Thursday, August 11, 2016

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (animated film)

Voice Actors: Justin Chambers. C. Thomas Howell, Michael B. Jordan, Kevin McKidd

DC's animation has always been better than Marvels. I don't think that's really disputable and it goes all the way back to the days when Batman: The Animated Series went up with Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man and the others that were tossed an animated show back in the 90's. Their films have, as expected, been mixed, but I'd say there have been more hits than misses. Up to this point, they had all mostly been their own entities. After this point, they endeavored to connect them all a bit more in a loose continuity.

In a way, the Flashpoint Paradox ends up serving the same purpose it did in the comics, if not quite as directly; as a bridge between the old and the new.

The plot is a fairly basic messy alternative timeline tale. Barry Allen wakes up at his desk one day to find that everything has changed. His mother - murdered when he was still a boy - is alive, his wife Iris is married to someone else, Bruce Wayne died in the alleyway instead of his parents and his powers are missing. What's resulted is a dark, bleak alternative timeline where the world stands at the gate of annihilation due to a looming war between the forces of Wonder Woman and the forces of Aquaman, each ruler of their respective kingdoms. Flash has to find a way to figure out what happened and fix it before it's too late.

I like these kind of stories, typically, because you can go places you usually can't. That said, this tale, much like the comic it's based off of, goes a bit too far, in my estimation, and ends up feeling very much the opposite of what the DC universe should. It comes down to a lot of things that build to a whole and not any one thing.

The part that chaffes the most is that, in painting this bleak setting, this film - and the comic, really - went a little too far with the characters in this timeline. Of the groups we see, only a few are true heroes, not including The Flash. That's Cyborg and the people he associates with, including the Shazam kids. Everyone else has gone crazy loco to the point that it's hard to believe even the ripple effects in time surrounding a point of divergence would do this.

Wonder Woman, for instance, has gone full straw feminist, to the point of suggesting she might just kill off men at the climax of her fight with Aquaman. Speaking of Aquaman, he's now completely unreasonable and nuts on the level you might expect from his brother, Ocean Master. He has a doomsday device that sank a good portion of Europe in an attempt to strike at Wonder Woman and not only does he not care, he seems alright with the idea of sinking all of land right up until it's suggested using his doomsday weapon again might kill everything. Not even JLU Aquaman was this unreasonable, and when he first appeared he was kind of a prick.

Wonder Womans entire deal is compassion. I'm not even a huge fan of the character, but you're going to have a hard time convincing me she could go this far over much of anything. I have a hard time believing she'd just behead Mera amidst an assassination attempt and wear her crown like a trophy. I have a harder time believing she'd become the killer of kids, even if those kids could become Shazam with but a word. Seriously, she kills Billy Batson near the end.

There's also the case of the film alluding to - or showing in truncated form - a lot of the subplots and side stories the comic event had in its tie-ins. In some cases, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's all but outright stated that the loss of Bruce drove Martha Wayne insane, to the point she became this worlds Joker, but thankfully they don't try to waste everyones time showing the story of the tie-in in truncated form. Instead, it gives just enough hints to inform Thomas Waynes character and make you wish you could see that story without wasting time giving a version without proper attention. Lois Lanes "Resistance Fighter" plotline is given a few minutes, but manages to tie into the main plot by ultimately giving Flash a clue, so that's fine.

Others, however, are pointlessly done. There's a subplot about the US government trying to find and disable the doomsday weapon that ends up utterly pointless. It shows Deathstroke and what he did in truncated form, seeming to build that whole thing up, but 'Stroke doesn't get anywhere other than informing them where it is. Then Hal Jordan's the second part of this subplot, wrenching in his story from the tie-in miniseries. Only, oops, he can't get the job done. The US brass give up and hide at this point and Aquaman doesn't even bother to retaliate. At the climax, the weapon goes off. So we wasted a good ten to fifteen minutes trying to tie both in to the film in some way, ultimately going nowhere. The Superman arc doesn't fare much better; they rescue him mid film, he flies off, then he returns at the climax, fails to save Cyborg and ceases to be a part of the overall struggle. So, why even bring him into the film?

