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ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Justice League: Throne of Altantis
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: January 13th, 2015 - Digital; January 27th, 2015 - Blu-ray, DVD

Synopsis: Cyborg discovers an imminent threat in the depths of the oceans so powerful that it rallies together the newly formed Justice League. Meanwhile, wandering thousands of feet above the ocean floor is drifter Arthur Curry, a man with strange powers who may be the last chance to bridge the ancient Atlantean world with our own. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League must band together as they face off against warmongering Orm, an army of sea creatures, otherworldly weapons and perilous odds. In this all-new epic adventure from the DC Universe, mankind’s only hope of escaping from the darkness lies with the guiding light of a man – Aquaman!

The voice cast for Justice League: Throne of Atlantis features Matt Lanter (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, 90210) at Aquaman, Sam Witwer (Being Human, Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as Orm, Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova, Vegas, Life on Mars) as Batman, Christopher Gorham (Covert Affairs) as Flash, Nathan Fillion (Castle) as Green Lantern, Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) as Cyborg, Rosario Dawson (Sin City) as Wonder Woman, Jerry O’Connell (Crossing Jordan, Stand By Me) as Superman, Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) as Shazam, Sumalee Montano (Beware the Batman, Transformers Prime) as Mera, Sirena Irwin (Superman: Unbound) as Queen Atlanna, and Harry Lennix (Man of Steel, The Blacklist) as Manta. Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is inspired by the acclaimed Justice League storyline of the same name, written by Geoff Johns.


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Justice League: Throne of Altantis Feature Review
By James Harvey

Aquaman takes center-stage and gets a long-overdue origin story in the latest Justice League animated feature, part of the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Loosely based on the Geoff John-written comic book storyline of the same name, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis throws us into the complicated life of Arthur Curry, who finds that he’s meant for something bigger when he’s caught up in the struggle to rule the fabled city of Atlantis. And, given that this is also their movie, the Justice League get pulled into the action and start to finally become the fabled team that fans have loved for decades. While it may stumble along the way, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis makes for an interesting journey and is worth checking out.

The story plays out exactly as you'd expect it to. it's your basic origin story, slightly modified to expand upon the established burgeoning mythos. If Justice League: War was 'season one,' Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is 'season two.' Many plot threads from Justice League: War are picked up here, along with a host of references to said film. The romantic subplot between Superman and Wonder Woman moves into first gear here with the two characters actually going on a date (I seem to be one of the few folks who don't have an issue with this pairing). The fallout of becoming half-machine is explored here as Cyborg struggles with the changes, which actually includes a genuinely creepy dream sequence. And, honestly, those are the only real character threads involving the established Leaguers that's explored here. The rest of the team - Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash and Shazam - are basically around whenever the plot calls for them, that's it. In fact, there are a couple moments where the movie feels like it's stretching to include them. There's no real exploration of their characters.

And that's fine, since this is Aquaman's movie. The film gives us just enough League drama to follow - including the official formation of the team and the establishment of the team's name - to balance out the film's focus on Aurthur and the political intrigue of Atlantis. And while the political turmoil isn't anything new (it's exactly what the trailer paints it to be) it does make for some great watching. Thankfully, Aquaman isn't just tossed into the movie, but he's actually integral to the plot. He has direct ties to the political upheaval that eventually sees the Justice League go toe-to-toe with the forces of Atlantis. And while we're used to seeing Aquman handled in such a straightforward manner in the comics, including the awesome current "The New 52" incarnation, it has been awhile since his animated counterpart got the same treatment. It's not perfect, though. Perhaps I just wanted to see more Aquaman action, but the film tends to gloss over things the closer it gets to the finale. His relationship with Mera blossoms in mere hours and he perfects his telepathy powers without any explanation or even really trying. Next thing we know he can just....talk to fish. Of course, it's hinted early on he can talk to marine life (in the released clip where he drunkingly confides in a lobster at a seafood bar), but his power level jumps considerably without any warning.

The major bad guys of the piece, Orm and Black Manta, make for good foils, even if their roles are slightly underwritten. Orm's story is pretty by the books, he wants to rule Atlantis and will kill anyone in his way, but Black Manta's hints at something a bit larger and complex. Toss in the Trench as indistinguishable cannon fodder and hordes of misguided soldiers and you have some pretty sizable opposition for both Aquaman and the Justice League to do battle against. And these foes do give our heroes an ample workout, especially since the League hasn't quite mastered the art of teamwork yet. That climactic battle between the League and Orm would've been over much quicker if they worked together as opposed to one after another. Still, the villains of the piece never really rise above typical 2D bad guys here, and don't really offer much below the surface. They just ... want to rule, and that's it. However, you don't really know how slight they are until long after the credits role, primarily due to fantastic performances by the voice actors.

