The Complete and Exhaustive Review of Superhero Straight-to-DVD Animated Features! Part Three: The Good
April 24, 2010
Part Three: The Good
13. Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)
Since New Frontier already covered Green Lantern’s origin, First Flight spends its time getting Hal Jordan off on his first space adventure. Hal Jordan is chosen by the ring, but the Guardians are skeptical of whether or not a human will be disciplined enough to be an effective Green Lantern. The well-respected Sinestro takes the human rookie under his wing, and they chase after some intergalactic baddies who are using the Yellow Element to create a weapon powerful enough to defeat the Green Lantern Corps.
First Flight covers the Green Lantern basics well, but those who are unfamiliar with GL will probably be confused near the end. It introduces the setting nicely; Hal Jordan as the first human, Sinestro as the rising villain, the GL Corps, the Green Element, and the Guardians as a frustratingly ineffective authority. However, they seem to leave their explanations at half-mast, telling you just enough so you understand but not enough to develop it into something really unique and interesting. It’s a little like “here’s the ring, here’s the battery, it’s powered by this green rock. Got it? Let’s go kick alien butt!” Seeing as it takes place almost entirely in outer space, First Flight is unique when compared to the other animated features. I liked the character development, I really believed it was Hal Jordan’s human ingenuity and determination that made him so powerful. Sinestro is handled very well and his character arc is one of the best things in the film.
While an entertaining space opera adventure, First Flight simply lacks the congruency to make it a great animated feature. I was willing to cut it some slack, but my wife made a good argument that the audience needed more explanation about how the Green Lantern and Yellow Lantern batteries work, how they can fly around and shoot stuff, and how they’re related to the individual rings themselves. Apparently this discrepancy is because First Flight draws on knowledge and events from the comic series, which is okay, but it goes largely unexplained. Don’t get me wrong, First Flight is entertaining and a fun watch, but some more consistency wouldn’t have hurt.
12. Dr. Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme (2007)
I went into this with low expectations. Given that Marvel’s other films hadn’t done well, even with their all-star Avengers cast, I wasn’t expecting much from Dr. Strange. But surprisingly, this was quite enjoyable.
It begins with Dr. Strange as a brilliant yet self-centered surgeon whose interests lie solely in wealth and prestige. But an encounter with the spiritual realm causes a crippling car accident, leaving Dr. Strange without the intricate use of his hands. Strange exhausts his fortune seeking reconstruction surgery, but no-one is able to restore his fractured hands. Years later, poor and destitute, a desperate and near suicidal Strange journeys to Tibet to explore his last hope, “the Ancient One”. Dr. Strange seeks the restoration of his hands, but his magical tutors are more interested in the redemption of his soul. Strange slowly begins to discover the world of magic and learns to become its guardian. Finally, he and his companions must make a stand against the dark forces seeking to destroy Earth.
I never thought a movie about magic could be this interesting. I expected some really laborious magical duels that just look like two people doing sign language, but thankfully Dr. Strange delivers both visually and kinetically. The action is beautifully choreographed and emotionally resonant. The art style is sharp, visually engaging, and memorable. But the highlight of Dr. Strange is in its characters and storytelling; the journey of a selfish yet resourceful doctor to a humble leader and protector of earth. Doctor Strange: the Sorcerer Supreme is a memorable and emotionally engrossing film, and one of Marvel’s finest.
11. Superman: Doomsday (2007)
Based on the incredibly popular comic series of the early 1990’s, Superman: Doomsday covers the Death and Return of Superman. It begins with Doomsday breaking out of his underground chamber and directing his warpath toward Metropolis. Superman gets wind of the new villain and goes head to head with the monster. Superman and Doomsday’s battle ends with both titans lying dead. There’s a funeral for Superman and we watch Lois, Jimmy and Luthor deal with the absence of Metropolis’ greatest champion. But wait! Superman is back on the scene with a new found sense of justice, willing to execute the criminals who threaten his beloved city. Is this the real Superman come back from the dead or some impostor? And what’s his strange connection to Lex Luthor?
