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2008 - 75m.

In the past few years the major comic book companies (DC and Marvel) have been trying to get a piece of the direct-to-video market with animated films based on their most memorable characters. Marvel brought us the Ultimate Avengers movie as well as takes on Iron Man and Dr. Strange. Meanwhile, DC answered with Superman: Doomsday and now this flick based on Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel. Unlike the previous effort, which sucessfully crammed a few years of continuity into 75 minutes, this one feels like they tried to shove too much into the same amount of time. The animation is 50's style cool but the story is all over the place and not that entertaining.

And things start with one heck of an opening as our (at the moment) unseen baddie talks about humankind’s vile nature and how it will all end in suicide as his hand paints bleak portraits of society. It’s cool as Hell and having the distinct voice of Keith David doing the talking is certainly a plus.

From there we head into the main story, which is set in the early 1950’s, as a shape shifting alien is brought to Earth accidentally through a portal and begins to learn about humanity through the television – eventually he becomes Martian Manhunter and is taken in by the government. At the same time, a paranoid American public is very wary of trusting many of the superheroes with only Superman (Kyle McLachlan) able to hold their trust. There’s also the threat of atomic war looming over everyone’s head and, in one of the stories more intriguing a-sides, a nod to McCarthy-ism as the heroes are falling under suspicion as communists. Pretty heady stuff for an animated movie, no? And I love the fact the makers didn’t wimp out on the mature content, I just wish they’d of padded it out a bit more.

As for the rest of Justice League: The New Frontier, our heroes soon find themselves having to team-up with government forces to fight a whole new menace when a psychic force calling itself “The Center” (Keith). This leads to a final action sequence that trots out as many recognizable DC heroes as possible and while the entire final fight just isn’t that great (it’s passable even), it is kind of fun to let your comic book geek inside take over and try to peg all of the characters. It also establishes a chance for future tales, which I would gladly welcome as long as the story doesn’t feel as cutdown and cramped as it does here.

I’m going to assume condensing Cooke’s 2004 series into a barely feature-length script was a daunting task by scripter Stan Berkowitz, so I’m not going to nit-pick too much about the film’s wonky structure. Like I said previously, this needed another half-hour tacked on as there’s lots of interesting ideas at play here and I would’ve liked if the characters could’ve been more weighty as they’re established “just enough” to get by.

Under the supervision of Bruce Timm, who was behind the best animated superhero show of all-time, Batman: The Animated Series and has also had a hand in classic 80’s series He-Man and G.I. Joe as well as the more recent Justice League, the classical feeling animation here is just lovely. As with most DC produced animated features the artwork on display just kicks the ass of anything Marvel has come up with (and I’m including the extremely cool X-Men series of the early 90’s).

Another thing DC animated movies has benefited from is strong voice acting and while I felt this one relied too much on known celebrities in roles (including the likes of David Borneanaz, Neil Patrick Harris, Lucy Lawless, etc.) and doesn’t have as strong a cast as previous efforts, the work done here is generally acceptable with David just plain awesome as our baddie. Only Jeremy Sisto, playing Batman, is hard to adjust to and that’s simply because Kevin Conroy made the Dark Knight his own in the animated series.

I didn’t like Justice League: The New Frontier nearly as much as I did Superman: Doomsday and I wouldn’t really recommend it for anyone but hardcore comic book fans, but I can appreciate the art direction and feel of the movie, I just have a hard time dealing with a story that feels like a Reader’s Digest condensed novel my mom used to get from time-to-time in the mail. (Chris Hartley, 5/6/08)

Directed By: David Bullock.
Written By: Stan Berkowitz.

Starring: David Boreanaz, Miguel Ferrer, Neil Patrick Harris, John Heard.


DVD INFORMATION
Warner - February 26, 2008

Picture Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen.

Picture Quality: It's pretty hard to screw-up animation transfers on DVD and the picture here is completely solid looking even if there's a few jagged lines scattered throughout. The best thing is that it doesn't suffer from a motion-blur (where the animation lines get all wonky during action scenes) that some animated features have in the past. it was shot, not the transfer.

Extras: Warner has released two versions of Justice League: The New Frontier on disc and I got a chance to look at the single-disc release.

There's trailers, a sneak peek at DC's next animated feature Batman: Gotham Knight, the super cool "Super Heroes United!" featurette which is a 41 minute history of the Justice League of America in comics, and two commentary tracks one featuring director Bullock, producer Timm, writer Berkowitz and others involved in the production. The second track has graphic novelist Cooke holding it down on his own. They're both decent listens, if a bit dry at times.

And if you're unsure which version to buy, I will tell you that the 2-disc also includes three episodes of the Justice League series as well as two additional documentary featurettes that focus on comic book villians and Cooke discussing how he came to create the story. Which version you pick up will depend on either how much of a fan you are or how much you enjoyed the film - I found the single disc contained more than enough extras but fans might want to go the extra mile and get the double disc.