Current Reviews

subheader

Justice League: The New Frontier

Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008
By: Kevin Powers

Stan Berkowitz & Darwyn Cooke
Various
Warner Premiere
I have been an outspoken opponent of this whole live action Justice League movie helmed by George Miller since the moment it was reported. I love Batman Begins, I did indeed like Superman Returns and I generally liked the direction Warner Brothers and DC were going with their films. It appeared as though they would hit the Trinity, then Flash, then Green Lantern and eventually the Justice League. Thatís a great way to create a film universe and DCís competition, Marvel, is already in the process of doing this. However, in the past six months, WB/DCís direction of filmmaking seems to have changed, wanting to create a Justice League film followed by spin-offs from that film, each existing in a separate universe from Batman Begins and Superman Returns. This has outraged fans, fans who want to see the DC icons explored on their own in compelling films like Batman Begins and not jumbled together with a bunch of Abercrombie models. The Justice League is about more than heroes coming together and working with one another, and this past week, the number one reason why there should not be a live action JLA movie came out on DVD, Justice League: The New Frontier.

Darwyn Cookeís DC: The New Frontier is one of the best comic mini-series ever written. Itís a modern and realistic look at the Silver Age of DC heroes, the political motivations of said heroes, the emergence of new heroes, and the transition from the Golden Age to the Silver Age. The story is compelling, beautifully drawn and sheds a light on a relatively uncertain period of time in America. Being a Hal Jordan fan, I was originally drawn to the series because of Halís heavy involvement. However, after reading it, I realized the love and respect that Darwyn Cooke has for these characters. Another man, Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited producer Bruce Timm also shares this love. In terms of animation, these two are a match made in heaven.

Iím not going to sit here and regurgitate what happens in this film or anything like that. Iím going to tell you why it works so well. The main reason why is because it does a fantastic job of capturing the same message and feel of Darwyn Cookeís series. Every character not only conforms to their role in the book, but essentially their traditional role in the DC Universe. Superman works for the government and is always trying to do the right thing, Wonder Woman is a warrior princess who will protect women at all costs and Batman is a mysterious fugitive. However, of the Trinity, only Batman is featured a great deal throughout this film. Superman and Wonder Woman serve their greater purpose, but they too are Golden Age heroes and have not evolved like Batman, who literally changes his costume halfway through the move.

Like the book, this story is primarily focuses on Hal Jordan, Barry Allen and Jíonn Jíonzz. In the case of Jíonn Jíonzz and Barry Allen it is very much a story of civil liberties. Barry Allen is, of course, the Flash and fighting super-villains. He is also targeted by the government because he doesnít work for them like Superman. Jíonn Jíonzz is working his case to examine the deeper mystery of the real threat, the Centre, while trying to blend in as a human being.

Also, like the mini-series, Hal Jordan is the real heart and soul of this entire story. For me, of course I love it as Hal is getting his animated due. But the story behind Hal is really whatís noteworthy. He represents every new hero emerging during the Silver Age. Heís a pacifist, doesnít believe in war, and even while in air combat in Korea, he never fires a shot. Unlike the book, he solely impresses with air maneuvers to take down enemy aircraft. The journey for Hal also mingles with the idea of civil liberties as Hal is briefly employed by the government through Ferris Aircraft. Halís journey is unique in that he goes through government employment but he discovers, and is chosen, for a greater purpose. Stan Berkowitz does an excellent job bringing the emergence of the Silver Age heroes full circle, bridging the gap between the Golden and Silver Ages (with appearances by Green Arrow and Adam Strange) when Hal becomes Green Lantern in the finale.

Not every hero featured in the book can be featured in the film. Green Arrow and Adam Strange make cameo appearances during the final battle, as well as Ray Palmer, the Blackhawks, Aquaman and the Challengers of the Unknown. But the characters that are featured primarily are so well done and so on-point, that the 75 minute run-time of this feature is more than perfect. In fact, as a screenwriter, I know adaptation can be very difficult, especially when the source material is something like DC: The New Frontier. With that being said, this is probably the finest adaptation of any novel, prose or graphic, I may have ever seen. Thatís a bold statement considering films like One Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest and Of Mice and Men, but for 75 minutes, this film does a damned good job.

Thereís a powerful message as well. A message that actually gives the Justice League a meaning. A message that brings significance to the evolution of these characters that we love so dearly. Make no mistake, this takes place in the 1950s, it is a period piece, but the messages about civil liberties, the red scare, the difference between right and wrong and fighting together as a united people resonates as much today as it did when Senator Joe McCarthy was leading the witch hunt against communism. If there was ever a reason to postpone the live action Justice League movie, this is it. This isnít about in-fighting between characters or keeping secret files on one another. This film is about new characters emerging and coming together as one to fight an extinction level threat and delivering a clear and powerful message through probably the most iconic of superheroes.

The animation is also superb. I mean Darwyn Cookeís style was meant for Bruce Timmís style. Itís a match made in heaven and itís absolutely beautiful. The meshing of Cookeís artwork with the distinctive DC animated style is really spectacular, especially the recreation of certain panels, such as Hal and Carol Ferris kissing before he goes into battle. The massive difference in Batmanís costume during the first half of the movie compared to the second half translates extremely well, not only looking great on the screen but also helping to deliver the transitional message of the film.

There wasnít much I did not like about this film. Iím still a bit out to lunch over David Boreanaz voicing Hal Jordan, but then again anyone who portrays Hal Jordan and is not me is going to meet my nit-picky side. But seriously, he was okay, but there were a few moments I could have done with someone with a little more edge to their voice. For example, I liked Dermot Mulroney voicing Hal in The Batman. The only other voice actor Iím kind of borderline with was Jeremy Sisto as Batman. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that anytime I see Batman in a Timm produced feature, it has to be Kevin Conroy. I mean letís be honest, Kevin Conroy voiced Batman for fifteen plus years, he is definitely the voice of Batman. I loved Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman. This was absolutely the perfect interpretation of Wonder Woman for her and she captured the magic fans have been dying for. Kyle MacLachlan surprisingly sounded like every other Superman voice actor over the past 10 years. I really didnít expect that, but it was kind of a pleasant surprise to see such continuity in the voices of the Timm versions of Superman. Oh yes, and Brooke Shields as Carol Ferris and Phil Morris as Farraday were damned perfect.

I picked up the two-disc edition of the DVD from Best Buy, obviously so I could get my mini version of the New Frontier Hal Jordan figure. But there are a lot of good features on the discs. DC and Marvel, for that matter, really do a great job with documentaries on their DVD releases. DC gives a pretty long one covering the history of the Justice League which is very informative and quite good. Thereís also a featurette on the upcoming Gotham Knight DVD which sheds some light on what to expect as well as reveals a few villains that will be featured. The audio commentary that goes along with the film is abundant, I havenít gotten through all of it, but if commentary is your thing, youíve got everyone major involved in the film providing some. The second disc also features two well-done documentaries, one about super villains and the other a commentary on the New Frontier book itself. And lastly, three Justice League Unlimited episodes are thrown in as an added bonus. Yes, well worth the $19.99.

This is a fine film, definitely geared towards adults, a little too violent for the kids, but for anyone who ever loved superheroes, you will find an appreciation of this film. This film sets the standard for DCís future animated endeavors; itís well done, well written and a great adaptation of one of the finest books ever. Not to mention thereís a great message, one that captures the spirit of these characters as well as the very essence of the Justice League.



What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!