Superhero Sundays: Justice League – The New Frontier (2008)
Matthew Turner | On 19, Nov 2017
Director: Dave Bullock
Cast: David Boreanaz, Miguel Ferrer, Neil Patrick Harris, Lucy Lawless, Kyle MacLachlan
Watch Justice League: The New Frontier online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through DC’s animated superhero collection on Amazon Prime Video UK. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Directed by Dave Bullock and produced by animation guru Bruce Timm, 2008’s Justice League: The New Frontier was the second film (following Superman: Doomsday) to be released in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line. A faithful adaptation of writer / illustrator Darwyn Cooke’s acclaimed six-issue comic book series, DC: The New Frontier, the film is epic in scope, telling an ambitious story about DC’s Golden Age heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) uniting with Silver Age heroes Green Lantern, The Flash and Martian Manhunter to defeat a powerful foe.
Set in the 1950s, the film establishes some weighty political context early on, with the Red Scare in full effect and Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless) and Superman (Kyle Maclachlan) butting heads over America’s role in the Korean War. In Gotham City, Batman (Jeremy Sisto) investigates a mysterious cult and receives help from J’onn J’onzz, aka. the Martian Manhunter (Miguel Ferrer), who is learning to assimilate and passing as human after becoming trapped on Earth.
Meanwhile, in Central City, The Flash (Neil Patrick Harris) retires from the superhero game after being targeted and nearly captured by government agents (his red suit doesn’t help) and test pilot Hal Jordan (David Boreanaz) is given a ring that grants the bearer mysterious powers when he encounters dying Green Lantern Abin Sur (Corey Burton). And when the Earth is threatened by a powerful, 25 mile-long alien entity called The Centre (which is protected by a multitude of dinosaurs), the superheroes come together and join forces with a reluctant military to save the world.
The film is extremely faithful to its source material, which is perhaps to be expected, given that Cooke served as both producer and creative consultant on the project. It has been necessarily cut down in places (particularly with regard to Golden Age teams, such as The Losers and the original Suicide Squad), but the only real loss in that regard is a fun sequence involving Superman fighting a giant robot. (Who doesn’t want to see Superman fight a giant robot? What were they thinking?) There’s also a slight issue in that the film ditches all the first-person narration from the various characters, so some of the nuance is lost (most notably with the Martian Manhunter’s story), but it doesn’t detract from the general story-telling.
Cooke’s gorgeous, 1950s-inspired artwork closely resembles Bruce Timm’s own familiar style, so the pair are ideally matched and the animation is extremely impressive, if not quite as jaw-droppingly beautiful as Cooke’s original drawings. Similarly, the period costume designs are a nice touch, particularly in the case of Superman and Wonder Woman, and every frame is packed with detail.
There are a number of stand-out moments, each faithfully recreated from Cooke’s comics. Highlights include Martian Manhunter using TV shows to learn about humanity and shape-shifting into Groucho Marx, then Bugs Bunny, then a Native American, and a dramatic sequence where an injured and bleeding Wonder Woman crashes her Invisible Jet.
There’s also a lot to enjoy in general, particularly if you’re a hardcore DC fan, as there are plenty of references to obscure characters and the film finds clever ways to include pieces of Cooke’s original artwork. There’s also a strong focus on the space race, which allows for several visual references to The Right Stuff, given Jordan’s career as a test pilot; the dove-tailing of the superhero stories with 1950s America is extremely well done and there’s a nice pay-off at the end with the use of the John F. Kennedy speech that gives the film its title.
The film could have used a little more humour, since the general tone is quite serious and only The Flash gets anything resembling a funny line. Similarly, some of the voices are a little disappointing – Lucy Lawless was obviously cast for the Xena reference, but she doesn’t sound quite right, while Jeremy Sisto and Kyle MacLachlan are poor stand-ins for Batman and Superman regulars Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly.
It’s also worth noting that a few moments are unsuitable for young children, especially in the early section. Indeed, the film’s opening sequence is a POV shot of a children’s story-book artist committing suicide (after having been possessed by The Centre), something that is referred to later anyway and should probably have been dropped.
All in all, this is a beautifully animated and smartly written animated adventure that does justice to Darwyn Cooke’s comics, even if it’s probably a bit too complex and frightening for young children. It’s also a lot better than the current live action Justice League movie – skip that and watch this instead.