on 2 August 2013
"Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox" is a revelation. An all-too-rare gem of a film that goes to places with classic comic book superheroes you can't imagine any group of filmmakers would dare. It's one thing to read and see a story like this on the page. It's an entirely different thing to experience it on a visceral level as a motion picture.
Based upon the DC comics storyline "Flashpoint" by Geoff Johns, "The Flashpoint Paradox" is - at heart - an emotional, introspective journey centered on one of DC's lesser-known heroes, Barry Allen aka the Flash.
Screenwriter Jim Krieg skillfully manages to adapt most of Johns' main storyline while adding an original prologue that emotionally anchors the film in Barry Allen's tragic childhood loss of his mother, and the guilt he carries into his adult life in not having saved her life. Krieg has also scripted a smart, humorous and sophisticated opening action sequence involving the main Justice League characters. Like most great screenwriters, Krieg knows if you're going to deconstruct the most famous DC superheroes throughout your script, showing them as brutal vigilantes and ruthless killers for the balance the film, you better first give them all a moment to shine at their heroic best.
This is a time-travel story into an alternative universe, and following these opening scenes, Barry Allen awakes from dozing-off at his workstation to find a world inverted. DC's most enduring heroes are now the most violent, out-of-control threat the planet has ever faced.
Bruce Wayne was killed, not his parents. His father Thomas Wayne is the Batman, an alcoholic consumed by loss who dispatches his victims with a gun in each hand or a toss off a rooftop. Aquaman and Wonder Woman are at war, with the Amazons having invaded the UK, slaughtering millions, and turning it into their new Paradise Island. Kal-El didn't land in Kansas to be raised by the Kents. He instead crash landed in Metropolis, where he has been kept underground and experimented on by the government.
In 1985 when Alan Moore was developing the graphic novel "Watchmen," his intent was to utilize established superheroes from the Charlton Comics line that DC had just purchased. DC managing editor Dick Giodano vetoed the idea, concerned that depicting the characters in a "dysfunctional" manner, or showing them being killed off in the mini-series would hurt their `brand potential.'
The approach producer James Tucker, writer Jim Krieg and director Jay Olivia have taken in adapting "Flashpoint" is in many ways what Moore wanted to do with "Watchmen." Moore had reasoned "as long as readers recognized them (the characters) ... `it would have the shock and surprise value when you saw what the reality of these characters was.' " Or, in the case of "The Flashpoint Paradox," when you see what the reality of the characters are in a dark alternative universe.
While the alternate universe `versions' of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are the result of an anomaly in the `DC timeline,' seeing them commit graphic acts of violence and murder against each other, additional characters from the DC Universe, and a global mass populous elicits a very disturbing and shocking viewing experience. Like the DCUAOM release "Batman: The Dark Knight Rises Part 2," the level of graphic violence makes it inconceivable that the MPAA gave the film a PG-13 rating as opposed to a R rating.
But, let's be very clear on this point. Every moment of graphic violence, adult language and mature situations is VITAL to making this film work on a complex sophisticated level very much in the vein of Bryan Singer's two `X-MEN' films, Zach Snyder's adaptation of "WATCHMEN," and Christopher Nolan's `DARK KNIGHT' trilogy. This is a film for adults, not kids. To water it down is to destroy it artistically.
Like the "Watchmen" graphic novel and Zach Snyder's feature adaptation of it, "The Flashpoint Paradox" is a film for adults who aren't afraid to explore the dark notion proposed by Johns' "Flashpoint" series. A dark notion that "The Flashpoint Paradox" brings to full fruition with maximum emotional and intellectual impact. Namely, dark consequences would befall powerful superheroes and the world if one tragic twist of fate impacted their lives on a deeply traumatic emotional level.
The film is able to reach these heights thanks to just how far the creative team was prepared to go, and how high they were willing to claw their way up to reach.
