I won’t bury the lede here: I am not a big fan of the DC Cinematic Universe. I grew up reading loads of DC Comics and have been relatively disappointed with the mediocre output on the big screen.
It got to the point I almost completely wrote off DC in general, but a friend informed me that DC is putting out quality material, just not on the big screen. I’ve taken his advice and will work my way through the catalog of DC Universe Animated Original Movies.
Justice League: The New Frontier is the second film in the DCUAO and it’s a wonderful breath of fresh air. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a standalone one-shot or limited series.
It has no bearing on what came before or what comes after. It’s also a period piece that takes place in the early 1960s against the backdrop of the Cold War in a world that doesn’t yet trust superheroes.
The film clips along at a brisk pace in its 75-minute run time, an impressive feat considering the amount of plot and characters. While an ensemble cast, Martian Manhunter, and Hal Jordan have the most screen time and might as well be the main leads. As a fan of J’onn J’onzz, it’s nice to see him not relegated to the background.
The gist of the plot revolves around a threatening entity known as The Centre who wants to destroy all mankind due to its capacity for violence. The film’s post-Korean War setting is a wonderful backdrop for this conflict.
Each character has a personal thread that leads them all to each other, ultimately creating the Justice League and defeating The Centre. While there was a lot of plot crammed into 75 minutes, it didn’t feel bloated. Superman himself doesn’t even appear in the film until 40 minutes in, to save Hal Jordan in space.
The film also managed to work in Green Lantern’s origin story. Hal earns his ring from Abin Sur and becomes the Green Lantern to join the Justice League and help save the world. Another cool aspect about New Frontier is that it is rated PG-13. For a DC animated film, a PG-13 rating is a bit surprising. Of course, there’s your standard superhero violence, but DC kicked it up a notch in a few instances in a very creative and interesting way.
One example is when Wonder Woman crashes her invisible jet. You can see actually see a good portion of the invisible jet’s contours because it’s outlined with Wonder Woman’s blood.
Little creative liberties like this are things that I could never imagine seeing in a live-action PG-13 DC movie. But that seems to be the most common thread with the DCUAO is that it definitely skews to a more mature, adult audience. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its share of levity and humor. It’s just nice to see a cartoon with a little more weight.
OTHER NOTABLE MOMENTS
- New Frontier is based on a six-issue limited series, which I have not read. This film has made me want to, though.
- It relies heavily on the “otherworldly threat” by way of extra-terrestrials, but it doesn’t feel as cliched.
- Martian Manhunter, often relegated to supporting roles, is given a lot to chew. It’s awesome.
- When Martian Manhunter first arrives on earth in Gotham, he watches TV to get an idea of how to shapeshift the best to assimilate himself among the humans. He comes across Loony Tunes on TV and momentarily turns into Bugs Bunny.
- DC struck the perfect tone for the cultural backdrop and didn’t sugarcoat racial issues, but neither hit you over the head with them.
- There’s a cool little moment of confrontation between Superman and Wonder Woman, and WW asserts herself, she stands up to Superman and we see that she is actually taller than Supes.
- This film really feels like a love letter to the Silver Age of comics more than anything.
- There’s so much world-building in this but we only get hints or quick glimpses of it. One of the few detriments to the 75 min run-time.
- There’s a serious lack of Plastic Man.
- Using this film to introduce all the Justice League as their Silver Age counterparts is brilliant because then we will get to see the evolution of these characters more.
- This is simultaneously heavier and more optimistic than the live-action DC films.