You could argue that it gives the world color, but you know, that's what the comic tie-ins were meant to do. Here, we're supposed to be adapting the main story and if the side stuff can't really be tied into that, there's no point. They could have cut twenty minutes of this movie, come up with ten minutes of original stuff to connect the dots more and get the runtime back up a bit and ultimately end up with a tighter movie.

But those are mostly problems with structure. They're not so glaring that they really kill the film. Plus, they could be fixed. No, the real problem with this film is the same problem the actual comic it's based on had.

This just isn't a very heroic story.

Spoilers Ahead.

As it turns out, the cause of the altered timeline isn't even the Reverse Flash, as we assume along with Barry. Nope, that's the twist. The culprit is actually Barry Allen. See, Barry went back in time to save his mother, but that one act unfortunately had a ripple effect, as Barrys run to change time caused some kind of sonic boom in time that threw everything off or something. Hence why everything went wrong.

Okay, so, not a big deal. Flash made a mistake, right? Heroes can do that. He can fix it. That's what the story is about.

The problem is Barry cannot even save the world he's in before he changes everything. To his credit, it's every bit his intention. He does not want to go back and fix the timestream until he's saved THIS world, because dammit, that's what heroes do. But he can't. Everything goes horribly wrong. The climax of the film is pretty much everyone dying in the big, final fight while Reverse Flash beats the crap out of Barry. Then, the doomsday device goes off and everything dies. The world is actually ending and Flash has to run fast enough to escape that, go back in time and stop all of it.

The climax of the film is constructed so that the world basically ends, the hero cannot save it and he actually has to run away from it and hope that changing the timeline means it never existed. That's your ending. The day is saved by the hero running away from doomsday, because he could not stop doomsday and ultimately accomplished nothing there, in the world his actions created. If there's an animated multiverse and that world split off and ended up one of them when the timeline was changed back, safe to say it's freaking gone.

Yeah. I don't know either, man.

You probably think I might hate this film by now. It would be a safe guess. The comic series itself wasn't one of my favorites for similar reasons. Yet, somehow, I kind of enjoyed this?

I'm not sure how, but I had a decent time watching it. Maybe it's just because it's hard to get me to hate something, I don't know, but there were good qualities, including the animation. The bookends were great too, with Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen interacting. The last scene, with Barry giving Bruce a message from his father, had some weight. The first scene had the Flash in top form, fighting some of his rogues and calling his friends for help in the League, who manage to handle the situation well. Batman shows a subtle moment of caring about Barrys well being. The action scenes were nice. The voice cast worked well, with some old school favorites returning to voice the role they - or in one instance, their father - are best known for; Sam Daly as Superman, Ron Perlman as Deathstroke, Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne, so on.

I don't know. It's not the best story and it's not a particularly heroic story, which I think is something DC really ought to play up more. But I had fun with it? It's hard to explain. It's troubled but still strangely enjoyable. You might still like it. Just be aware going in that it has problems. If it doesn't sound like your cup of tea - and I completely understand that - you won't miss anything if you give it a pass.

One last note. Despite the billing, this isn't really a Justice League film. It's very much a Flash movie in disguise. Maybe more of a team up film between the Flash, an alternate Batman and Cyborg, really. The actual Justice League, as a team, is only in the opening.

My Opinion: Skip It

Heartwarming Batman Moments: Reverse Flash basically tells Flash, at the end of the opening scene, that he can never save everyone or get the job done when it counts. Batman immediately moves to dismiss those words before they can get to Flash, saying the man is a sociopath who knows just how to get under your skin. When Barry still seems affected, Batman cares enough to ask Barry if he's okay. Later, when Barry gives him the letter from his father, he actually tears up a bit and tells Barry he's a hell of a messenger, which is obviously an unspoken "thank you".

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