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Josh Reviews Justice League: Throne of Atlantis

February 23rd, 2015
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I had read that DC was planning on creating a new continuity amongst some of their animated films (while still continuing to release some one-shot, stand-on-their-own films like Assault on Arkham) that would parallel the newly-relaunched “New 52” DC Universe in the comics.  Justice League: War was the start of this new animated continuity (fitting since that film adapted the story by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee that launched the “New 52” DC Universe), and the next film, Son of Batman, maintained the look and voice cast with Jason O’Mara as Batman.  Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is the third film in this new continuity, but I was surprised that many members of the voice cast were changed since War.  Nathan Fillion, who has voiced Green Lantern so wonderfully in many previous DC animated films, is back as the character (replacing Justin Kirk from War).  Michelle Monaghan is out as Wonder Woman, replaced by Rosario Dawson (who, interestingly enough, had a supporting role as Artemis in the Wonder Woman stand-alone animated film from 2009).  Alan Tudyk is also out as Superman, replaced by Jerry O’Connell (who has also previously appeared in these DC animated films, playing Shazam in Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam from 2010).  Lastly Shemar Moore is out as Cyborg, replaced by Sean Patrick Thomas.

Most of these changes are definite steps up.  I love Alan Tudyk, but he was terribly miscast as Superman in War.  And while I thought Justin Kirk did well as Green Lantern, Nathan Fillion is way better.  I am surprised by all these changes and wonder what the behind-the-scenes story is.  I am particularly surprised that they are using Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, since I thought the intention with these new films was to really set themselves apart from the previous ones.  But I’m not complaining.  These voice changes are a big step in the right direction of correcting some of the many problems with Justice League: War.  (Though of course this begs the question: if they’re OK using Mr. Fillion again, then why can’t we also bring back Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, and the other great voices from the classic DC animated series and films from the past???)

Throne of Atlantis is a loose adaptation of one of the early story-lines of the Justice League in the relaunched “New 52” DC Universe, written by Geoff Johns.  In both the comics and the film, the story focuses on a conflict over who will rule the undersea realm of Atlantis, which eventually spills over into a battle between the warriors of Atlantis and the surface world.  Here in the animated film, the story also serves as an introduction of the character of Aquaman (because, in the animated adaptation of War, Aquaman was replaced by Shazam).

I found this Justice League storyline in the comics to be fairly forgettable, and unfortunately this animated adaptation is just as mediocre.  My favorite aspect of this adaptation comes in the first thirty minutes, in which we get a number of little scenes and moments that show that, despite the Justice League heroes coming together at the end of War, the characters really haven’t formed any sort of team.  I like these additions (which were not part of the original story from the comics), as I like what these scenes do to create a smooth sense of continuity between these films.  And many of the moments are clever, an interesting way to show that these strong-willed characters wouldn’t easily mesh into a team.  That’s a clever and interesting approach.

Unfortunately, there’s not much else that I can highlight in Throne of Atlantis that is praiseworthy.  The whole story is so familiar, so rote.  How many times have I seen or read an Aquaman story that centers on a misunderstanding leading to almost-war with the surface world?  There’s nothing new or exciting here in this version.  The plot “twists” that happen concerning the leadership of Atlantis are painfully predictable.  There is no drama here, no excitement, no emotion.  (The death of Aquaman’s mother, mere moments before the two — who have been separated for Aquaman’s whole life — are reunited, should be a heartbreaking scene, but it falls entirely flat.  Just a minute or two afterwards, Aquaman is cracking jokes as if nothing happened.)  This version of Aquaman is perfectly fine, nothing wrong here, but not strong enough or interesting enough to hand a whole film on.  The Justice League characters themselves have very little to do in the story’s second half, they are mostly bystanders to the action.

The animation is fine.  Nothing embarrassing here, but nothing spectacular either.  As I have commented in my reviews of the last few DC animated films, I do not at all care for these character designs.  They’re uninspired and flat, and that doesn’t help the animation.

I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes of these DC animated features.  Are they satisfied with the quality of these productions?  Are they really not aiming any higher than this?  The potential for these animated story-lines is unlimited.  They are not bound by the practical realities of movie-making, they should be able to completely capture the unbridled imagination of comic books at their greatest.  And with decades of amazing DC Comics stories upon which to draw, every single one of these animated films should be based on the very best story-lines that have ever been written for these characters.  I simply do not understand why these animated films have fallen into such a pit of mediocrity.

Here’s hoping the next one will be better.

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