Saturday, August 3, 2013

Animated Discussion: Justice League- The Flashpoint Paradox

Flashpoint was the last crossover of the pre-New 52 DC Universe, the story that lead into the reboot of the DC Universe, so the idea of an animated adaptation of it struck me as something of an odd choice. Without all the continuity leading up to it and spinning out of it, exactly what would be the point of the story. I'm pleased to say that screenwriter James Krieg was able to take the best parts of Geoff Johns's story and streamline it into an action packed movie.

The Flashpoint Paradox, while bannered as a Justice League story, is really a Flash story. This is probably because of sales, since the sales on the DC Animated films not Batman, Superman, or Justice League have been less than stellar. Still, this story sees Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, awaken in an altered reality, one much darker than the world he remembers. He travels the planet, meeting different versions of the heroes and villains he has known, and trying to find a way to get the timestream back on track, before either his memories of the real world fade away or the world is obliterated in the war between the Atlanteans and the Amazons.

One of the main problems with Flashpoint as a comic was that it never seemed to find its pace: it meandered often, giving little nods to its massive number of tie-ins, and at other times sped through scenes that would have been interesting and given the reader a better feeling for the characters who were central to the story. Putting it into animation with a limited amount of time really allowed a writer to look at what was important and tell a solid story about the Flash and Batman (or this world's Batman) teamed up and trying to save the world. It also removes some of the very complicated, hard continuity, making a story that doesn't revolve heavily around a detailed knowledge of the Flash, Reverse Flash, and their rivalry and power sets.

While other of the DC Animated films have shown violence that they couldn't get away with on broadcast television, cable or not, Flashpoint Paradox takes that to a new dimension. The battle scenes between the Amazons and the Resistance and the Atlanteans are intense, with plenty of blood and clear death. The final battle especially, a major throwdown between Wonder Woman, Shazam, and Aquaman, is shocking in how brutal it is, with the death of the participants being something you don't see in a lot of animation. The final fate of the Reverse Flash is one of the more graphic animated moments I've ever seen, and frankly I don't quite know how they pulled off a PG-13.

While I try not to talk too much about plot in these Animated Discussions features when I'm talking about an adaptation, I really have to spend a little time discussing the alternate Batman. The Batman of this world is not Bruce Wayne, you see. Bruce Wayne died in the alley that fateful night. Batman is now Thomas Wayne, Bruce's father, who is a much darker Batman. He has no problem with guns and with killing villains.But the beautiful thing is that, when the chance comes to change time to save his son, despite his own death, he doesn't blink. While the world of Flashpoint is a seriously dark one, there are hints of hope that weave through it, mostly thanks to Barry Allen's coming, and so it's nice to see that no matter how dark the world, a batman will always take the part of saving an innocent.

The animation style in this feature is by far the most anime influenced of any of the previous DC Animated films. I spent a while trying to picture exactly where I had scene this style before, and by the middle it hit me: it is very similar to the sci-fi noir anime called Big O. It feels like a mix of Batman: The Animated Series with more traditional anime, with very taut action and great movement, with character designs that have an anime design. I know that some people are turned off by the anime style, but it very much works with this film, and its strange, otherworldly version of the DC Universe.

I was also pleased with the voice acting in the film. With the DC Animated features that have mostly new casts, there is a concern that they won't hit the right notes when so many of the characters have established voices in other works. One of the pluses of the alternate world setting is allowing those changes to be part of the setting. Kevin McKidd does an amazing job as Thomas Wayne/Batman making the voice both recognizable as Batman, with that typical growl that everyone since Kevin Conroy (who does appear as the "real universe" Batman, by the way) has used, but giving it the wait of age that would come through with Thomas. Justin Chambers's Barry Allen fits in both of the worlds, filled with the hope he symbolizes in the Flashpoint-Earth and a part of the Justice League in the real one. And C. Thomas Howell's Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash, is perfect, a complete madman whose voice drips with that insanity and with an arrogance that fits Zoom's character.

Flashpoint Paradox isn't a film for everyone. The violence and the hanging cloud of hopelessness are going to turn off some viewers. But if you make it through to the end, there is much to be said about hope in it. Even moreso than the actual ending of the comic, the chance for Barry to be reunited with his love, Iris, something that the altered comic universe didn't allow, is a heartwarming moment. And the final scene between Barry and Bruce Wayne, taken pretty much word for word from that final scene in the comic, shows that even the darkness can give a hint of light that no one ever expected.

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