[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Written by: Stan Berkowitz
Directed by: David Bullock
Starring: David Boreanaz, Miguel Ferrer, Neil Patrick Harris, John Heard, Lucy Lawless, Kyle MacLachlan, Phil Morris, Kyra Sedgewick, Brooke Shields, Jeremy Sisto
Original Release Date: February 26, 2008
Justice League: The New Frontier is based on Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier graphic novel. The story is set in the 1950’s and it approaches the birth of the Silver Age of Comics as a transition from the Golden Age depicting the characters as if they appeared in the years the comics were first published. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are still around, and the Flash has recently appeared for the first time. The Justice Society of America is in retirement and the government has cracked down on costumed vigilantes, forcing Batman to become a fugitive. Superman and Wonder Woman are sanctioned by the government, but they appear to be on a short leash. Additionally, the story looks back at the ’50’s with an historical eye and uses the UFO fascination as alien paranoia for the film. It references civil rights and McCarthyism to flesh out the idea of a broken government and society that is in need of understanding and tolerance.
The film centers on two specific characters, Hal Jordan and Martian Manhunter. It follows Jordan’s life in vignettes as he is released from a VA hospital and gets a job with Ferris Aircraft. This leads to not only his job as a test pilot, but candidate for a secret Mission to Mars, and all the way to him becoming the Green Lantern of Earth. The other storyline that will eventually come together with Jordan’s is Batman and Martian Manhunter’s investigation of an ancient being known as the Center. They’ve both discovered cults and other individuals who seem to be mind controlled as the Center is reaching out and preparing for its attack on human kind.
As with any film adaptation of a book, there are going to be changes because some things just don’t translate directly from page to screen. However, the first positive that jumps out in Justice League: The New Frontier is the character design that has been faithfully reproduced from Darwyn Cooke’s drawing style. One of the standout aspects of the graphic novel is Cooke’s drawing style and design. This animated version would not have worked had it not been designed to resemble Cooke’s art.
The opening title sequence that uses Hourman’s story from the graphic novel as a backdrop is a nice touch. It adds in something that was not able to be included in the movie due to time, but the filmmakers were able to find a way to include it in some manner.
The cast is extensive, but all the main characters get quality character development. There are a number of character arcs that pay off. It is the inclusion of so many ’50’s era characters that will bring a smile to fans of this era or those who have a good knowledge of DC’s history.
The only thing that stands out as a true negative is that it feels like the story jumps to the finale too quickly. We have hints along the way that the Center is growing in power and ever closer to attacking, but the pacing is a bit off. Of course, the character bits are the best part and rightly deserve the focus. These are the strongest elements of the film and perhaps the whole plot aspect of the Center is just lacking. There had to be a reason to bring all these characters together, but the Center is the weakest part of the film.
This is a fun and thoughtful film. The super-hero adventure is more than balanced by the character development and the relationships that are forged and examined throughout. The premise of the characters appearing when their books were published is a novel idea that allows for the exploration of a unique time in American history. The film successfully pulls in all these elements to produce a well-rounded experience. It’s not often that character trumps action in animated super-hero films, but this is what makes Justice League: The New Frontier unique and highly recommended.