Justice League: The New Frontier [2008]

Justice League: The New Frontier (JLNF) reminded us of Watchmen.  If you read our take on Watchmen, you know that is not a good thing.  JLNF is based on a graphic novel (2004) as was Watchmen.  Both had large ensemble casts, multiple disjointed plot threads, and no clearly understood enemy to galvanize the plot.  Both were filled with political overtones (and undertones) and had varying levels of nihilism.

Ah, this fine group is more like it. (Despite his mis-sized cowl and goofy expression, this Batman has something the feature's did not.) Why the attitude Robin?

The patented Fortress one sentence synopsis:  In the late 1950′s all the (self-loathing) golden age DC heroes face a government that is suspicious of them, a military who fears them, and a public who is hostile to them while somewhere deep under the Earth a mysterious and ill-defined disembodied voice called “The Center” threatens all of mankind – somehow – so that eventually all the heroes must unite to fight a stupid talking island and along the way they will give heavy handed speeches, break an arm or two, kill a lot of dinosaurs and learn about the power of believing in oneself.  Gag.

"We are not democrats, we are not republicans..." Okay, we get it. The left and right came together to fight "The Center". So witty... or not.

The lack of any central plot backbone to carry the feature dragged this production down mightily.  It starts with the depressing prologue where a disembodied voice takes a few minutes to tell us how loathsome mankind is.  It ends where a bunch of heroes are conveniently gathered to fight a thrust belching floating island that spawns dinosaurs.

What? After over an hour of unrelated plot developments, THIS is the villain? (No, this is not the enemy's ship. This IS the enemy.)

We did not read the graphic novel, nor do we wish to.  The graphic novel medium is far different than that of a feature.  Features based on books can flop if they do not adapt.  Features that rely on a myriad of fractured subplots from a multi-part graphic novel are doomed to questionable dramatic value.

"All systems are go!" "Yeah, all except the plot. You think that will affect our flight?" "Nah, we'll be fine old chap!"

"...Okay, I was wrong..."

Fully 45 minutes into the 75 minute feature, little had actually happened regarding the main plot – such as it was.  It was a sometimes interesting collection of scenes, featuring various heroes having their 5 minutes of action, but little drama.   It was as if a dozen superhero stories were dropped into an animation studio and exploded with a grenade.

Captain Cold? Again? He seems to have a cult following. Hooray for second tier minor villains.

On the smaller bright side, the art direction was nifty.  It took great advantage of the 50′s technology and fashions.  The women looked rather nice, aside from Wonder Woman who has had better depictions.  The male heroes ran the gamut from dull to strange.  The credits were the most stylish.  However, next time perhaps they should put some of that effort into adapting the material to a feature instead.

Lookin' good Carol Ferris. We are waiting for those flowing scarves to come back.

The music was well done and tried to inject some drama where it could.  Voice casting veteran Romano gathered another star studded cast, but this was not her best effort.  The Batman voice in particular was very “un-Batman”.  Any previous Batman voice would have been better, including Adam West.

One of the worst envisionings of Batman evar. (Okay, too harsh. But not a satisfying depiction with disjointed appearances and an unfitting voice.)

A different and overall less flattering depiction of Wonder Woman, although this particular shot has a nice look.

At times we felt like we were watching an animated public service announcement.  “Hey kids!  Don’t forget it is wrong to judge people by their looks!”  If you are seeking a stylishly presented but heavy handed superheroes story, JLNF may be for you.  If you are looking to be hit over the head with a 5 minute ending montage set to one of John F. Kennedy’s speeches, this underwhelming production will be right up your alley.

Oh, when will they learn.

It is always scary when you think about Superman gone bad. Chill out Supes, Justice League New Frontier is over.

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13 thoughts on “Justice League: The New Frontier [2008]

  1. i respectfully disagree with many of your points.

    the story tome reflects the very real paranoia of the cold war period depicted. what you see as a pointless public service message is exactly what was needed in the “red scare” era.

    the ww take was intriguing, and very much inline with her warrior amazonian roots. i loved the batman take too.

    to each his own, i guess ;)

    • That paranoia may have made for an interesting graphic novel, but the feature did it little “justice”. While we could debate what was needful for the 50′s cold war period, this feature was made for us now. The heavy handed public service announcement seemed out of place, or perhaps tacked on. Maybe it was one last non-subtle, in-your-face message too many.

      We agree with you that the depiction of Wonder Woman was not inaccurate to a possible interpretation of her origin. However, it still was not flattering or likable.

