Justice League War (Origins – New 52)

  • Title:  Justice League War 
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2014
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre(s):  Action, Fantasy, Animation
  • Cast:  Sean Astin, Christopher Gorham, Justin Kirk, Michelle Managhan, Shemar Moore, Jason O’Mara, Alan Tudyk, Ioan Gruffudd
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“They don’t like us much!” – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
“The world’s afraid of us.” – Batman
“You say that like its a good thing.” – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
“It’s necessary.” – Batman

“Superman’s close, I’ve been tracking his flight path.” -Batman
“Pfft, on what?  Your own satellite?” – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
[pause, as Batman checks an electronic gadget]
“I was kidding.  You have a satellite?!” –  Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)

With Justice League War Warner Brothers Animation moves from creating animated DC Comics films based on classic Silver Age (and early modern age) DC Comics, to making films based on the New 52.  Justice League War is a perfect case in point, as it is based on the graphic novel Justice League Volume 1 Origin (which is, in turn, really just a compilation of issues 1-6), written by Geoff Johns, penciled by Jim Lee, and inked by Scott Williams.

The first time I watched War I was impressed, the animation is good, and I felt the story did what it needed to do – introduce a big enough threat to bring together all seven superheroes who, until that time, had only been working in their own respective cities. These heroes, including new hero, Cyborg (Victor Stone) must over-come their distrust and fear of each other and learn to work together to overcome Darkseid, his Parademons, and his lieutenant, Desaad.

However, the second time I watched this, last night, I was considerably less impressed. Yes, the animation is gorgeous. And it’s nice to see older DC elements, like mother box and boom tubes, brought back. And if one needs a really big threat, it doesn’t get much bigger than Darkseid. Yes, this is essentially a re-boot. And, DC Comics, has rebooted it’s universe before.  They’re somewhat famous for it, actually. Personally, I actually started reading DC Comics when they re-booted the universe after Crisis on Infinite Earths. That was a great time to start reading comics – everything was new, you didn’t need to know the long complicated history, even the books started at number 1. I imagine, now, there are people who did the same thing for New 52 – they started there, and don’t know (or care) about the Silver Age and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths books I read and loved in college (just like when I started reading DC I didn’t care if a story was set on Earth 16 or Earth 2 or whatever). And that is perfectly OK. I see no need to rain on their parade.

But, as a fan of the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era, I really don’t like New 52. There, I said it, I don’t. Justice League War, especially on repeat viewing, is a perfect example of why I don’t like New 52. War, is, as the title suggests – full of battles and wisecracks. I’ve watched other DC animated films (Justice League:  Doom is a perfect example) where I also felt there was too much of an emphasis on fights and not enough on character – but at least in Doom, there is character. And, it’s the flaws in the characters that are exploited and must be overcome that are central to the plot. That keeps me riveted to the screen. But in Justice League War, not only is the majority of the film fight scene after fight scene, but the characters are pretty much stereotypes – not the DC characters we know and love. Hal Jordan, rather than being a man who knows no fear (and intergalactic police officer for the Green Lantern Corps) is reduced to “the one with the funny quips and lines”. Barry Allen, the Flash, is “the one who’s the nice guy next door”. Wonder Woman is the overly naïve “little girl” type. Superman is “the angry one”; I mean, seriously – Was that even supposed to be Clark Kent? Because he sounds like Young Justice‘s Conner Kent. Billy Batson (Shazam), well, actually, he’s got the same “little kid in a big body” quality he’s always had – but then, that is what he’s supposed to be. Cyborg is”‘the new guy”. And even Batman is “the only one who knows what’s going on / the parent”. These aren’t our much-loved characters – they are stereotypes. Even in the last line of the film, Wonder Woman describes her fellow heroes as iconotypes by comparing them to the Greek gods. (Jung would call these archetypes and it is a fair and valid comparison.) But I found the lack of real character a major disappointment. Creating great characters, not only the major characters, but the minor characters, has always been a strength of DC Comics. I feel New 52 falls short of the mark. Though this is an origin film, and it’s always possible that there will be improvement as the series develops.

