|Posted: 02 April 2019 at 11:48am | IP Logged | 1
After the rather disappointing BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN I wasn't holding out much hope for a proper return to the DCAU Timm-verse.
Well, they delivered. It's not perfect but it's not the hot dumpster fire that's B&HQ either.
The real problem wth films like this is finding a story that actually requires 70min to be told -- apparently all of these DC direct to video films are rigidly restricted to this specific timeframe, probably for future broadcast timeslot reasons. For better or worse this changes how certain stories are told -- well known stories like THE KILLING JOKE are padded out with unnecessary bits (to the detriment of the source material) and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS got spread across two film installments which allowed the material to breathe. JLvFF strikes a good middle ground between expanded television episode versus needing more time to get it's story across.
As far as DCAU continuity goes there was some concern in fan quarters over whether this was going to be a proper Timm-verse film rather than something aping the art style or voice cast to make a quick buck -- and we've seen many disappointing examples of the latter (BRAINIAC ATTACKS, the woeful ARKHAM films). On the other hand B&HQ reminds fans to be careful what you wish for (especially openly online). You can have all the right ingredients including the original creator and still end up with a disappointing mess. Thankfully, JLvFF doesn't spend too much time dwelling on it's DCAU roots and serves as both a nice treat for Timm-verse fans and works as a stand-alone film for first-timers that isn't too bogged down in over 250 hours of TV show continuity.
In many ways it's the DCAU Green Lantern film we never got. Perhaps the most interesting addition to the canon is the acknowledgement of both Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner as Lanterns in the Legion's museum, Hal was previously seen in an alternate timeline and someone who looks like Guy makes a cameo in the STAS episode that introduced GL. There's a serviceable explanation for why John Stewart is absent from the story. I'm not familiar at all with Jessica Cruz but her story as a lantern is a compelling one and an interesting twist on the standard teen-gets-powers trope and a good focus for the story. It was nice to see some of the other alien lanterns again, particularly Kilowog (though it's unclear whether he survived).
Those wishing for some clarity on Legion continuity will be disappointed. They've been depicted as being variously from the 30th and 31st centuries with different team iterations. It's clear from the film the Legionaires and Fatal Five are from a time period before the 31st century events of "Far From Home" but neither Superman nor Batman acknowledge onscreen they've encountered the Legion before. Perhaps both characters know well enough not to ask any questions of time travellers -- Batman has previously pointed out in JLU "The Once and Future Thing" that knowing too much of your future (or a version of your future) tends to make you overthink your decisions in the present. It would have been nice to voice that onscreen, or at least mention Supergirl. Seems a wasted opportunity especially since Batman does get an involuntary look at the League's future through Ms. Martian's mind meld.
Not much to be said about DCAU League continuity. Both John Stewart and Hawkgirl are absent and explanations are given. We learn next-to-nothing about Ms. Martian and her role in the film is simply to round out the number of teenagers versus adults and conveniently provide a mind meld to push the plot along. We get no mentions of J'onn or how she's related to him (if at all). Wonder Woman is in fine form in this film as both a fighting powerhouse and a mentor/babysitter for Jessica and is the highlight of the film. Batman is Batman. Superman doesn't fare so well here. He gets beaten up, bleeds all over the place and ultimately fails to make a difference in the resolution of the plot. This isn't a problem isolated to just this film -- it's very hard to write Superman effectively in a team environment without making other team members redundant or depowering him to the point where he's constantly getting his ass kicked (as is painfully apparent in JL's first season). Mister Terrific is an interesting addition to the cast being a technology-based hero and holds his own in both the fights and in the smarts/tech needs of the story without crowding out the World's Greatest Detective.
The real meat of the story deals with the mental health issues of powerful heroes GL and Star Boy -- familiar ground for modern superhero comics but something not usually touched upon in animated adaptations for reasons of time or target demographic. The film deals with it in an even-handed and thoughtful manner without becoming too preachy. Jessica's anxiety and agorophobia are huge impediments for a superhero whose powers center around their imagination, courage and force of will. Wonder Woman is unable to relate to the situation and tries to motivate Jessica by forcing her to use her powers to defend herself -- exactly what someone from a society of self-assured warrior women would try. Wonder Woman's tough love method of "Just go out there and do it, what's the problem?" feeds into Jessica's anxieties and makes things worse. It's interesting that Jessica seeks therapy outside of the League and it's not stated they are aware she's seeking external help -- which opens a can of worms regarding League security and secret identities. I'm sure the League prefers to keep this stuff 'in house' but there's also the stigma of your teammates knowing you're having problems. Onscreen we've seen telepaths like J'onn brought in to deal with mental issues (eg. Wildcat) and I bet that's enough to scare most of the Leaguers into keeping mum about it or quietly seeking help on side like Jessica.
