Justice League: The New Frontier
Directed by David Bullock
Warner Premiere, 2008
By Miles Baker
I like The New Frontier comic even more than our glowing review published a couple months ago did. There is a lot to like about it: complex story structure, evocative art, spot-on dialogue, engaging social commentary. I like it so much, I even own it in an oversized, expensive-ass edition. So, I was pretty excited to watch this direct-to-DVD adaptation of a really great comic. This is the second DVD in a series of taken-directly-from-the-source film adaptations of well-regarded comic stories.
From looking at the box, I knew going in that a 75-minute runtime wasn’t going to be enough to encapsulate this story. That kind of length smacks of a bunch of executives sitting around a board room, where one of them reads from a half-baked sociology study from Ivy League Prep about how children can’t sit for much more than an hour. And since we make superhero stories, and those are only for kids, we should make it only an hour. And here’s the problem with that: this movie is dark for a kid’s movie. It opens with a suicide, it even has a PG-13 rating. Also, the source material is aimed at adult comic-book readers who are going to be the primary audience to buy this DVD anyway. And after watching it, and seeing how much they had to cut out, I’d say that if you weren’t going to do New Frontier right, why did you do it at all? Because the runtime is so short, the plot is forced to move at a crazy-fast pace and the wonderfully slow build of the comic is completely lost, along with many plot threads and character moments. I know animation is expensive, but another 30 minutes really would have helped this movie out.
But there is a lot of good here. Mostly, in how it looks. It really looks like a Cooke comic brought to life. So many shots are taken right from the panels, and they have the most impact. The colour and characters just look great and the animation itself is pretty good.
But while the characters look good, they aren’t terribly well developed. There are a lot of characters in this story, and in the runtime every character basically only gets ten minutes. That’s just not enough. And the one character who should have the most developed story (and who also gets the most screen time) is hobbled by a flat performance. To name names, that would be David Boreanaz as Hal Jordon. Part of the problem is that he’s crippled with having a lot of expository lines, but even then he’s just the same no matter what he’s talking about.
Finally, there were a fair amount of fanboy moments for me: Neil Patrick Harris was excellent as Barry Allan/The Flash; all the Batman scenes; and they kept Wonder Woman’s Amazonian physique. So, it’s worth owning if you’re a collector like me, but for everyone else I’d recommend renting it or calling me up to see if I’ll lend it to you. As a warning, you will be forced to talk about it with me afterwards.