Thursday, 29 September 2016

Film Review - 'Justice League: Throne of Atlantis'

In the aftermath of Darkseid's attempted invasion of Earth, in Justice League: War, the Justice League may have officially been formed - though, it's members don't seem all that eager to continue working together. Only Cyborg makes regular use of their shiny new base of operations. For everyone else, it seems to be business as usual - continuing their solo adventures and, seemingly, largely content to ignore their responsibilities to this newly formed team. It seems that it will take another large-scale threat to bring this disparate team of heroes back together.

Fortunately, for the audience's sake, a suitable threat is not far off. Deep beneath the ocean, the lost kingdom of Atlantis still thrives - but, the destruction caused by Darkseid's invasion triggered the eruption of a volcano which caused the death of the reigning king, and left the people of Atlantis reeling.

Prince Orm, and his adviser Black Manta, argue for retribution - insisting that it is only a matter of time until the 'surface-dwellers' launch an all-out invasion on Atlantis, and demanding that a preemptive strike be launched. But, with Queen Atlanna determined to pursue peaceful relations with the surface, it seems that Orm and Black Manta will have to take matters into their own hands to get the war they both clearly want.

Now, with Prince Orm and Black Manta working to force a war between Atlantis and the surface, a young man named Arthur Curry finds himself caught in the middle of an unexpected conflict. As it turns out, Arthur Curry is the illegitimate son of Queen Atlanna and, being a half-Atlantean raised on the surface, he may turn out to be the only hope of preventing this rapidly escalating conflict. Fortunately, Arthur Curry wont have to do this alone, either - as, he soon find allies in the form of both Queen Atlanna's personal bodyguard, Mera, then with the members of Justice League, itself.

While there is quite a bit to like about Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, DC's sequel to Justice League: War, the film also has its fair share of disappointments, too. Arthur Curry's transition from an ordinary man into both king and superhero seems to happen much too fast, for one thing - and, it definitely seems a little too easy. Much like with Cyborg's transition into a fully fledged superhero in Justice League: War, it's not really a matter of how much screen time was devoted to his development, either. There are, after all, plenty of ways that a character's development can be shown with minimal screen-time. The problem is that, much like with Justice League: War, the film's entire plot seems to take place over a period of a few days. That means that we have a period of a few days in which we progress from Arthur Curry getting involved in a drunken bar brawl, to his taking his place as the new ruler of Atlantis, and finally accepting an invitation to join the Justice League. It's simply too short a period of time for this amount of character development to make sense - with the result that much of Arthur Curry's arc throughout the film came across as a bit implausible, to me. It also stood out as particularly strange, when you consider that the people behind these films essentially made exactly the same mistake with two different characters, in two different films.

Still, despite this, Arthur Curry/Aquaman is a likable enough character - so much so that his rushed development didn't irritate me quite as much as it probably should have. There is definitely something endearingly goofy about a character who is willing to start a fight to save the lobster, which he had been drunkenly slurring at, from its date with a boiling pot of water. More importantly, though, he is also able to maintain this same level of genuine likability throughout the entire film.

The film's villains aren't quite as successful, unfortunately. Both Orm and Black Manta display the same brand of overt and essentially generic black-and-white villainy we got from Darkseid in Justice League: War - which is fine, as far as giving the Justice League a suitable challenge is concerned, though it doesn't make either of them particularly memorable (as a side-note, this is especially disappointing in Orm's case since, despite not having read the comics, it only took a bit of research to learn that he was actually a much more interesting and complicated character in the source material). Just like with Darkseid, they seem to exist for no other reason than to provide a dangerous enough threat to bring the Justice League together, once more - and, to give each member plenty of opportunity to show off what they can do. In this capacity, at least, they serve admirably.

Again, the clear high-lights of Justice League: Throne of Atlantis are the film's action sequences, and the moments of entertaining banter between the team of super-heroes. There are some fantastically animated sequences here - perfectly showcasing the abilities of both heroes and villains. Orm might be a fairly generic villain but, once he sets his plans into motion, he is at least an effective one - able to offer a significant challenge to each of our heroes. Even Superman finds himself at risk of being out-classed, here, thanks to skilled use of a magical trident (kryptonite has never been Superman's only vulnerability, after all).

The film's reshuffling of its voice-cast did strike me as a bit strange, though. I've grown accustomed to the fact that different actors might be brought in to provide the voice for key character in different projects, of course - but, these different projects are usually unrelated to each other. Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is a direct sequel, though - so, the changes felt a little jarring, at first. Though, I will admit that the new-comers seemed to settle into their roles quickly.

Jerry O'Connell replaces Alan Tudyk as Superman - and, does fine. Honestly, I might not even have noticed that particular change if I hadn't known about it going in. Rosario Dawson replaces Michelle Monaghan as Wonder Woman - providing what I would have to admit is a significantly improved performance and giving her lines without the awkward and stilted delivery that bothered me so much in Justice League: War. Nathan Fillion replaces Justin Kirk as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern - returning to a role he has previous played in earlier animated projects and further establishing himself, alongside Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy, as my preferred choice to provide the voice for one of DC's iconic characters. Perhaps most importantly, given the film's clear focus, Matt Lanter gives an impressive performance as Arthur Curry/Aquaman - and, clearly deserves a fair share of the credit in making him such a genuinely likable hero. Sumalee Montano is also impressive as Mera, and Sam Witwer makes for an entertaining villain in the role of Prince Orm - even if his performance does suffer from a bit of over-acting, at times.

The film's returning cast also continue to prove themselves in their respective roles. Jason O'Mara makes for a suitably intimidating Batman (I may prefer Kevin Conroy in the role, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy other performances). Sean Astin's Shazam is always entertaining, and his bizarre friendship with Shemar Moore's Cyborg manages to add some depth to both characters. Christopher Gorham's take on the Flash is also well done. Honestly, I would be quite happy if this were the cast that were carried into the next film (since it seems pretty clear that there is going to be one) - there aren't any weak links here.

Overall, much like the previous film, none of the flaws that can be found in Justice League: Throne of Atlantis stop it from being a genuinely entertaining animated film. It may be a simplified take on the source material, but it still provides an enjoyable continuation to the story began in Justice League: War.

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