Sometimes I feel glad that I watch a movie with my glass half full. I did not read the comic crossover series “Flashpoint” written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Andy Kubert and so it is with this half empty glass that I went into the DCAU animated direct-to-video movie “Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox”. I was very impressed with the DCAU animated production “The Dark Knight Returns” and so it is with this optimistic mindset that I come to into this latest animated feature featuring the Justice League. Readers of the source material would no doubt know what this story is all about, and to those who didn’t read it, it may come as a treat.
Barry Allen (aka. The Flash, voiced by Justin Chambers) had just been done visiting his mother’s grave, who has been killed many years ago due to a home invasion gone horribly wrong when he receives a call that the “Flash Museum” in Central city is being looted. After a hard fought battle with his deadliest enemies led by the Reverse-Flash (C. Thomas Howell) , Flash wins the day with the assistance of the Justice League. The next day, Barry wakes up to find that everything around him had changed. His mother is alive, he is no longer married to Iris (Jennifer Hale), and the amazons are at war with Atlantis. This war threatens the safety of the world. What had gone so wrong that this world is now so different and even deadlier than before? Barry must team up with what remains of this imperiled world to try to save it. A very different Batman (Kevin McKidd) and a much more powerful Cyborg (Michael B. Jordan) are ready to take on the challenge along with Barry. But are they already too late?
One of the things that made this film interesting is the way the screenplay was able to slowly reveal with a very meticulous hand just what had changed and what had stayed the same. Its structure was quite successful in generating suspense that I was kept on my toes as to how, why and what had caused all these climactic changes. Much of the plot revolves around the Flash and his quest to find out the truth in order to correct it. Along the way, he finds what had changed and admittedly some of these time-related changes can feel rather unsettling. Bruce Wayne is dead, and Thomas Wayne took on the mantle of the Bat. Martha Wayne is the Joker. Aquaman (Cary Elwes) and Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) are mortal enemies. Death stroke (Ron Perlman) and Luthor (Steve Blum) are two of the good guys, while other supposed bad guys such as Captain Cold and Clayface worked for the government. Black Manta and Ocean Master as members of Aquaman’s army? I would not even tell you just how Superman (Sam Daly) fits into all of this.
This world feels a lot darker and perhaps even more cruel than what was Barry’s real world. Some of the changes were definitely meant to create a reaction from its viewer and it succeeds. This alternate world reveals a side to the heroes that may have not been seen before, as some of them were willing to maim, murder and perhaps even torture. While most of its brutality happens off camera, the effects were still strongly felt. I mean, I never I would ever see the day when an animated film would show Wonder Woman murdering Steve Trevor (James Patrick Stewart) but this animated film went there. This is also a story about a war, and the steps taken by Atlantis and the Amazons were something that can seen as ‘magic against super-science’. There were a few morality issues presented in its screenplay, and just how fragile the human psyche can be.
No doubt there was a lot of characters in this film, and while all of them proved significant, they all served to develop this new Batman and a Flash misplaced in a different timeline. There is a different kind of tragedy that confronted the main protagonists, and while they are different, they are the same. They both seek to restore the time stream, for reasons of their own. Of course, it would be rather hard to condense all the details of the source material in an 81 minute film, but for what it is worth, I thought it made the correct moves to get its core narrative across. The tragedy and hope that exudes from its core plot were strong enough to immerse me, and while the screenplay could’ve used some smoothing over (there were some plot holes), the good areas of its script outweighed the weak points. The structure of the screenplay helped it along, as it was able to give focus to the strongest areas, while keeping the weaker ones at bay with some nifty editing.
The fights in the film were pretty gritty, at times brutal and maybe even bloody. This is a war after all, and both sides suffer heavy casualties. Once the movie reaches its final act, it comes out with all guns blazing. Highlights would be the Aquaman and Wonder Woman fight, the Captain Thunder-Wonder Woman fight and I did enjoy the encounter between Flash and Professor Zoom. This is a much meaner, older Batman who uses a gun (he is a father who lost his child), and while his methods were arguably different, he is the same skilled tactician as ever. The spirit of the character may have been the strongest thing in its narrative. Batman is a tragic figure, and so, he mostly took over the core plot. There is something that kind of felt more like a “Greek tragedy” with the Aquaman-Diana dynamic, and it also elevated the stakes to a level that I could buy into.
I did have some issues with the character designs at first, but I know Andy Kubert’s art; as much as it tried to mimic, it felt a little too much on the anime side. Not to say that it didn’t work, because it did, visuals and the merging of CGI layout went well with the traditional animation. I quickly got over it, and found myself being taken by its battle scenes. The voice acting were pretty capable, as Kevin Conroy even returned to voice Bruce Wayne. There were times that I did notice that the emotions and facial expressions weren’t as strong as I would’ve hoped for, but the key scenes were what truly carried the rest of the film.
I am guessing that the series probably had a lot more details to its narrative and I am sure there were differences in its narrative for storytelling purposes. I do have to admit that seeing this film may have made me want to purchase the trade paperback. “Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox” is a strong animated feature that managed to sell its narrative, generate thrills and suspense when needed, and even made the correct moves in tragic dramatic scenes. It is a success; so I guess the DCAU animated universe isn’t really missing Bruce Timm. Highly Recommended. [4 Out of 5 Stars]
With as long as many of these DC characters have been around, I would imagine that some writers and illustrators certainly have their work cut out for themselves when it comes to crafting a tale that’s both fresh and innovative as well as respectful to much of what’s come before in the pages. Reading audiences are constantly in flux, dropping off when some new creative teams don’t prove to have the right stuff and then jumping aboard again when a particular fan-favorite starts … more