This was a decent adaptation of a famous graphic novel series. The film cuts out a lot of the convoluted and unnecessary bits, but it also misses some of the best parts. For example, the movie leaves out when Doomsday ferociously tears apart the entire Justice League, leaving Superman the only hero standing. Superman is not the only guy around, but the only one with the strength and will to stop Doomsday. Without Doomsday vs the entire League, we’re unable to witness the contrast. The comics also featured the entire Justice League mourning the death of Superman. Without these heroes fighting Doomsday or mourning Superman’s death, the film simply cannot provide an emotionally resonant funeral. Sorry Jimmy Olsen, but your tears just don’t compare to Batman’s tears.
I didn’t mind that they basically boiled down all 4 of the “Supermen” into one character, but it could have been handled better. Perhaps if the returning Superman was Cyborg, it would have presented a stronger antagonist. The end fight is pretty good though, I really enjoyed that. Ultimately, Superman: Doomsday hits the target but lacks the depth to make it really great.
10. Batman vs. Dracula (2005)
This animated film is thoroughly a product of The Batman television series. The greater your familiarity with this particular Batman and his style, the greater your enjoyment of this animated feature will be. Batman vs. Dracula begins with the untimely death of the Joker. Left without his nemesis, Batman is exceptionally brooding. But when people start disappearing and the culprit is a recently awakened Count Dracula, the Dark Knight finds himself completely outclassed by a phantom of the night much more powerful than himself. With Dracula amassing an army of the undead, Batman certainly has his work cut out for him.
Batman vs. Dracula deftly explores the connections and similarities between the Prince of Darkness and the Dark Knight. This supernatural enemy provides a great challenge for Batman, as if Bruce Wayne is confronted with “the terror of the night” Batman seeks to embody. As Dracula himself says, “Thanks for keeping the legend alive, Batman.”
Batman vs. Dracula features some great action, music, acting, and artwork that I’ve come to appreciate through The Batman television series. I highly recommended this for Batman fans, and definitely a must-see for fans of the show.
9. Justice League: New Frontier (2008)
New Frontier is an epic DC Comics series that chronicles the origins of the Justice League of America amidst the dynamic era that ushered in the Kennedy administration. Now made into an animated feature, it effectively captures the spirit of the 1950’s Silver Age of comics. It’s also the most adult oriented storylines here, focusing less on action and more on plot development. The story begins with a “Watchmen” effect as each Superhero struggles with their purpose and identity during the McCarthy era. Batman is in hiding (more than usual), Wonder Woman leads a group of female rebels in Korea, and the Flash is pursued by the US Government. Superman signed on as an agent of the US, but doesn’t know where his loyalties lie. New Frontier also covers the origin stories of Hal Jordan (the Green Lantern), and J’onn J’onzz, (the Martian Manhunter).
The villain in New Frontier is the weakest point of the film, as it uses the ‘unexplainable alien evil that’s existed for centuries’ motif that was so popular in the Silver Age. But New Frontier isn’t really about the villain; it’s about the characters and their transformation from one age to another. The art and acting is all great and really embodies the time period they’re shooting for. The voicework is a mixed bag. Neil Patrick Harris as The Flash is a delight, but Batman left me missing Kevin Conroy (TAS) or Rino Romano (The Batman series). The action is well handled here, though kind of odd because of the villain. Overall I was pleasantly impressed with New Frontier and highly recommend it as New Frontier establishes the foundation for the new launch of DC Animated Films.
8. Hellboy: The Sword of Storms (2006)
Sword of Storms makes the transfer from graphic novel to animated feature brilliantly. This story centers around Japanese mythology, beginning with the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) investigating a mysterious demonic possession. Hellboy picks up a magic samurai sword and is transported to a magical realm where he must reenact the journey of a samurai warrior (with plenty of creepy Japanese mythological monsters!) Abe and Liz face off against dragons in the real world, while agent Corrigan track down the demon possessed professor. Wielding the Sword of Storms, Hellboy must escape the alternate dimension and prevent the demonic gods of Lightning and Thunder from escaping their prison inside the sword.
Sword of Storms is everything you love about Hellboy. It’s well written, creepy, adventurous, mythological, packs plenty of fist-to-face action, and downright hilarious. It utilizes the paranormal and Japanese mythology but keeps itself from getting too weird, making it accessible to a general audience. Sword of Storms success is greatly due to its production team. They worked with Mike Mignola (the graphic novel author) and kept the same actors who worked on the Hellboy major motion pictures. This consistency from graphic novel to film and back to animated feature keeps the Animated Hellboy movies strong and familiar. Overall, I enjoyed Sword of Storms more than the silver screen Hellboy adaptations.