The New Frontier
- Rated PG-13
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Will Harris
he problem with trying to successfully translate comic books into live-action motion pictures has always been a balance of the economic and the creative. You’ve got to have the money to make the drawings on the page come to life on the screen, and you’ve got to walk the tightrope of changing the look of things so they don’t appear completely laughable when translated into a real-world setting.
Alas, the problem is that some properties are only viable in animation, and when you think “animated superheroes,” you think “something for the kids.” The only real exception that leaps to mind is HBO’s “Spawn” series; otherwise, you’re looking mostly at shows that air on Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons. Recently, however, both DC Comics and Marvel Comics have been easing into their attempts to bring some of their best-known stories to life without sacrificing their more mature elements. The results have been promising, so there was reason to be excited about the adaptation of Darwyn Cook’s award-winning miniseries, “DC: The New Frontier,” into a full-length animated feature that focused predominantly on the formation of the Justice League of America.
Indeed, most comic book fans who approach “Justice League: The New Frontier” will be quite pleased with the way the series has been adapted. The problem, however, will be swaying those who can’t bring themselves to think of superheroes as serious business.
It isn’t as though there aren’t serious goings-on to be had. “The New Frontier” is a reference to when the film takes place: in the post-WWII era, when accusations of communism were running rampant and nuclear war always seemed to be just one push of the button away. As things begin, it’s clear that superheroes are few and far between, with those who worked during the war mostly retired and the new generation only just starting out. Superman (Kyle MacLachlan) and Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless) are essentially government agents. Batman (Jeremy Sisto) rules Gotham City in such a terrifying manner than he breaks down and finds a teen partner just to remind himself that he started trying to scare criminals, not children. Meanwhile, new heroes are making their way to the forefront, including the Flash (Neil Patrick Harris), Green Lantern (David Boreanaz), and the Martian Manhunter (Miguel Ferrer), all of whom eventually team up to form a fighting force of unparalleled might.
That’s the simple version of the story. What you need to appreciate about “The New Frontier,” however, is that it’s a deep character study. We meet test pilot Hal Jordan long before he becomes Green Lantern, and we watch what he goes through in his life before finally getting his power ring, including surviving the downing of his fighter jet only to land in a trench alongside an enemy soldier. We see Superman serving his country in an attempt to do what’s right, only to wonder if the government even knows what’s right anymore. Similarly, we find the Flash getting so perturbed at governmental intervention that he retires from fighting crime altogether. Perhaps most illuminating is the plight of the so-called Martian Manhunter, who is accidentally transported to Earth and, after being left stranded, learns way more about humanity than he ever imagined. Rest assured, it isn’t all good.
But will mainstream audiences accept a serious animated superhero feature? Well, from my personal perspective, I tried to watch it with my wife and mother-in-law. While they eventually found it interesting enough that they watched it in its entirety, it must be said that there was much chuckling and giggling when they couldn’t accept this plot point or that. It wouldn’t surprise me if that response greeted “New Frontier” in places other than my living room. But the important thing is that the target audience – comic book fans – will be psyched to see that the flick is true to Cooke’s original vision. Let us hope all of DC’s future adaptations prove so successful.
Special Features: What you get will depend on which version of the set you decide to invest in. Bullz-Eye received the single-disc version and thrilled to an extremely enjoyable documentary tackling the entire history of the Justice League in the comics. Also included are two separate audio commentaries (one for the director, screenwriter and producers, the other solely for Cooke), as well as a sneak peek of the next DC animated feature, “Batman: Gotham Knight.” The 2-disc version, meanwhile, includes two additional featurettes: “The Legion of Doom” and “Comic Book Commentary,” as well as three bonus episodes of “Justice League Unlimited.” Having not seen the featurettes, we can’t really speak to how good they are, but we’ll gladly go on the record as saying that “JLU” is awesome.