Director Jay Olivia ("Batman: The Dark Knight Returns") knows how to do action - he was one of Zach Snyder's storyboard artists on "Man of Steel." With "The Flashpoint Paradox" he has deftly mixed multiple approaches in character design and animation techniques. Traditional anime, anatomic realism and exaggerated physique designs vary from scene to scene. This yields a wider range of emotions than the previous DCUAOMs Justice League titles have contained and explored, save "New Frontier." The results also pay-off in a higher level of kinetic energy in his action sequences. At times, all three animation approaches appear on screen at once - with the genius being it all rings true and works.
Legendary Casting and Voice Director Andrea Romano's work on the film yields phenomenal detail. Justin Chambers ("Grey's Anatomy") delivers the best Barry Allen/The Flash performance in a DCUAOM since Neil Patrick Harris portrayed the character in 2008's "Justice League: The New Frontier." Chambers' balances a newfound level of gravitas for Barry Allen with the humor that has always been a key element of the character.
C. Thomas Howell buries himself in the roll of Professor Zoom, and its obvious he had a ball playing the film's central villain. Michael R. Jordan (currently starring in "Fruitvale Station") walks the line between sincerity and naivety as Cyborg without ever giving into being less than the best soldier the US has. Cary Elwes ("The Princess Bride," "Saw") gives a majestic, bold and tense presence to his role as Aquaman.
Towering above them all is Kevin McKidd (also from "Grey's Anatomy") as Thomas Wayne, aka Flashpoint Batman. Disillusioned, cynical, unpredictable and violent, McKidd's performance is laced with both overt and repressed rage throughout. Yet, he hits great beats of humor and pathos.
This time out, the detail in Romano's Casting Work is amazing. Both "Batman," "Superman" and "Justice League" animated series veterans Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany and Nathan Fillion are back in their roles as Batman, Lois Lane and Green Lantern. The fact their appearances are virtually cameos didn't deter her from getting them. More importantly, their performances add just as much as the lead actors' do to the overall artistry of the piece as a phenomenal example of `Ensemble Acting' in an Animated Motion Picture. Romano even managed to get Ron Perlman ("Pacific Rim," "Hellboy") and Danny Huston ("Hitchcock," "Wrath of the Titans") to take very minor roles.
Getting Conroy back was of vital creative importance for the film's final and very emotional closing scene. It's worth crediting his loyalty to DC Animation that he recognized, for this film, his small contribution was major.
Frederik Wiedmann's original score must be given its due as well. Rich and layered with textures specifically designed for the emotional range of the film, Wiedmann also delivers distinct themes for the Amazons, Aquaman's army, the Flash, and Flashpoint Batman. Here's hoping when Christopher Drake isn't available to score future DCUAOMs, Wiedmann gets the assignments.
Finally, DC Animation Supervising Producer James Tucker must be acknowledged for his courage and artistic integrity in backing the film's daring content and artistic achievement.
His statements to the press upon replacing Bruce Timm as the DC Animation Supervising Producer made it clear that DCUAOMs were headed in a new, commercial direction. No longer would direct adaptations of graphic novels be done as DCUAOMs ("Batman: Year One," "The Dark Knight Returns"), and `brand names' like `Justice League' would be embraced as vehicles to introduce new characters. After DC Animation's announcement that two `Justice League' titles in 2013 would be followed by two `Batman' titles in 2014, it seemed DC Animation was possibly being co-opted by the Warner Bros. Live Action division to support and promote their plans for a JLA film, along with Zach Snyder's challenge in rebooting Batman for his "Man of Steel" sequel.
However, if "Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox" is indicative of how Tucker plans to meld any potential Warner-Bros. mandated commercialism and cross-promotion of DCUAOMs with his team still taking huge creative risks and maintaining the artistic integrity of DCUAOMs, Tucker is truly taking DC Animation and their films into a new, exciting and subversive direction for fans.
If the upcoming "Justice League: War" and "Batman and Son" are as daring, uncompromising, challenging and adult as "Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox," James Tucker will have initial nay-Sayers like myself eating crow and crying `mea-culpa' pretty damn fast.