      As for Batman… We are not the only ones who noticed the Batman voice did not fit. That made this somewhat strange interpretation of him harder to enjoy. Too much “Watchmen” perhaps?

      Thanks for weighing in and the intelligent comment.

  2. Harsh! I still like it, though with somewhat less enthusiasm before.

    On another note, I’ve heard grim word that a possible animated adaptation of Kingdom Come is in the works. Thar’d darn well better be more than 75 minutes long!

    • Yes, we were a little harsh on New Frontier. Perhaps because we expected so much more. The plot as presented just did not work for a 75 minute feature. It is interesting to us that you like it less now than before. This one might not fare well a second time through.

      Kingdom Come? We had not heard. That is a property to which it is difficult to do “justice” in a one-off animated feature. Still, somehow the plot seems a little more interesting from what we remember and perhaps more suitable to an adaptation. Well, hope springs eternal. :)

  3. I certainly agree the video was heavy-handed, but that’s just the comic genre in general. I thuoght there were a few moments of moral complexity–or moral questions, at least, although the point of the genre is to remove all uncertainty, to make good and evil clear.

    I actually liked the ensemble feel and didn’t feel the lack of plot cohesion/direction as you did. Each superhero had his/her moment, and I liked that (could have used more Aquaman!). I haven’t read the graphic novel. That may reveal a complexity missed and might change my opinion of the video.

    I’ve watched it a few times, and enjoyed each time.

    • Good comment. The ensemble feel you speak of came across to us as a bunch of disjointed scenes dedicated to this hero or that.

      Certainly the genre excels at having clear good guys and bad guys duke it out. There is certainly room for moral complexity, but not at the cost of the structural integrity or enjoyment factor of the piece. Although in this case it was more about plot ambiguity. What the heck was “the centre”? We still do not know.

      Finally, superhero stories or at least the storytelling can still be more subtle than getting hit over a head with a shovel. Superman’s speechifying, some of the other conversations, and that Kennedy speech montage at the end where too much weight for the weak overall plot arc to support.

  4. After Superman/Doomsday, DC Animation had a lot of ground to cover in presenting a strong animation front for the home market. With the production staff on hand from several other projects dating all the way back to Tiny Toons, these guys know their stuff. However, adapting comic book plots to an animated feature isn’t always easy. Superman/Doomsday compressed an enormous amount of material into one sitting. New Frontier was shorter in page count, but far weightier in its impact.

    The voice cast was another risk as it consisted of several relatively famous names who had not done this kind of thing before. Besides, casting ANYONE other than Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman is going to upset fans. That said, I applaud them for taking the risk and hope that not only do they try new voices but new characters as well. Of the 5 films released to date Superman is in 3 and Batman in 2.

    As far as the comparisons to Watchmen I just don’t see any aside from the fact that it’s a period piece. You can stomp your feet all you like that it was made today but this is a 100% love letter to the Silver Age of comics. If you aren’t into that, this is not for you. It’s also an ensemble piece and shows facets of several characters that we had not seen before in animated form. From Wonder Woman’s self righteousness to Superman towing the party line like the big blue boyscout that he is. New Frontier focuses on several secondary tier characters such as Martian Manhunter and two of my favorites: Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Flash Barry Allen. If the film was only those two characters I would have been satisfied.

    The plot may seem convoluted and to be fair it’s not an easy viewing first time through but it improves with age. In fact, it is fast becoming one of my favorite DC animated features. With the move away from plot and more toward fight sequence-heavy features such as Superman/Batman and the upcoming Crisis on Two Earths, it looks like complex plots or meaningful material will not get in the way of your enjoyment again. That’s not a dig against that kind of thing as I really enjoyed Superman/Batman, but I don’t think that you gave this film the attention or respect that it deserved.

    • Thank you for an intelligent comment. No thank you for the self righteous, elitist dig at the end.

      You can call the plot of this animated feature “complex”, “meaningful” or just about any other nice word you can think of. It does not however make it any more understandable or enjoyable. You prove this point somewhat yourself when you mention that, “The plot may seem convoluted and to be fair it’s not an easy viewing first time…”

      While we like Kevin Conroy’s Batman voice work, we can enjoy others as well. From Saturday morning’s “The Batman” to venerable Adam West in Superfriends! What we do not care for is a voice that does not work. The Batman voice in this feature was not very good at depicting Batman, but yes – it was “different” if that is your only criteria of success.

      While we appreciated the silver age nods and Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, you must have noticed the graphic violence not fitting that era. If you did not see Batman break that cultist’s arm just like the alley scene in Watchmen, you may not be objective enough for maximum consideration.

