Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
Warner Bros. Animation / DC Entertainment
Directed by Jay Oliva
Written by Jim Krieg
Based on Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert
Starring: Justin Chambers (Barry Allen / The Flash), Kevin McKidd (Thomas Wayne / Batman), Michael B. Jordan (Victor Stone / Cyborg), C. Thomas Howell (Eobard Thawne / Professor Zoom), Nathan Fillion (Hal Jordan / Green Lantern), Ron Perlman (Slade Wilson / Deathstroke), Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Dana Delany (Lois Lane), Cary Elwes (Aquaman), Vanessa Marshall (Wonder Woman), Danny Huston (General Sam Lane), Sam Daly (Superman)
It’s been a momentous week for the Flash, what with news of a live action series in development at the CW and a truly terrific Flash Annual from Brian Buccellato, Sami Basri, Nicole Dubuc and Cully Hamner. It also the release of Barry’s first big role in a DC Entertainment animated feature with Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. Charming Grey’s Anatomy alum Justin Chambers capably dons the golden booties, but his debut sprint is beset by too many structural hurdles in this muddled adaptation of an admittedly flawed comics event.
Flashpoint was never my favorite Goeff Johns story, probably because the level of communication between writers at the big publisher never really afforded any kind of cohesion in a jam session of this hurly burly scope. Historically, these tie-ins were also heaved out during a time when many of DC’s top talents were already hard at work on the early issues of the New 52 catalog, leaving the scripting of several Flashpoint mini series to first-timers and editors. It was certainly an ambitious event, but then so was the Children’s Crusade. That’s harsh, probably. Several trappings of the Flashpoint narrative, from a sea-fairing Deathstroke and the delightfully bizarre Canterbury Cricket, to Lois Lane working as a resistance fighter in the fallout of Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s doomed dalliance, all make for thrilling Elseworld escapades. Unfortunately, it was a bona fide mixed bag that only feels murkier as a 75 minute feature. Flash, Cyborg and Thomas “Batman” Wayne’s quest to find this alternate reality’s Superman, the through line for this yellow brick road story, frequently gets lost in all the schizophrenic pans left and right to the tangental conflicts. Casting Barry’s evolving memories as the lens for all this overzealous world building makes little sense, and as a result the Flashpoint reality comes off as busy rather than rich. Simply put, there’s too much material begging for our interest.
Worse, some of the bigger moments, Barry deducing Flashpoint Batman’s true identity for example, read as dishonest because sufficient screen time wasn’t allotted. It’s like watching the “Previously On…” recap package at the head of a TV drama’s season finale. “Bwuh?”
That’s not to say it’s a total wash. Fortunately or, really, unfortunately, The Flashpoint Paradox offers some of the direct-to-video line’s slickest character models and animation, especially during action set pieces. The mature anime influence hasn’t been felt so acutely since the Green Lantern: Emerald Knights anthology, or perhaps even earlier with Batman: Gotham Knights. The ocean battle atop Deathstroke’s ship and the closing melee between, well, everybody, look particularly impressive and fluid. An early rooftop fight between Batman and Yo-yo also makes excellent use of sound. It’s a visual style I particularly enjoy, but even I was put off by some of the more severe character models. Thomas Wayne, Professor Zoom and Flashpoint Aquaman suffer from curious bee-stung jowls. Then again, the severity often works in the film’s favor, as with the ghoulishly gaunt Flashpoint Superman. The very image is downright haunting, and it adds to a truly unnerving third act.
The filmmakers present a grim vision of the DC Universe as it could have been, an appropriately scary and violent world. Their success in this endeavor serves as a double edged sword of course. I was deeply affected and convinced that Barry needed to remedy this dire status quo, but it’s such an accomplished feat that I’m reluctant to revisit this movie any time soon. It’s the Requiem for a Dream conundrum.
Then again, I may enjoy the prologue caper featuring Flash and the Justice League as they take on my beloved Flash rogues, then shut off the feature before the main titles hit. Or at least skip to the wonderful final moment between Bruce and Barry.
(out of 5)