In 2004, Darwyn Cook re-envisioned the Silver Age to include current characterizations of DC’s most famous superheroes and the real-life politics of the 1950s. His graphic novel was adapted recently as a straight-to-disk feature, animated in a cheerful style but containing enough dark matter to merit a PG-13 rating.
The film also features a number of well-known actors.
Title: Justice League: The New Frontier
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
David Boreanaz as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern
Miguel Ferrer as J’onn J’onzz
Jeremy Sisto as Batman
Kyle MacLachlin as Superman
Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman
Neil Patrick Harris as Barry Allen/The Flash
Brooke Shields as Carol Ferris
Lex Lang as Rick Flagg
Kyra Sedgwick as Lois Lane
Vicki Lewis as Iris West
Jim Meskimen as Slam Bradley
Keith David as The Centre
Joe Alaskey as Bugs Bunny1
Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb
McCarthyism makes Batman an outlaw, comic-book science brings J’onn J’onz to earth, and world events strain Superman’s friendship with Wonder Woman. Meanwhile, a trouble Korean vet named Hal Jordan becomes involved with the nascent American space program. When a mysterious menace threatens this 1950s world, its greatest heroes must put aside their differences and join forces.
Conceptually, this is brilliant, a depiction of a Silver Age that wasn’t. Cook and company balance the gee-whiz fun of the old superhero comics with the more mature considerations of the present. This isn’t the best telling of the story—- it becomes disjointed in places– but it manages to be watchable and entertaining.
The New Frontier must pack a lot of story and too many characters into seventy-five minutes. While it does a decent job of handling the main roles, numerous characters show up with neither explanation nor context. To a degree, they represent earth’s other heroes, and we don’t need to know much about them, but they also aren’t really necessary to the story. One could also argue that the script uses them much as a more traditional author might use classical allusions: they are something the intended audience is likely to know. This is true to a point, but a film shouldn’t go out of its way to confuse the more casual viewer who might enjoy elements of this superhero movie. The graphic novel can develop these characters further—and the two-disk version may also provide some additional backstory. This discussion is continued under “Story.”
Originality: 3/6. This is a simplified but straightforward adaptation of a graphic novel. Cook’s story features a novel take on the Silver Age with numerous clever touches, but the basic story and its themes aren’t original. We have seen them in the well-known superhero comics of the last twenty years.
Animation: 4/6. The animation is simplified but effective. The filmmakers also effectively handle some of the story’s more disturbing elements.
Story: 4/6. See “High” and “Low” points.
The most effective use of a cameo is Robin’s. Anyone watching this film knows who he is, and The New Frontier uses his brief appearance to illustrate changes in Batman’s character. The worst is Aquaman, who wanders in at the end of the film, introduces himself, and resolves a plot point that might have been handled in any number of other ways. His walk-on manages to be both fortuitous and gratuitous.
Voice Acting: 5/6 Batman and Hal Jordan receive the most thoughtful characterization.
Emotional Response: 4/6. The film has its flaws, but its best moment recapture the reason why superheroes were so popular in a supposedly more innocent time– while challenging the notion of that innocence.
In total, Justice League: The New Frontier receives 29/42.
1. A throwaway gag: while watching television, J’onzz assumes the forms of various characters, including the Bunny.