It seems as though the number of "origin stories" in the comic book world vastly exceeds the number of superheroes. It feels as though every few years the origins of our favorite heroes and groups are reexamined, rethought, and retold. Taking these comic book legends and putting them on film (either animated or live action) allows for yet another telling of these ever-popular tales.
Releasing direct-to-DVD this week is a new look at the founding of Justice League (a group of the most popular DC comic heroes). Based on Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel, Justice League – The New Frontier provides origin stories for several superheroes as well as the founding of the League.
The animated feature boasts an impressive voice cast including David Boreanaz (Angel), Brooke Shields (Lipstick Jungle), Miguel Ferrer (Bionic Woman), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Kyle MacLachlan (Desperate Housewives), and Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess). However, with the incredible plethora of characters present in the feature, none of the actors truly get the chance to shine.
The story follows the founding of the Justice League and takes place from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s. At the outset there is a great amount of distrust due to Cold War paranoia surrounding the superheroes including the most famous, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman. In turn, the heroes grow to distrust the government and people that they have fought to protect for so many years. At the same time an evil entity known as "The Centre" has begun to affect the minds of susceptible individuals around the world. The Centre's goals appear to be nothing more or less than wiping humanity from the face of the earth, and no matter how much the superheroes may dislike the governments of the world, this is something they cannot allow.
Much of the runtime of the film is spent on the backstory of Hal Jordan, who becomes the Greeen Lantern, and a Martian named J'onn J'onzz, who eventually takes the superhero title Martian Manhunter. The film also delves a little into the crises of faith being had by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash.
There is a lot to like about the film, including its fun comic look, its distinct placement within a moment of our nation's history, and the teaming up of some of our favorite superheroes. However, there is so much packed into the 75 minute runtime of the film that the storytelling does suffer.
It is abundantly clear to any viewer that a significant amount of backstory and plot points have been dropped (like, one imagines, much of the story directly involving The Centre and its powers). Comic book fans who are aware of the story and the origins of the characters will easily be able to fill in the gaps from their own recollections. However, the average viewer, one who is interested in the characters but does not delve into the comic scene, may have trouble discerning what, precisely, is taking place at times.
The film certainly covers much breadth, but outside of Hal Jordan's story has little depth to it. This lack of depth and the sheer number of characters who make nothing more than momentary cameo appearances (like Aquaman introducing himself in the final moments of the film) give the unmistakable impression that a sequel will be forthcoming. This tale of the founding of the Justice League feels very much like the beginning of a series of films, and not a feature meant to stand by itself.
This film was enough fun that I hope another will follow (maybe a prequel even), but I certainly do wish that it stood better by itself.
The single-disc edition of the DVD contains a look at the history of the Justice League from its origins in comics to the present day as well as two separate audio commentary tracks and a look at the next direct-to-DVD animated DC Universe release, Batman: Gotham Knight.