Thursday, April 25, 2019
Animation Watch: Justice League vs The Fatal Five (2019)
Aside from Justice League Action and Young Justice, I have a hard time getting excited for the DC animation films or shows. While a country mile better than Marvel's cartoons and their paceless plotting (but kudos as their animation has finally caught up), with the end of Brave and the Bold and the hard pivot with Flashpoint, DC decided the only thing to do was aim squarely at 22 year olds and everyone else could go @#$% themselves.
The character redesigns to the dour stories and characterizations, minus Andrea Romano making sure it sounded like the actors weren't just reading pages off a piece of paper, the change in DC Animation a few years back was precipitous and depressing, even if it meant I could save a few bucks and not buy or rent the movies anymore. Eventually I basically stopped watching anything that wasn't just a Superman film.
Of course I was in my 20's when Justice League arrived and my early 30's when Justice League Unlimited came on the scene. I'll always have a warm spot in my heart for those shows, as well as the Timm-verse of Batman and Superman shows. So I was pretty excited to see Justice League vs The Fatal Five (2019) show up as a coming offering. In continuity with the old show (I guess), it would bring the 31st Century to our doorstep by sending us Legionnaire Starboy along with Legion of Super-Heroes villains, The Fatal Five.
The problem is: this movie isn't very good.
I didn't realize until the film was underway (watched on the DCUniverse app) that the crew behind the scenes was the same one with their own jenky New52-infused continuity and storytelling sensibilities picking up the corpse of the Justice League from a decade or so back and using it like a marionette. So, if you were longing to hear the Justice League from Cartoon network use swears, see blood splatter in flat 2D, and watch a beloved GL get murdered as a throw-away plot point: have I got your movie!
Add in not one, but two! cases of really off-base storytelling around mental illness (not that comics ever handled this well, let's be honest), a deus-ex-machina ending that makes no sense, and absolutely stilted and bland portrayals of the rest of the League... On the mental-health question: I don't think we can't have characters with the issues seen in the movie, but let's be honest - this film, in its presented form, does not demonstrate the storytelling chops or maturity to do either the characters or situations justice. You can do those things, but you need to be good at what you're doing.
As near as I can tell, someone at WB noticed a flagging in popularity of the New 52-style animated features and a continuing fanbase for the old-skool Justice League stuff and decided to see if they could somehow bring that stuff back to life. Well, the thing is... you also need the people who caught lightning in a bottle to make that work. Dwayne McDuffie is not going to write you anymore scripts. JM DeMatteis wasn't on this one. The wonder and danger of the Legion stuff is tacked on and lifeless, the Justice League appears as a diminished squad of middle-aged parental figures without much to do or say, the Fatal Five are genericized into anonymous baddies defined by their looks (I mean, they get no mileage out of Validus. How does that even happen?) but who may all have had the same voice actor, Oa is... more or less abandoned. And what the animated series had done to create location specificity between Metropolis and Gotham is dumbed down to "those are buildings".
There were probably two different movies that could or should have happened here - one about Jessica Cruz, DC's newest and least defined Lantern (I don't read her series and in Justice League she was 'the slightly nicer Lantern'), and the other about Starboy coming to the 21st Century. Introducing and co-mingling the mythologies of the Lanterns and Legion is... a lot, and this team didn't do either any favors.
Honestly, at some point I just sort of tuned out. Hearing Starboy mutter 5th generation Morrison-knock-off dialog was not my bag, and hearing him keep saying 'Limelight! Limelight!"* was... annoying. Especially as it basically had no payoff. It doesn't seem that's Cruz's new hero-name or anything.
There is a curious bit of excellent animation right at the finale of the film, like, out of the blue. From a technical standpoint, I was pretty impressed, but... man. Did not redeem much.
I'll be honest - I started tuning out during the intro to Jessica Cruz when a cartoon that used to be for all-ages decided to show people getting executed gangland style as part of a dream/ flashback/ origin story. I had no idea what was happening, and was, frankly, kinda just grossed out. I'm not a delicate flower by any stretch, but... c'mon. There were a half-dozen ways to do that scene, convey that same info and not try to prove to your parents that, look, ma! I'm watchin' films fer grown-ups!
Don't make me start checking to make sure Sam Liu isn't at the helm before I choose to watch a @#$%ing Super Friends cartoon. This isn't storytelling, it's just reassembling parts of stuff other people did better and then demonstrating a failure of artistry and imagination. If you're going to reassemble Justice League, you're going to need to try a lot harder than this.
I guess this is part of what was in the pipeline leftover from Diane Nelson when DC was telling everyone not a male between 18-25 to go @#$% themselves. Here's to a pivot and reminder as to what and who these stories are about and for.
*look, we all @#$%ing know limes are green and what light is. So as a clue, it was pretty lame. But "limelight" is pretty specific in its meaning. We all recognize it as "being in the spotlight", and it derives from the days when you burned a type of lime (a mineral) to produce a brilliant light for illuminating stage shows. This lime, btw, is not actually green.
The term is usually used in context with "seeking the limelight", etc... as in one seeking accolades or fame, and that has nothing to do with who Cruz is pitched as. In short - it only sorta works if you're counting on words not having meaning and people who read comics being otherwise culturally illiterate, which... fair enough