Tuesday, January 27, 2015

'Justice League: Throne of Atlantis' review

I'll give DC Comics Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation credit: They have been committed to DC's New 52 continuity and its stories.

Unfortunately for consumers and fans, that means we're missing out on seven decades of great stories. And to be brutally honest, despite what DCE wants you to believe, there haven't been a whole lot of great New 52 stories that will stand the test of time. (More on that after this review.)

The newest DC animated movie, "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis" (out today), continues the events established in the "Justice League: War" feature.

Essentially, "Throne of Atlantis" is the next adventure of the newly formed New 52-era superhero group — at least as far the animated continuity goes. Just to keep you up to speed: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Cyborg and Shazam make up the roster.

"Throne of Atlantis" attempts to maintain what little schtick that started in "War," most noticeably Green Lantern despising Batman and trying to show up the Dark Knight. Nathan Fillion once again shines as the mouthy Lantern while Jason O'Mara is back for this third time as Batman (and yet again sounds like a weak sister version of Bruce Greenwood's Dark Knight from "Batman: Under The Hood" and the sadly short-lived "Young Justice" animated series). But in the end, the talented voice actors can't save a poorly executed script. As a result, the Green Lantern-Batman rivalry has no spark.

Superman plants a kiss on Wonder Woman early in "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis."
Also lacking any spark is the Superman-Wonder Woman love story, which could have used a kick in the pants from a more fiery Lois Lane and a jealous b****-fest between the reporter and Wonder Woman. I can understand Supes (admirably voiced by Jerry O'Connell) falling for a strong woman like the Amazon Princess, but the story could have used a bit more time developing their attraction to each other.

As you might tell from the subtitle, "Throne of Atlantis" is an Aquaman origin story. Half man and half Atlantean, Arthur Curry learns more about his origins.

Sadly, "Throne of Atlantis" simply isn't a compelling story. This could have been a tale in which Curry struggles with his double heritage. The coup by his brother (Ocean Master) in Atlantis is a situation ripe with family strife and strained allegiances. But none of that happens and such potent subplots aren't addressed.

To make matters worse, the dialogue is ripped straight out of the worst scripts for poor adaptations of superhero stories. Sam Witwer's delivery of Orm Curry/Ocean Master's lines is nothing short of cringe-inducing.

I've always said that even the content of contemporary cartoons/animated projects should respect the audience's intelligence — whether it's adults, teens or children. To be blunt, the "Throne of Atlantis" script is dumbed down, to the point that any age viewer is likely to roll his or her eyes.

Ocean Master as seen in DC Comics.
An even more egregious faux pax is the story doesn't play by the rules set in the DC Universe. One of the biggest rules is Superman is the strongest person around; so how is it that Ocean Master can use his trident to actually emit an electric shock that the Man of Steel actually feels? And what's up with the baddie suddenly being able to flip Superman around like a rag doll?

Much like the Disney XD animated series, "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.," "Throne of Atlantis" boats an amazing amount of voice talent. (Kudos again to voicing director Andrea Romano!) The cast is top-notch and these actors have a lot of collective experience doing voice work: O'Mara, Fillion, O'Connell, Rosario Dawson (again voicing Wonder Woman), Christopher Gorham (back as The Flash), Sean Astin (who is unrecognizable, but spot-on as the "golly gee!"-Billy Batson take on Shazam), Shemar Moore (the "Criminal Mind" star once again gives Cyborg — by far, my least favorite Justice Leaguer — some nice gravitas) and George Newbern (who did Superman in the "Justice League Unlimited" series who now is voicing Col. Steve Trevor). Sadly similar to "Agents of S.M.A.S.H.," this cast's acting pedigree is much more impressive than this product. Grade: C

The Flash does his super-speed thing.
One more thing: As I've already mentioned, WB/DCE is committed to its New 52 take on its classic characters — down to the same animated style from "Justice League: War" and even the collar on Superman's costume (which annoys my girlfriend) and the useless chin straps on the costumes of The Flash and Batman (which annoys me). DCE has put an exclamation point on that with the last several animated movies.

Pretty soon though, DC will run out of New 52 stories to tell. (After all, the company-wide reboot is slightly less than 3 1/2 years old!) While that may be "bad" as far as the publisher's commitment and business plan to emphasize/focus on its still relatively new continuity, the good news is there are dozens upon dozens of stories from the previous/classic continuity to choose from that could be the basis for future animated movies.

The truth be told, the delightfully entertaining, but still serious-minded "Batman: Assault on Arkham" has been the best of the bunch when it comes to the animated flicks set in the New 52 world. The "Justice League" installments, "War" and now "Throne of Atlantis," and even the last Batman solo feature, "Son of Batman," have lacked that certain zing the previous movies have.

And to be even more blunt, that's an ugly trend.

So here's my bottom-line message to The Powers That Be at DC, let's see more of those classic, pre-New 52 stories being adapted into DC Universe Animated Original Movies. I can't be the only fan who wants to see those adventures getting a new life. Those are the stories worth telling.

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