Superhero Sundays: Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)
Action and animation5.5
Matthew Turner | On 02, May 2021
Director: Ethan Spaulding
Cast: Matt Lanter, Sam Witwer, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Jason O’Mara, Sumalee Montano
Where to watch Justice League: Throne of Atlantis online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Directed by Ethan Spaulding, 2015’s Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is the 21st film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. It’s also the fourth movie in the DC Animated Movie Universe series, a sub-set of films based on DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch. To that end, it stands as a direct sequel to 2014’s Justice League: War (which introduced the rebooted characters). Like its predecessor, it’s also based on an original New 52 comics story: Throne of Atlantis, by Geoff Johns, Paul Pelletier and Ivan Reis.
The plot for Throne of Atlantis picks up not long after the end of Justice League: War. Although the Justice League was officially formed at the end of War, it’s apparent that no one except Cyborg (Shemar Moore) is all that committed to the team – there’s even a nice little in-joke where Steve Trevor (George Newbern) has the name Super Seven removed from the sign on JLA’s official headquarters at STAR Labs because “Justice League tested better”.
However, when Atlanteans begin attacking “surface dwellers”, Superman (Jerry O’Connell), Batman (Jason O’Mara), Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), The Flash (Christopher Gorham), Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion), Shazam (Sean Astin) and Cyborg team up once again and investigate. They soon discover that the Atlanteans have been manipulated into war by evil Prince Orm (Sam Witwer) and the villainous Black Manta (Harry Lennix).
Meanwhile, lighthouse keeper’s son, Arthur Curry (Matt Lanter), learns his true heritage from Mera (Sumalee Montano), namely that he’s the half-Atlantean son of Queen Atlanna (Sirena Irwin) and heir to the Throne of Atlantis. Aided by the Justice League, Arthur sets out to defeat his half-brother and restore his birthright. Oh, and he discovers he can talk to fish.
Given that Throne of Atlantis and the 2018 live-action Aquaman movie are both essentially origin stories, it’s not surprising that they have so many plot elements in common. However, it’s fair to say that the existence of Jason Momoa’s live-action Aquaman only serves to point up how dull the animated version is by comparison.
Consequently, although the story goes through the motions, the writing overall is fairly weak, with none of the supposedly emotional scenes hitting home the way they should. There are some surprisingly dark moments, but they are rather underserved by the script and lack the necessary impact.
The New 52 movies frequently suffer from a general problem with tone and Throne of Atlantis is no different. It’s unnecessarily dark, when it should be brighter, breezier and just a lot more fun in general. Consequently there’s surprisingly little humour, other than occasional wisecracks from Green Lantern or moments of silliness from Shazam.
On a similar note, the action is once again just that little bit too violent and bloodthirsty. Evidently someone at DC / Warner Bros really likes to see hordes of bad guys getting sliced in half, because it happens here just as it did in Justice League: War, only it’s Atlantean monsters instead of Parademons. There’s still a little bit of swearing too – nothing stronger than “shit”, but it’s jarring in a superhero cartoon and there’s really no need for it.
On the plus side, the animation is accomplished and the character designs are consistent with those of the previous movie, which strengthens the continuity. Similarly, the action is frequently fun to watch, but you can’t help feeling there are a number of missed opportunities – Aquaman discovering he can talk to fish, for example, ought to be a much bigger moment, but it’s reduced to a sight gag, even if that sight gag is one of the best bits in the film.
One nice touch is the sense of ongoing character development, continuing from the previous movie. Here, Superman and Wonder Woman grow closer – amusingly, the film makes it look like Superman is two-timing Lois Lane, because it doesn’t clearly establish Lois and Clark’s relationship status – and Cyborg both loses a lung and gains enough confidence in his new identity to ask out his STAR Labs colleague (Melique Berger). Meanwhile, The Justice League gains a new member, Aquaman gets a code name (which he hates) and the Watchtower is name-checked.
The voices are mostly fine, particularly Fillion, who’s clearly having much more fun than anyone else as DCAU’s most obnoxious version of Green Lantern. Interestingly, Superman and Wonder Woman have both been recast since the previous movie (Jerry O’Connell replaces Alan Tudyk, Rosario Dawson replaces Michelle Monaghan) and that proves a smart decision, as they were both weak links last time round. Also notable is genius voice director Andrea Romano once again pulling cameo duty, this time as an old lady Atlantean.
In short, this is an entirely watchable animated Justice League adventure, but you can’t help feeling it’s had its thunder stolen by the live-action Aquaman movie. Still, at least the villain isn’t Darkseid again. Oh, and there’s a post-credits sting involving a familiar face, if you like that sort of thing.
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription.