the USA and the superhero community is under threat of the paranoia caused by McCarthyism. The Flash is having trouble continuing his heroic actions without incurring the wrath of the government and Batman has been forced underground entirely.
Hal Jordan is shown as a developing character struggling with the guilt of his actions. During the Korean War he was forced to take the life of an enemy soldier who did not know peace had been declared and could not understand Hal’s attempts to inform him of this.
Atop of all this a lone green martian is accidently teleported to earth during a scientific test and something very old, very powerful and extremely angry is on the move, unseen by all but a few individuals on the planet.
That all sounds fantastic doesn’t it? Several great storylines, all of which with massive potential and all of which can afford to have time and effort put into exploring them. Then realise that all this has to be told in the space of 70 minutes with time left for a huge climatic battle. Yeah, then all these stories start to become less of an asset and more of a hindrance. The film is so often jumping from one plotline to the next and moving at such a fast speed it feels extremely unfocused, often with tales feeling like they’ve only been brushed upon rather than fully developed.
For example Batman’s development is supposed to show how he went from his dark black brooding self from the Golden Age to the more colourful kid friendly one from the Silver Age. Basically think of the jump between the style of the original Tim Burton Batman and Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. This is explained by him terrifying a child being held hostage when trying to rescue him and changing his attire as it was intended to “scare criminals, not children.” The problem is we never see him making the decision to change it, only the event which made him consider this and then him turning up later on in the new outfit. There’s no time spent to really develop it.
All of the stories suffer from the lack of time, either feeling like corners have been cut to fit them in or rushed due the time constraints. Everything is set up very well but when it actually comes down to the conclusions or depicting the characters considering changes it tends to stumble. The whole thing really feels like it needed more time to develop, perhaps being made into a series, animated trilogy or included fewer characters. While the dedication Bruce Timm paid to the original tale is greatly appreciated, his desire to include as many of the comic’s plotlines as possible made it feel sporadic and lacked a single focus.
It is worth saying that despite these flaws The New Frontier is deserving of a good amount of the praise it is given. It was a new step in western animation to showing greater maturity in dealing with the themes displayed in its scenes and despite jumping from one character to the next storylines like the Martian Manhunter’s development were undeniably well translated.
Furthermore the voice acting is consistently good and as Bruce Timm is attached it’s a given that the animation is very well done, including one especially memorable early scene which introduces the film’s villain. The only reason I’m not going into this more is that you can probably find a dozen other reviews giving greater analysis on all of its good areas.
Overall, Justice League: The New Frontier is worth watching once but the comic is definitely a much better telling of its stories. It’s recommended you hunt down that run rather than watch this film unless you have a distinct preference for animated adaptations of superheroes over their adventures on paper and ink. The production’s makers did well with what they were given, but it’s hard to get around the fact that the comics were far better paced and developed.
Justice League: The New Frontier and all related characters and media are owned by DC comics and Warner Bros. Animation. It was distributed by Warner Home Video.