Monday, 19 September 2016

Film Review - 'Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox'

For the more casual fans of DC's comic-book universe, the 'New 52' reboot that occurred a few years ago must have been a somewhat confusing event (even if it wasn't the first time that something like this happened in the DC Universe - or, it seems, was it the last). The basic reasoning behind that reboot was fairly straight-forward, though - with it being seen as an opportunity to wipe away years of increasingly convoluted story-line continuity, and to start over.

Setting aside the issue of whether this major reboot was actually worthwhile, in the end, it was still fairly obvious that it would take a pretty major event to justify its occurrence - and, that event was 'Flashpoint'. It was 'Flashpoint' that was supposed to bring the old DC Universe to an end, and to explain how a new (very similar, though still very different) DC Universe could come to take its place - and, it is 'Flashpoint' that serves as the basis for what might be one of DC's most entertaining animated films, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. Although, given the scope of the 'Flashpoint' event in the comics, it should also be fairly obvious that this film goes about adapting the story in a very condensed manner.

Despite the reference to the Justice League in the film's title, though, one thing that should become clear right from the start is that this is a film which is actually all about the Flash. It's his story, and he is the hero - and, the film's primary villain also happens to come directly from his own unique 'rogue's gallery'. It's not that this is any sort of problem for the film, of course - I just found it to be a little strange. Honestly, there is no reason (other than the 'brand-name' appeal of the Justice League, I suppose) why the film couldn't have just been called The Flashpoint Paradox. In the end, it just gave the impression that the people behind this film just weren't all that confident in the Flash's ability to draw an audience's attention on his own. Although, one thing that this film also manages to prove, early on, is that the Flash is a character who is actually perfectly capable of carrying an entire film, on his own.

After a close encounter with the combined forces of his entire rogue's gallery, Barry Allen wakes to find that the world around him as changed in a very profound way. His mother, who had been murdered when he was little more than a child, is now alive and well. His wife is married to another man. There are persistent rumours of a terrible war that is threatening to consume the entire world. And, strangest of all, Barry no longer possesses the powers which make him 'The Flash'. In fact, no one has even heard of his super-hero identity before.

Something has happened which has drastically altered the time-line, leaving Barry trapped and powerless in a world that isn't his own. So now, with no idea how this could have happened and with nowhere else to turn, Barry travels to Gotham City to seek out help from an old ally - Batman.

Of course, this isn't the Batman that we all know and love. He uses guns, for one thing - and, he doesn't seem to share the same aversion to killing that Batman is typically known for. As it turns out, it isn't even Bruce Wayne beneath the cowl, in this new time-line. Instead, events have been somehow changed so that it was actually the young Bruce Wayne who was killed in that attempted mugging, all those years ago - leaving a grief-stricken father, Thomas Wayne, to take up his own mission as a much more violent Dark Knight. This new Batman is, naturally, suspicious of Barry Allen, and his bizarre claims - but, in the end, Barry is able to convince the Dark Knight to give him a chance to prove himself.

In this strange new time-line, also, the young orphan from a distant world, Kal-El, never crash-landed on a farm in Kansas, to be taken in by a kindly couple - instead, being snatched by the American government, and subjected to a life-time of tests and experimentation. Hal Jordan never received the ring which would grant him the powers of the Green Lantern. And, most importantly, neither Wonder Woman or Aquaman left went on to become the heroes that they should have been - instead, going on the become the rulers of their respective kingdoms, who are now locked in a war that threatens to tear the world apart.

With so many of the world's greatest heroes lost in this strange new time-line, it has fallen to Cyborg to step forward - trying desperately to stop the rapidly escalating war between Wonder Woman's Amazon warriors and Aquaman's Atlanteans, before the damage that they threaten to unleash becomes irreversible. And, trapped and powerless in this new reality, Barry Allen has little choice but to try to recreate the accident that originally gave him his own abilities, so that he can become the Flash once more - and, hopefully, find some way to set things right.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is a surprisingly dark, and often very violent, film. It is, perhaps, the most violent of any of DC's line of animated films, in fact - and, it most definitely isn't a film suitable for younger viewers. it is almost as though the entire purpose of the film (and, of course, of the comic-book event that inspired it) was to see exactly how much damage the writer's could do to the DC Universe, and the well-known characters who live there, before it was rebooted. Well-known heroes are twisted into cruel mockeries of who they should be, and what they should stand for - while well-established villains, such as Lex Luthor and Deathstroke, will find themselves forced into more heroic roles out of pure desperation. And, in the midst of it all, people will die - quite a few people, actually.

Honestly, it can almost be a bit much, at times - though, unlike the much-mocked 'Murderverse' that the recent live-action films have given us, there is also a clear sense of purpose in all of this violence and darkness. It is also difficult to deny that there is a particular thrill in a story which, unconcerned with any broader continuity, can simply cut loose and have some, admittedly rather morbid, fun with its cast of characters. The film's various action sequences (and there are, naturally, quite a few of them) are all brilliantly animated - and, having traditionally heroic characters like Wonder Woman and Aquaman be recast as genuinely threatening figures provides a genuinely interesting deconstruction of each. Neither character is one that I have ever had any real fondness for in the past - but, each made for a genuinely compelling presence in this film.

Also, something that I definitely appreciated was the chance to see someone other than Batman or Superman take center-stage in such an important story. Barry Allen, as the Flash, is able to prove himself to be every bit the hero that his allies in the Justice League are - and, he is more than capable of shouldering the burden of carrying the film.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is easily one of the best of DC's series of animated films. But, more than that, it is also one which managed succeed where, so far, DC's new cinematic universe seems to have struggled - proving that there is a place for darkness and violence, and the deliberate deconstruction of well-known characters, so long as it is done well and the context makes it appropriate. That same darkness and violence may make the film unsuitable for younger viewers - but, for older fans, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is practically a 'must-see'.

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