Soaring Through the New Frontier

by Alan Rapp on March 4, 2008

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Justice League: The New Frontier
  • IMDB: link

“We need our heroes to stand up and show us what this country is supposed to mean.”

Although I’m a huge fan of the Justice League animated series I wasn’t too thrilled with their first big feature film Superman: Doomsday (read that review).  On hearing their next project would be an adaptation of Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier, I was a tad skeptical about what the finished project might look like.  I shouldn’t have worried; this time they get it just right.

Set i the 1950’s, an age of distrust and the height of McCarthyism, the film opens with the end of the Korean War and test pilot Hal Jordan (David Boreanaz) ill-fated final mission.  It’s appropriate the film (not counting the pre-credit sequence) opens with Jordan, because he more than any other character is asked to carry the film.

The old heroes are gone.  The Justice Society of America has been forced into retirement and only a few heroes like Batman (Jeremy Sisto), Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless), and Superman (Kyle MacLachlan) remain active.  But the Silver Age is about to begin…

As the world becomes threatened by a mysterious entity known only as “The Centre” (Keith David), the U.S. Government will have to put aside its worries and prejudices.  And a new breed of heroes will appear to help them save the day.

Among these new heroes are the Flash (Neil Patrick Harris) and the last surviving Martian J’onn J’onzz (Miguel Ferrer).  (Sadly the film doesn’t contain a single Oreo reference, sigh!)

Stan Berkowitz and Darwyn Cooke do a tremendous job in trimming down the massive tale into a tighter, and much more linear, tale.  Sadly this means several of the heroes (such as Adam Strange, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Suicide Squad, The Losers, the Blackhawks, and others) become little more than cameos, but that’s the cost of doing business to pare down the tale into a cohesive film.

The few complaints I’ve read about the film mainly center around the villain of the piece – The Centre.  Although it isn’t the type of villain I would have chosen, it does fit the time period well (remember the JLA goes out and fights a huge starfish in their next adventure!), and uses another Silver Age character – Dinosaur Island – as part of the basis of the character.  The threat is certainly made real, and quite ominous, over the course of the film.  For those who don’t understand just what exactly the Centre is, and what it is meant to signify, I’d suggest listening to Darwin Cooke’s commentary as he explains the metaphor – one he believed was only thinly veiled and would be too obvious to readers.

One of the strengths of the film is the strong supporting cast, especially the women in the film.  Lois Lane (Kyra Sedgwick), Iris Allen (Vicki Lewis), and especially Carol Ferris (Brooke Shields) are fully developed characters that drive the plot of the film rather than the more typical women in distress.

I have a special affinity for the tale because although Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman all play important roles the film really centers around the new heroes of the Silver Age, and two of my favorites – Green Lantern and the Flash.  Many of the film’s most memorable moments include these two characters which sent me into a full geek out the first time I watched the DVD.  From the big moments including Hal receiving the ring from Abin Sur and Barry racing around Las Vegas, to the small moments like Barry’s conversation with Iris (you’ll know the one I mean) and the chemistry between Hal and Carol, the film is filled to the brim with moment after moment that left me saying, “This is so damn cool!”

The animation is quite good as well.  One of the problems I originally had with DC: New Frontier was I felt the look was nostalgic to the extreme and on the edge of becoming gimmicky at times.  Here the superb animation mixes quite well with Cooke’s style to give the film a look all its own.  I give credit to all the animators of the film, including Cooke who storyboarded many sequences himself.

Fans wanting a bigger than life villain like Doomsday or the Legion of Doom may be a tad disappointed, but this is an origin tale not The Challenge of the SuperFriends.  And the film does throw in a few super villain moments including appearances from Captain Cold (James Arnold Taylor), Grodd, and Lex Luthor which should placate you long enough to grow to appreciate what the film is trying to do.

More than anything else the film takes these characters and gives us a historical perspective of their struggles and the age which bore them.  The film ends with a piece of John F. Kennedy’s famous speech of a world full of possibilities, opportunities and challenges.  The film captures that spirit in Hal Jordan’s yearning for spaceflight, in Barry Allen’s earnest endeavor to help, in J’onn’s hope for a better world, and in Superman’s acceptance as a world leader and symbol.

More than just a great comic book movie, Justice League: The New Frontier dares to hope, dream, and strive to be a great movie, and it succeeds.  With the extras here this is a must-have for all fans of comic books, especially those who haven’t been exposed to the Silver Age.  Of the one-disc or the two-disc Special Edition there’s a little difference in price (around $4).  If you don’t already own Justice League on DVD it’s an easy recommendation to go with the two-disc set.  You might also look around for the two-disc Special Edition packed with a little something extra (mine came with a small Hal Jordan figure – hehe!).  Yeah, so I’m a comic book geek, so what?  This movie makes me proud to be.

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