Batman has the opposite problem, he sees only the mental illness and not the person. Thom gets thrown in Arkham because that's become Bruce's standard method of dealing with anyone acting remotely odd. The irony of course is that Bruce never really deals with his own issues, even when Tim needed help with PTSD after the events depicted in RETURN OF THE JOKER. His "I didn't know you had powers" apology to Thom rings a bit hollow when you realize that Thom was put in an institution that was ill-suited to his needs and it would have been impossible for him to leave once admitted (look up anything on the Roseham experiment for how you can inadvertantly get into a situation like that). Super powers or not, there's a person under there and Batman does him a disservice by focusing only on his power and or the potential destructive effects of it. I'm sure if Batman had known the extent of Thom's power he would have been under the 'in house' care of the League which isn't much of an alternative. It's all the more tragic that it's Harvey Dent who recognizes Thom shouldn't be in Arkham (and is actively trying to help him) and not Bruce.
The subject of medication for mental health is brought up multiple times. Jessica asks her therapist for "some pills" but is refused showing that there are no easy one-step answers. Thom's situation is a bit more complicated as he needs medication that hasn't been discovered yet and his mental state deteriorates to the point where his condition is irreversible. It's no different than if he were a diabetic trapped in a time period before insulin. The film depicts a 31st century where they have space ships, time machines and flying cars yet mental health is still an ongoing concern -- that there are no magic solutions to be found there speaks volumes about a complicated issue with no one-size-fits-all solutions.
As good as the film is there are a couple of missteps:
Given the bad reception to the bawdy humor and foul language of B&HQ I'm surprised to see they still feel the need to add four letter words to a film extension of an all-ages television property. Granted, the S-word comes from Jessica who is meant to be a 'regular person' and not one of the squeaky clean Justice League founders but it sticks out like a sore thumb all the same. I'm reminded of when SPAWN became an HBO animated property and McFarlane took the road of having the characters swear every other word -- purely because they could and not for purposes of the story. It doesn't elevate the material but drags it down and in hindsight looks childish and amateur. It's kind of a love-hate thing with Bruce Timm properties -- we want to see more things in the DCAUniverse (if they are stories worth telling) but when Timm gets directly involved all sorts of inappropriate content creeps in that IMO degrades the value of the work. Perhaps his influence is best kept at arms length in an executive capacity.
The other troubling issue surrounds Star Boy's fate. The self-sacrificing individual is perhaps the oldest trope in heroic fiction and comic books are no stranger to the phenomenon. However, I think great care needs to be taken when the hero has obvious mental health problems as it borders on glorifying suicide/self harm rather than being superficial funnybook/animated fare where heroes can be resurrected in the next issue/episode. The problem with making an escapist medium like comics 'more realistic' is you also have to depict the consequences with equal realism which I don't believe many writers have the necessarily chops to pull off. If you open the doors to 'realistic' violence, sex, and mental health issues then you also need to address the long term negative effects. It's part of the reason why I tend to dislike modern comics and cartoons. These are things meant to entertain you and help you temporarily escape from reality, not duplicate it.
While I'm disappointed we didn't get some more cameos from JL characters (particularly the Flash) It's understandable for budgetary reasons we don't get too many voice actor cameos. There's a nice smattering of DCAU easter eggs throughout for the eagle-eyed but they aren't gratuitous. In fact, the two biggest easter eggs actually serve to enhance the story which is a rarity in these days when it's easier to pepper a movie with easter egg cameos rather than tell a coherent story.
A special mention goes out to Dynamic Music Partners (Lolita Ritmanis, Kristopher Carter, and Michael McCuistion) for the soundtrack, which gets just the right balance between doing something new and subtle callbacks to the theme songs of the earlier DCAU TV shows without being overwhelmingly nostalgic.
It's worth seeing if you are a fan of the DCAU. I hope this leads to more films or a new series set in this Universe. Keep Bruce Timm's fingers out of the pie as I think he's lost the plot regarding what constitutes 'all ages' entertainment.
Edited by Rob Ocelot on 02 April 2019 at 6:24pm