      Graphic Novel plots do not necessarily make for good animated feature plots. This one spread itself so thin, touching too many characters too lightly. You said, “If the film was only those two characters I would have been satisfied.” We think the feature would have been better with a more narrow focus, and you seem to agree.

  5. No self righteousness or elitism was intended actually. I was simply stating a fact that there is a movement away from plot heavy films and towards action-oriented features. Superman/Batman did not have a complicated plot nor did it have a strong meaning, so neither flaws that you found in New Frontier would come into play there. Crisis on Two Earths seems similar in flavor from the previews. New Frontier was far more ambitious and much more interested in making an emotional impact that either of those projects causing it to come across as convoluted or heavy-handed.

    While graphic novels may not make for suitable material for a feature film, New Frontier is not an example of this. It’s a long form multi-issue serial and that may be why it feels truncated as a feature.

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by this: “If you did not see Batman break that cultist’s arm just like the alley scene in Watchmen, you may not be objective enough for maximum consideration.” or whose consideration I am meant to be up for.

    I don’t appreciate my statements being turned around to suit your needs, however, as I do not agree with your take on this film. You may have done this because you felt picked upon for your review. If my veracity came across as self-righteous, I apologize. I have a different point of view, it’s as simple as that.

    • There are a number of areas upon which we agree. While we think the trend toward shallow slugfests is not new, it is out there as you say and not going to elevate comic book based media.

      We agree that New Frontier was ambitious. We may disagree on whether it successfully hit its target. We suspect disagreement on what the target even was!

      The point about Batman breaking the arm of that cultist was to point out that silver age seemed to clash with more modern depictions of violence. That arm break was just like one in Watchmen, and we saw similarities in the tone at times. Especially in this different Batman portrayal.

      We believe we took your statements in context. You in all those quotes were giving some support to points we were trying to make. We are not in the business of twisting someone’s words, especially when the original context is just above for all to see. We ask that you not be offended.

      We agree in general on more than this exchange is displaying. This exchange is more about New Frontier details. On the whole we all want more intelligent plot driven features, hopefully with enough fun but meaningful action thrown in. If you want to weigh in on Green Lantern First Flight or Superman/Batman Public Enemies that would be great. We will be putting up a take on Crisis on Two Earths and hope not only to hear from you, but to be in agreement on a fine intelligent and fun feature. Well, we can hope.

  6. Compared with the graphic novel, this movie is not so great. However, your criticism of the characterizations of Batman & Wonder Woman might be a little bit misplaced.

    This story was written as a bridge between the “Golden Age” & “Silver Age” of comics. The way that the characters are depicted artfully reflects that. Batman was brutal and harsh in the early years. They made Batman more kid friendly by softening up his appearance, personality, and adding Robin; all three of these changes happen over the course of the JLNF story.

    Wonder Woman is another character who has evolved tremendously from her Golden Age version (You can read all about that here: http://geekwhisperin.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/wonder-woman-the-super-secret-kinky-origin-of-a-feminist-icon/).

    This story really is a period piece for comics, and the character are true to their origins. Could the movie have been better? I think so, but I think it is largely because the JLFN story was a bit to complex for an 75 minute animated movie.

    • Great comment. We suspect that a lot of our criticism for the feature stems from them trying to do too much. We see your accurate point about the character depictions being influenced by earlier versions.

      However we have to point out that the movie was released in 2008 and seen through 2008 eyes. If they are really going to try to make so complex a story and progression fly, a 75 minute direct-to-DVD feature may not work as well as they would like. Especially for those who never read and have no allegiance to the graphic novel.

      PS – Interesting link on Wonder Woman. However neither the early versions nor today’s seem to correspond to the strange cold one portrayed in ANF. It does fit the Amazonian stereotype though.

      • I continue to agree with you that the story was too ambitious for a 75 minute DVD.

        “However we have to point out that the movie was released in 2008 and seen through 2008 eyes.”

        I have to disagree with you on this one. This is like saying that a WWII movie or the “John Adam” TV mini-series had to be written using modern characterizations and dialogue. What made JLNF such a great graphic novel was it’s character development, reverence for history (comic & real), stylization, and writer Darwin Cook’s ability to weave many classic stories into one cohesive epic. Large portions of that would have been lost with modern interpretations of the characters.

        I strongly recommend you read the source material, I think you will enjoy it a great deal more than the movie.

        Thanks for the interesting back & fourth on this.

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