Saturday, February 27, 2010

Justice League: New Frontier- A Review!

Justice League: New Frontier continues the Bruce Timm-produced series of DC animated features. Based on the Elseworlds series by Darwyn Cooke (which I sadly haven‘t read yet), New Frontier bridges the gap between the Golden Age of the 1940s and the Silver Age of the 1960s. The plot mostly revolves around the origins of Green Lantern Hal Jordan and J’onn J’onnz, the Martian Manhunter, with numerous subplots and characters woven in. I could give you a more detailed plot synopsis, but honestly, there’s just SO much going on in this movie, there wouldn’t be much point.
For the most part, New Frontier is a very character driven piece. It focuses more on who these heroes are and why they do what they do. There aren’t many big action scenes until the last 20 minutes or so, but when the action comes, it comes hard. Basically, imagine if Independence Day had Batman and Green Arrow and the Blackhawks dog fighting against pterodactyls, and if that doesn’t sound like a vast improvement over the actual Independence Day, then I’m explaining it wrong.
The animation style is very crisp and has a nice retro flavor. It’s a careful blend of what Bruce Timm has done before mixed with Darwyn Cooke’s unique style. Overall, it gives a nice visual flair; I imagine it’s what a Max Fleischer cartoon would look like if he had access to modern animation techniques.
The film has a large cast of impressive voice talents, and they all deliver. You have David Boreanaz as Hal Jordan, and he… basically sounds like David Boreanaz. Not that that’s bad, mind you, but David has a very distinctive voice; he just dials up the brooding quality accordingly for each role. In Kingdom Hearts, he was at about 5; in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, he’d get up to about 7 or 8. Here, he’s at about 2 on the brooding scale, with a bit of wistfulness thrown in for good measure.
Miguel Ferrer is the film’s other lead voice as J’onn J’onnz, and he does a solid job. We also have Kyle Machlachlan, Jeremy Sisto, and Lucy Lawless as the Big Three (Supes, Bats, and Wonder Woman, respectively), and they all deliver in spades. And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Neil Patrick Harris as the Flash, who’s pretty much just wonderful in anything.
The only criticism I have concerns the pace of the piece. While the story is supposed to take place over the course of seven years, it feels more like it happens during one hectic holiday weekend. The first few scenes start by stating the year, but they drop this. And then suddenly, it's 1960. I mean, honestly, how hard is it to throw up a caption every 10 minutes or so?
Overall, New Frontier is a tremendous leap forward from Superman/ Doomsday. It has pretty much everything you’d want in a superhero story: characterization, intrigue, and a big ass action sequence. I highly recommend this to everybody.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Superman/ Doomsday: A review!

Well, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is out, and while I haven’t seen it yet I do plan to. Once I do, rest assured that I will review it for my blog. In the meantime, however, I’ve decided to review some of the previous DC animated DVDs to whet the appetite. The format will be as follows- I’ll do a brief synopsis of the plot, followed by some overall details on what I found good and bad.

The first DC animated feature I’ll review also happens to be the first one they did- Superman/Doomsday. For those of you who read any of the Death of Superman and its various follow-ups, you can probably guess the plot. For the rest of you, here goes. Doomsday, unstoppable Kryptonian killing machine shows up in Metropolis. He and Superman fight, resulting in both their deaths. That is essentially the first twenty minutes of the film. I should point out that Doomsday never appears again throughout the rest of the film. In a film that’s roughly 70 minutes, one of two title characters shows up for less than a third of the movie, and not even the END of the movie. Yikes.

We move on to see how everyone reacts to a world without a Superman. Ma Kent cries, Jimmy Olsen becomes a douche bag, a Perry White starts hitting the bottle. To be fair, that last one had me surprised. I would’ve thought Perry would’ve been drinking WELL before. This is what I imagine a typical day at the Daily Planet to be like….

Perry: Where the hell’s my staff?
Assistant: Lois has been kidnapped by the giant robot that Superman was fighting, Clark said he needed to inspect the janitor’s closet and hasn’t been seen since, and Jimmy’s been turned into a werewolf. Again.
Perry: Oh.
Asst: Also, the Planet logo on the top of the building’s been destroyed. Again.
Perry: Thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with a senior staff member. *The assistant leaves. Perry opens a drawer and removes a bottle.* Oh, Jack Daniels, you’re the only one here I can count on. And you NEVER call me chief… *GLUG-GLUG-GLUG*

Anyway, this goes on for about ten minutes. The world mourning Superman, not Perry drinking, I mean. Anyway, Lois gets in trouble, and Superman shows up to save her! Yay, he’s back… OR IS HE?!?!? The answer is no. No he’s not. That’s a clone of Superman under the control of Lex Luthor.

Clone Supes breaks free of Luthor’s control, and starts acting like a facist. The real Superman shows up, big fight happens, the real Superman wins. Yay.

This film has an impressive array of voice talents. When I heard that Adam Baldwin was going to be Superman, I had a little shiver of nerd-joy. However, something about his performance never seems to gel. His Superman justs seems… tired. That is, when he’s playing normal Superman. Adam Baldwin as crazy creepy fascist Superman is awesome.
Anne Heche portrays Lois Lane, and she’s surprisingly not bad. However, the voice actor who really steals the show is James Marsters as Lex Luthor. OH MY GOD. He’s no Clancy Brown, mind you, but DAYUM, is his Lex all kinds of creepy and maniacal. It certainly helps that the writers gave Lex most of the really good dialogue.

The art style isn’t bad. They wanted it to look different from Superman: The Animated Series, and it does, but it doesn’t look different ENOUGH. It’s like they were trying to hedge their bets.

Also of note is the fact that this movie, like the rest of the DC animated features released thus far, is PG-13. Which means there is much more blood and stuff than you'd expect from a superhero cartoon. It doesn't reach Die Hard levels, certainly, but it is disconcerting to see the Man of Steel vomiting blood or Lex Luthor shooting someone in the head the first time around. I was watching and said, "Can they... can they DO that in a Superman cartoon?" It's an interesting change, to say the least.

Overall, this was Bruce Timm and company’s first attempt at doing a full-length, stand alone animated feature, and it really shows. They tried to do an original spin on an existing story, and they didn’t quite nail it (as they would later do with Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight). I think a more faithful adaptation (or at least as faithful as you could get, considering how goddamned long the whole Death and Return of Superman story wound up being in the comics), along the lines of what they did with Justice League: New Frontier, would have served the creative team better. Superman/ Doomsday isn’t bad, but it doesn’t come near the quality of either the best episodes of Timm’s previous animated series nor the animated features they would deliver down the line.