Allow me to begin this review by clearing the air on one important issue of note- there are a lot of critiques littering cyberspace faulting this film of falling short of the precedent set by the DCU and specifically when compared to the Justice League animated features that have preceded it. To such complaints I do remind that nowhere is this feature even titled Justice League but rather the JLA Adventures (JLA of course representing Justice League of America). This is important simply because Warner and the individuals responsible for this piece are making sure to differentiate the film (and those intended to follow it) as entirely separate off-shoots of the Justice League fans of come to know and love.
So what then are the JLA Adventures specifically? The short answer is what would happen if you modernized the universe, characters, plots and animation of the 70s/80s Hana-Barbara series Superfriends. In fact this film is loosely based upon a 1978 episode titled “The Secret Origins of the Superfriends”.
The plot, summarized as concisely as possible without giving away any spoilers, works off the idea that if Lex Luthor and his fellow Legion of Doom members were to go back in time to intercept the unanticipated arrival of young Kryptonian Kal-El before his being adopted by Martha and Jonathan Kent, there would be no Superman and thus no Justice League to stand in their way. Never mind such plot holes as if such mastery over time truly existed, there would be a near-infinite number of more effective means of achieving world domination; do keep in mind this is all based upon screenplay work for children’s Saturday morning television in the mid 1970s. Then it becomes clear to simply be grateful that the powers that be decided to omit the Wondertwins and Gleek from this film.
Beginning with the look of the piece, it’s safe to say that the Superfriends have never been presented in finer detail. Truly the colors, animation and fight sequences are all top notch. Nearly equal to contemporary Justice League feature films from the DCU and easily on par with the JL series efforts of the early to mid 2000s.
The casting and vocal work is solid as well, if a tier or two below what we’ve come to expect from the DCU and the DCAU before that. Peter Jessop performs the voice of Superman and manages to capture some of the authority and good nature of the character (albeit not nearly as effortlessly as say Tim Daly) and Dietrich Bader reprises his Brave and the Bold role as the Caped Crusader (again, passable but vastly inferior to the spoiling Kevin Conroy has provided us throughout the years).
The remainder of the League (exception, Robin) do adequate work considering what they are given; Wonder Woman, for example, has nary a complete paragraph of dialog throughout. Surprisingly, Kevin Michael Richardson, veteran Lex Luthor actor in the DCAU after Clancy Brown, is on cast but used to voice Solomon Grundy and Black Manta while Fred Tatasciore voices a fairly lackluster Lex.
Superfriends fans will delight at the use of such long standing cues as the Legion of Doom’s Darth Vader head spaceship/ base of operations and even the title sequence, which borrows from the Season 3 opening. The cast is pretty spot-on for what plot-points exist here as well, with notable absentees coming in the form of Green Lantern and Hawkman.
Pacing, as can be expected for a film that completes in under an hour, is remarkably brisk and leaves very little time for such nuances as character development or in-depth back story (though in all fairness, it absolutely puts to shame the total development Superfriends managed to accomplish in its entire 13-year run).
Special features here are limited to a bunch of WB trailers and two Superfriends episodes: The Mysterious Time Creatures (season 2) and Elevator to Nowhere (season 5). While both of these episodesl were surely selected on account of the fact that they deal with time travel in some capacity, the episode most closely resembling the plot of Trapped in Time (season 3’s Secret Origins of the Superfriends) is absent.
All in all, it makes sense that as the DCU has raised the bar in their previous releases to such a level that anything shy of sheer storytelling perfection comes under immediate and heavy scrutiny. Perhaps more clearly labeling JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time with a subtitle to the effect of “A Modern Incarnation of the Classic Superfriends” could have saved many a potential customer some grief and backlash. Going into the film with this ideal certainly makes the experience a lot more enjoyable. In fact, I’ve discovered a technique for achieving the ultimate satisfaction with this film: watch the two included Superfriends episodes on the disc first. Suddenly JLA’s weaknesses become a whole lot less glaring!
The reason for my 3-star rating then, as I vowed not to fault it for harking back to a simpler time in both society and superhero animation, stems from the fact that the release is fairly pricey (I paid $14.99 for it upon release) for a film that isn’t even quite an hour (not to mention devoid of special features/ commentaries & so on) and the fact that the ending is such where sequels are inevitable. This film absolutely reeks of its potential as a two-episode pilot for a weekly animated series, which truly makes one wonder if that’s not how it had been originally intended.
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