Sunday, March 02, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: Justice League -The New Frontier

I admitedly never was a big comic book enthusiast; not that I don't like them, it's just too big a world to start investing in for me. Nevertheless, I am a DC cartoon series fan (Teen Titans, JLA, Batman Beyond and such, and as such had been waiting for Justice League: The New Frontier like a kid for Christmas. Unfortunately, only über comic book fans had a visit from Santa.

Based on the 2004 limited comic book series of the same name, the film is an exercises in progressive nostalgia; it is an attempt at writing and drawing the way it was done 50 years ago, keeping in mind what we know today in terms of human rights, political activism and war. The story, set in the mid-50's, features classic DC superheroes having to band with the US government to stop the threat of a powerful entity known simply as The Center.

There are a few bulls-eye hits in the film itself; starting with the art and visuals; classic costumes and drawing look absolutely great with modern animation techniques, giving us a glimpse at something that looks completely new when in actuality its been around for ages. The costume themselves were bold choices, dressing up Wonder Woman like a cave woman, Batman the way he was in Bob Cane's mind and superman looking like George Reeves. The soundtrack is inviting and pitch perfect, the editing shows great savoir faire and the production is chock-full of references and wink-wink moments to delight any big kid.

The first big problem though, is that the big kids targeted as an audience are those who know this universe and its denizens inside out; the film acts as if we all grew up reading every single CD universe comic book ever printed. Meaning there's no room for character development, just look backs and references. While the book form was much more expanded and rich in min and orbital storylines, this adaptation cuts quite short - just over an hour short. The story itself, dragging aimlessly until there's 10 minutes left, feels like a series of "hey remember that from the book, and that, and that here".

A great superhero epic also needs a memorable villain; this one has dinosaurs inexplicably coming out of its pores, a Satanism-like cult following, the appearance of a flying island and Keith David's voice. Only the last attribute make it worth being called villain (nobody threatens like Keith's voice), thus dousing the dramatic impact on the overall product.

Then there's voice casting, which again is more behind-the-scenes fun than actual helpful to the film itself. Kyle Mclachlan playing Superman after being denied the George Reeves part in "Hollywoodland" induces a smile, so does Lucy Lawless playing a battle-drunk Wonder Woman. Even Jeremy Sisto manages to surprise with his cynical and nuanced Batman. But Sisto can't quite erase the work, of Kevin Conroy, nor do any of the other performers. And don't get me started on the very cheesy and thinly veiled use of 50's patriotism to promote humanitarian values...

New Frontier deserves an A for the effort and sentiment, but ultimately it feels like the unfinished pilot for a potentially great series. Many juicy extras on the DVD sweeten the investment, but again, mostly for hardcore comic book fans. Others might wanna borrow the thing from a neighbor. For those who'll argue that I simply stacked my expectations too high, well you're darn right I did, and boy am I disappointed.

Final score on the CC scale:
2.5 out of 5

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