Justice League - The New Frontier (Single-Disc Edition) (2008)

Actors: Phil Morris, Neil Patrick Harris, Lucy Lawless, Miguel Ferrer, David Boreanaz
Dave Bullock
Format: Animated, Closed-captioned, Color, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English, Portuguese
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Number of discs: 1
Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: February 26, 2008
Run Time: 75 minutes



Warner Bros. Animation has always been faithful to the spirit, if not the letter, of the DC universe comics. Justice League: The New Frontier is no exception. It is a reasonably faithful adaptation of Darwyn Cooke's somewhat overrated graphic novel of the same name.

New Frontier does not fit in with any of the existing Justice League or Batman cartoons. Instead it is a retelling of the Justice League of America's origins which kicks off in 1953. It is the last day of the Korean War but that doesn't prevent some commie MiGs from taking pot shots at Hal Jordan, erm, pacifist fighter pilot and future superhero Green Lantern.

Action jumps round a bit between the various members of the yet-to-be formed League. Superman rescues some astronauts; Wonder Woman helps some Korean villagers exact terrifying revenge on their erstwhile tormentors; Batman rescues a small kid from some sort of Satanic cult and a stranded Martian Manhunter tries his best to fit into human society, a difficult process considering that the 1950s isn't particularly a decade known for its tolerance and open-mindedness ? something which New Frontier hints at but never really investigates.

The tone of New Frontier is decidedly adult. Parents should heed its PG-13 rating. That is, until the 45 minutes mark at which this made-for-DVD movie takes a turn for the juvenile and the various superheroes have to team up to destroy an island-sized alien monster from wiping humanity from the face of the Earth. Then it becomes all rah-rah speechifying and even has machinegun-toting soldiers battling dinosaurs and the like. This change in tone is rather jarring and undermines what has gone before which, to be honest, was pretty good.

Also, Cooke's original graphic novel was his love poem to the so-called Silver Age of comics ? the sort of nostalgia that would appeal to ageing baby boomers who grew up with these comics as kids. However this sort of hagiography doesn't always translate well to live action, especially when the movie tries to emulate an epic feel during its finale, but only runs for 75 minutes (end credits included).

The biggest problem with The New Frontier though is its running time. Condensing Cooke's sprawling 416 page graphic novel obviously meant excising a lot of characters and subplots. This obviously isn't a bad thing by itself, but the running time is well below the normal hour-and-a-half one expects of a full-length feature. An extra fifteen or twenty minutes spent in Cooke's alternate universe wouldn't have hurt at all. One feels somewhat cheated by the brief running time.

THE DISCS: Much like last year's Superman: Doomsday, the special features on The New Frontier is almost better than the movie itself. The comprehensive documentary to be found on the disc, Superheroes United!: The Complete Justice League History, is a great look at the comic book title's history throughout the long decades. Several comic book legends such as Stan Lee, Marv Wolfman, Roy Thomas and Mark Waid are interviewed. For the comics geek, this documentary alone is worth the purchase price. (Missing in action though is any mention of the early-1990s Justice League TV series that were so awful that it was never aired!)

Also cool is a quick look at the upcoming Batman Gotham Knight, an anime-inspired once-off which will be the next DC universe animated original movie.

WORTH IT? Despite New Frontier's faults, the reality is that one has become spoiled with just how good Warner Bros. Animation's DC movies and TV shows actually are. In spite of our incessant fanboy niggling, the truth is that comic book fans are lucky to have them. To be honest we haven't seen a single of these comic book adaptations that we didn't enjoy and were outright bad. Things could have been a whole lot worse. (I have just one word for you doubters: Super Friends!) If any of them are disappointing ? like last year's much-hyped Superman: Doomsday ? then it is because of the high standards set by previous Bruce Timm-produced efforts.

Besides, The New Frontier was a brave choice for a full-screen adaptation and for this alone Warner Animation should be commended. One caveat though: Batman as voiced by Law & Order's husky Jeremy Sisto comes across as some kind of child molester. Things aren't improved later on by the introduction of Robin. A scene in which Batman tells Robin to go do his homework just had us groaning aloud . . .

RECOMMENDATION: Worth a rental at the least. Comic book fans and animation buffs should consider a purchase.



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