Justice League War also cuts frequently from scene to scene as the various heroes fight Parademons in whatever city they happen to be in, before joining together to fight Darkseid, Desaad, and more Parademons. And in fighting together, the seven Justice League (a term never used in the film) founders, do learn to work together. They do learn that cooperation is very important, as is teamwork.  Perhaps the series will improve.

Recommendation:  See it, if you want to stay up to date with New 52
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Prestige

Serenity

  • Title:  Serenity
  • Director:  Joss Whedon
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  SF, Action
  • Cast:  Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Straite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This is the captain, we have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then explode.”  — Capt. Mal Reynolds

“I aim to misbehave.”  — Capt. Mal Reynolds

Another film I received as a gift, though I had seen Serenity in the theater, and liked it.  Mind you, I liked it, not loved it.  Serenity is the film sequel to the short-lived television series, Firefly.  What is it about Firefly that its fans are about as rabid as Fundamentalists – and about as hard to convince you’re really not interested?  I’ve seen the TV show, and it just didn’t catch my interest, for many reasons, only one of which is it’s a Western (and a thinly disguised one at that) — the heroes are also soldiers of the South who lost a Galactic Civil War.  Think about that.

The film starts, without credits, with a prologue or teaser, showing Simon Tan breaking his sister, River, out of a government “research” facility.  Yes, this is another “science is bad; government is bad” science fiction movie.  I miss when SF meant adventure, wonder, and fun, instead of the now popular anti-science and anti-government parables.  Anyway, Simon succeeds in getting River out, as we know, since the two were passengers on Capt. Mal Reynolds ship, Serenity.  However, the film does, to it’s credit, have a much more linear sense than the television series ever did, which helps considerably.

Mal and his crew are on a job, but River accidentally sees a subliminal message in a very weird commercial – and goes bonkers, then knocks out or kills everyone in a frontier bar.  Mal and company return to Haven, Shepherd Book’s community for shelter.  They leave to pick-up the Companion, who had left to conduct her own business, and return to find everyone in Haven dead.  But through River’s actions, they now have a problem to solve:  What is Miranda?  Why does the Alliance (a system-wide government of several planets) want River dead?  Just what is going on?

Eventually they discover Miranda is a planet — a planet no one knows and no know talks about.  They discover it’s located beyond the Reaver band.  Reavers are vicious killers – cannibals, and violent criminals.  We see a Reaver attack early in the film, to explain to the audience how awful they are.  Mal disguises his ship as a Reaver ship, to get through the band, un-harassed.  This works.  They find planet Miranda, but everyone there is dead.  At first, it seems there’s no obvious reason that everyone’s dead — no signs of environmental disaster, no signs of violence.  But they discover a recording.  The Alliance put Pax, a drug in the air system — the drug had such a calming effect people stopped doing anything.  But for about ten percent of the population, it had the opposite effect — people went wild, and became monsterous, violent, killers.  It other words, a bad drug reaction created the Reavers.  The ultimate “bad trip”.  Not to mention that Pax, the drug that calms people to death, sounds an awful lot like “Bliss” – the drug that did the same thing in the Doctor Who episode “Gridlock”.  But ideas do run around.

Mal and company then have to get the recorded message to Mr. Universe, the ultimate TV/Media fan so he can broadcast it on all screens.  The government agent who’s been chasing them throughout the film gets there first, and kills Mr. Universe.  But, Mal receives a message about a secondary transmitter (unfortunately, Mal does not erase or destroy the message — so the agent also hears it).  The conclusion of the film has what’s left of Mal’s band fighting a historic last stand, and getting injured one at a time, while Mal goes one on one against the agent before he can send out the message.  Course, Mal wins, and he also doesn’t kill the agent, just ties him up.  River defeats the Reavers who had been after the remainder of Mal’s shipmates.  Book was killed in Haven and Wash is killed when Serenity makes a less than perfect landing.

Overall, though not a bad film by any means (the acting is very good, and the film has some very strong, and very different female characters), it also doesn’t stand up that well.  Some of  the “shocks” of the film I remembered from having seen it six years ago, weren’t shocking now because you expected them (the biggest of these is Wash’s death, which really seems like a waste, and pointless).  It’s not a bad film, not by any means, but it’s not a exceptional film either.

Recommendation:  Do see it.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Shall We Dance (1937)