Director: Jay Oliva
Cast: Justin Chambers, C. Thomas Howell, Michael B. Jordan, Kevin McKidd, Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Cary Elwes, Nathan Fillion, Vanessa Marshall
Watch Flashpoint Paradox online in the UK: iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV Store / Google Play
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through DC’s animated superhero collection. We call it Superhero Sundays.
If you’re a fan of the CW’s live-action TV version of The Flash then you’ll already be familiar with the concept behind Flashpoint, which is used as the jumping-off point for Season 3. However, this 2013 animated adventure has little in common with the show beyond the basic set-up – instead, it’s directly based on the acclaimed comics run by writer Geoff Johns and artist Andy Kubert. To that end, it’s arguably more coherent than the comics and tells a compelling story, although, like 2009’s animated Wonder Woman movie, it’s let down by some bizarrely over-the-top violence.
The story begins in the “normal” universe, with an enjoyable pre-titles sequence that features Barry Allen / The Flash (voiced by Justin Chambers) taking down members of his Rogues Gallery with an assist from the other members of the Justice League. However, a pointed remark from Reverse-Flash (C. Thomas Howell) leads Barry to travel back in time and save his mother (Grey DeLisle), causing him to wake up in an alternate reality known as Flashpoint.
The darkness of this alternate reality swiftly becomes apparent: Barry doesn’t have his speed powers, the Justice League never formed and, oh yes, a war between Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s Atlanteans is wreaking death and destruction across the world. In desperation, Barry turns to alternate versions of Batman (Kevin McKidd) and Cyborg (Michael B. Jordan) for help, but first, he has to convince them to believe his story.
Director Jay Oliva has assembled a terrific voice cast that includes fan favourites Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series) as normal universe Batman and Dana Delaney (Justice League Unlimited) as Lois Lane, alongside some big-name guest stars, such as Cary Elwes (Aquaman), Ron Perlman (Deathstroke), Danny Huston (General Lane) and, in a delightfully knowing piece of stunt casting, Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern. However, while it’s a treat to see so many DC comics characters on screen (and the ones listed above are just the tip of the iceberg), the majority of them amount to little more than fan-pleasing cameos that only serve to complicate the story, particularly when they’re given so little to do.
(As a side note, the film provides the perfect excuse to take advantage of Amazon Prime Video’s excellent X-Ray function, which helpfully identifies both the characters and actors on-screen whenever you hit pause, as well as providing useful trivia.)
Jim Krieg’s script presents some intriguing ideas with the various alternate versions of DC’s famous and not-so-famous characters (McKidd’s gun-toting, flask-swilling Batman is the best thing in the film, while Deathstroke as a pirate is a particularly nice touch), as well as hitting some strong emotional notes, particularly in the scenes between Barry and his mother. However, in attempting to fully illustrate just why the Flashpoint time-line is so terrible, Krieg arguably goes a little overboard, resulting in an oppressive atmosphere of darkness and misery when there really ought to be room for a little more fun.
That darkness is compounded by some extremely excessive violence (including beheadings, violent shootings and the death of a child), which makes it deeply unsuitable for younger children. On top of that, the deaths themselves lack impact, because we’re well aware that we’re watching an alternate timeline, so there’s no sense of consequence. That said, the fight scenes themselves are well handled, with plenty of satisfying superhero action.
Stylistically, the film is heavily influenced by modern anime, which suits the overly dark tone of the film, but is frustrating if you’re a fan of the Bruce Timm-style animation from the JLA TV show, not least because some of the characters don’t look quite right.
On balance, The Flashpoint Paradox is worth seeing for its exciting action and superb voice cast, although the excessive darkness and violence may prove too much for younger audiences.