Friday, March 21, 2008

Movie Review: Justice League: New Frontier

There's no sense in creating a system without putting it to the test.

Welcome, dear reader. Have a seat. This is to be the first of many reviews in The Middle Room.

There are films that shape generations, that change lives, and alter perceptions. Whenever possible, I try to avoid those films: I find them pedantic and condescending. No, I'm more a cartoon man, myself.

So it shouldn't be much of a surprise that our first foray into film should be with the familiar. An animated film, complete with capes, should start us out nicely.

And how kind of DC to oblige, with Justice League: New Frontier, an excellent example of what a cartoon can be. And make no mistake, this is a cartoon in the traditional sense. Hand drawn, two-dimensional excitement, with just a touch of CG to lighten the burden on the animator's tired hands.

But it's not a cartoon for the kiddies. This one pulls few punches. People die and blood is spilt. This isn't as restrained as Batman Beyond or Justice League Unlimited, and fans of those programs know they provided us with concepts and images more mature than was perhaps pertinent for the younger viewers.

Everything drawn was wonderfully designed, pulled from Darwin Cook's work and lovingly placed on the screen for us to enjoy. Aided by excellent dialogue and superb voice work, this was well worth the cost of the disc.

Was it perfect? No. Some of the best scenes from the comic were cut for time, and the time went by far too fast. This could have been an hour longer without dragging. Also, while the majority was animated beautifully, there were moments when the images failed, including a key point near the end of the film.

But these are minor complaints. The opening credits were amazing to watch, only outdone by the concluding montage, delivered over the speech the movie is named for. That was enough, I am man enough to admit, to make this geek shed a tear. Absolutely beautiful.

And now for the rating. For this, of course, we need a scale. I almost want to take the easy way out. It's an animated DC drama done in two-dimensions: that all but cries out for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. And were we to compare them, we'd no doubt declare them even, five stars around, and celebrate.

But life isn't always so easy. This is an animated superhero film, yes, but it's also a period piece, set in the late 50's/early 60's, with overtones of the era: spies, secret conspiracies, and a public that's lost faith in its heroes.

If honesty is to prevail, we must put this movie against The Incredibles. And, that, sadly, is an obstacle the direct-to-dvd New Frontier cannot surpass. But it approaches, head held high, and shows us that even in such stellar company, it has nothing to be ashamed of.

On The Incredibles scale, Justice League: New Frontier is a four-star film. Not bad for something that was never released in the theater.

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