If there is anyone out there from Warner Bros. reading this, I have a request: please, please, please release Justice League: The New Frontier in theaters. I don't want to live in a world where an animated film the caliber of this latest DC Universe release is simply called a direct-to-video movie.
A period animated film set in what was a dead zone for superheroes during the waning days of The Golden Age, Justice League: The New Frontier takes comic book fans on a dream journey into territory even the live-action theatrical releases have rarely attempted to take us. Steeped in the tradition of other recent DC Universe animations – narratives that steer away from the solid, mainstream appeal of most superhero films – this Bruce Timm-production moves at a Flash-like pace without forgetting the characters or, more importantly, its inspiration.
At the end of the Korean war, fighter pilot Hal Jordan (David Boreanaz), a man who never fired at an enemy, is forced to eject from his plane and kill on the ground to survive. The day haunts Jordan so much that he is rejected in every attempt to fly into space in the early days of the space race. While he tries to find his place in post-war life, the McCarthy-fueled Red Scare is turning the American government against the superheroes who protect it. Superman (Kyle MacLachlan) can't rectify his own commitment to American ideal with his super friends' loss of status. The Flash (Neil Patrick Harris) is forced to give up chasing jewel thieves and go into hiding. Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless) returns to Paradise Island.
Only Batman (Jeremy Sisto), struggling with is own identity as a feared vigilante after frightening a child, remains on a case and uncovers a threat beyond anything the Earth has ever imagined. With the help of a Martian (Miguel Ferrer), who cannot get over the injustices in human society, they sniff out the source of a cult that serves THE CENTRE. The threat is enough to band masked crusader, human, and even Martian together, while giving Jordan the opportunity to become the superhero he always could be.
At this point, I must confess, I never read the Darwyn Cooke comic series on which Justice League: The New Frontier was based. Still, the sight of the film, its vivid animation, and well-paced narrative is enough for film fans alone to take it seriously.
While not an epic in terms of runtime, the film carries itself as if it were a David Lean superhero film. We do tend to lose some context and character because the film is only 75-minutes long, but the film's focus on unlikely characters like Hal Jordan and The Flash is enough for us to forgive the apparent lack of Batman and Superman. They do have their own franchises and animated series, after all.
In terms of its political context, I can't imagine a better time for Justice League: The New Frontier to have been released as a film. Hearing JFK's acceptance speech from the 1960 Democratic Convention over the animated montages of our Justice Leaguers is inspiring enough, but in a time when we need a New Frontier president and a community of responsible citizens willing to come together for the common good, Justice League: The New Frontier proves to be as timely as it is entertaining.
DC and Warner, you may have created a monster here. It's going to take one hell of a live-action Justice League movie to beat what was accomplished in The New Frontier. Sure, there's room for improvement, but the boldness of Justice League: The New Frontier lies in what it can do as a film that doesn't rely solely on the conventions of the contemporary superhero film genre.