Monday, August 12, 2013

"Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox" (2013)

Starring Justin Chambers, Kevin McKidd and Michael B. Jordan
Written by James Krieg
Directed by Jay Oliva
Rated PG-13 - Intense animated violence, language
Running Time: 81 Minutes

Barry Allen (Justin Chambers), also known as the Flash, has lived his life with only one regret: not having been able to save his mother when she was murdered while he was just a child. One night, after a confrontation with some of his greatest enemies, including Captain Cold, Heatwave and Mirror Master, Flash is taunted by a dark version of himself from the future, Professor Zoom (C. Thomas Howell). Batman (Kevin Conroy) tries to console him, but upset, Flash takes off running.

The next morning when he awakens, he finds the world has changed around him. He no longer has his speed powers, his wife is married to another man, and his mother is alive. But the world is in danger: A war has broken out between Aquaman's (Cary Elwes) Atlantis and Wonder Woman's (Vanessa Marshall) Themyscira, a war that has decimated Europe, killing billions and pitting the rest of the world on a collision course with armageddon.

Barry, desperate to figure out what has happened to the timeline, tracks down this world's version of Batman - Thomas Wayne (Kevin McKidd), Bruce's father. In this timeline, Bruce was the one shot by a mugger in an alley, leaving his grief-stricken parents to suffer. This version of Batman is a brutal killer, but still a genius and one of the world's greatest strategic minds. As such, he is courted to aid the United States government in the coming war with the Amazons and Atlanteans by Cyborg (Michael B. Jordan), who is attempting to gather a team of superhumans to avert catastrophe.

Flash realizes that he has only a little time to regain his powers, convince Batman to help him and change time back before war consumes the entire world to its bitter end.

I'm not hugely familiar with the Flash, aside from his affiliation with various Justice League cartoons and that brief 1990s live-action series starring the dad from "Dawson's Creek." I always enjoyed the animated version presented in "Justice League," excellently voiced by Michael Rosenbaum (though technically, that Flash was a different character named Wally West).

As such, some of the deeper knowledge of the character that might be referenced in this movie is beyond me. I only knew the names of his rogues gallery by the simple fact that the Flash himself names them in dialogue for the benefit of outsiders such as myself.

Still, "The Flashpoint Paradox" does a solid job making sure you're never lost, even if you might be missing some of the finer details. I've always been a sucker for alternate universe stories, seeing familiar characters twisted into strange new variations, and "Flashpoint Paradox" doesn't disappoint in this regard.

The script occasionally stumbles. It seems more interested in the tale of a dark alternate world coming to an end rather than Flash unraveling the mystery of how that world came to exist in the first place. Being a somewhat brief 80-minute animated feature, important plot developments are sometimes skimmed over with expository dialogue. And the movie seems to lose its focus a bit when Flash disappears for a good while to let us watch this brutal, older version of Batman doing his thing in a Gotham City dominated by glitzy neon casinos. There are a ton of cameos by a ton of DC characters, including alternate versions of familiar faces like Lois Lane (Dana Delaney), Steve Trevor (James Patrick Stuart), Captain Atom, Etrigan, and Deathstroke. There are even a few more obscure characters I'm not sure have ever been animated before, including Grifter.

The big thing that makes "Flashpoint Paradox" stand out in my mind compared to other DC animated offerings is its level of violence. As dark and brutal as "The Dark Knight Returns" was, "Flashpoint" exceeds it. There's a great deal of blood and harsh violence here, and "Flashpoint Paradox" really earns its PG-13 rating, more so than any of the previous DC animated movies in the series. There are a good number of gunshot wounds, stabbings, lost limbs, and more. When Flash, Batman and Cyborg rescue the alternate version of Superman (Sam Daly), the man goes wild and obliterates the military units sent to contain him - including using his heat vision to half-vaporize some of the men, leaving dark splatters against the ground.

The animation is well done, though some of the character designs are flat-out ugly. Aquaman, in particular, is pretty laughable with a tiny face drawn on a massive head. It can be very distracting, especially since the film is asking us to care about him and the reasons why he's waging war against Wonder Woman. Other characters fare better, such as Flash himself or the gaunt, malnourished alternate Superman. Female characters seem more realistically designed than male characters, with better proportions and facial designs.

I really dig alternate universe tales, so I was predisposed to enjoy this one. Even though the story is a bit muddled, it features a lot of great (if brutal) action sequences, and intriguing alternate takes on familiar heroes. This film's concept of the Joker is stunning, and even then only briefly alluded to; I'd love to see that tale brought to life.

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