And despite a couple little missteps, the movie is really enjoyable to watch - I liked it. It's not overly depressing or cynical, though the excessive violence and unnecessary language does seem a little off-putting. A big plus for the film is how it honestly tries to do some world-building. This is just the third film in the new universe established by Justice League: War, and inspired by DC Comics' "The New 52" initiative, so there's a wealth of untapped potential. That being said, we see a few nods to said potential which, frankly, is pretty exciting. There are four Superman-related cameos which are pretty exciting and rife with potential. On top of that, there even seems to be a little fun on display here, granted some of it is a little grating (Shazam) or maybe a bit too mean-spirited (Green Lantern). There are at least two nods to Batman: The Brave and The Bold, including our aquatic hero's infamous catch-phrase from the light-hearted Bat-Toon, that bring some nice actual levity to the film.

In terms of casting, Matt Lanter is bang-on as Aquaman, giving his character the right amount of weariness, skepticism and curiosity to sell the character's quick (and somewhat underwritten) transformation to the King of the Seas. Equally awesome is Sumalee Montano as Mera, who's arguably the film's breakout character. She gets a pile of great scenes. Sam Witwer is excellent as Orm, giving a hearty, usually over-the-top delivery for his reads and actually giving his character a larger-than-life that actually balances his somewhat underwritten role. Harry Lennix is great as Manta, too, bringing a nice sliminess to the role. The Justice Leaguers also get a couple new voices mixed in with the established cast from Justice League: War. Rosario Dawson is excellent as Wonder Woman, and it's great to hear Nathan Fillion reprise the role of Green Lantern (from the earlier DC Universe Animated Original Movie titles). Superman has also been recast for this flick, played by Jerry O'Connell this time, and the results are kind of mixed. They've definitely tried to soften the abrasive edge Superman had in Justice League: War, and it works, but the voice work seems a bit too understated and lacks a bit of heft. Regulars Sean Astin, Shemar Moore, Christopher Gorham and Jason O'Mara perform their respective roles nicely.

The writing and directing is on point, thanks to the solid pairing of Heath Corson and Ethan Spaulding. The direction is straightforward, with action sequences laid out, boarded and directed nicely - always giving a clear shot of the action without unnecessary tricks. And the writing pairs up quite nicely, with the story moving along as a steady, nice pace. My only gripe with the writing is how, in the film's last ten - 15 minutes, the pace picks up considerably and it feels like some of the story is sacrificed as a result. The subplot with Cyborg and his romantic interest is under-served and flat - there definitely should have been a little more there, especially since it skips over a few crucial aspects about Dr. Charles' character (such as her age - she's actually a child prodigy and roughly the same age as Cyborg - but the film makes no reference to that). The burgeoning romance between Superman and Wonder Woman, however, gets the right amount of attention. It's new, it's growing, and the peaks we get give us just enough of a taste. As I mention above, some of Aquaman's story gets glossed over in the end a wee bit, which pushes the film to the finale a bit faster than it should. It feels a bit jarring, but by no means does it really detract from the film's story.

Animation-wise, it varies a little but, for the most part, it's solid. There are some moments that are actually quite beautifully animated, including some great coloring and staging, but there are also some moments where it's apparent some corners were cut. And that's actually understandable since there are some major set pieces going on - such as the big Metropolis battle scene at the end (which is proceeded by a huge tidal wave). Thankfully, there are no glaring animation problems, save for a couple errors which are hardly distracting. It's a solid effort, but is somewhat of a step down from the superbly animated Batman: Assault on Arkham or the earlier efforts of the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line. Thankfully, the big moments do pay off, especially when the animation is able to help carry them. Even some of the quieter moments gets some nice subtle animation, such as a short scene between Clark and Diana, and some of the more introspective moments with Aurthur Curry before his world is turned upside down.

And, naturally, the score work done by Frederick Weidmann on Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is pretty stellar. There are two moments in particular that really stood out for me. First, when Orm makes his move against the Queen of Atlantis, Frederick Weidmann accompanies that scene with a powerful sting to really add some punch to the scene. The other, and this is just a small scene, is when Orm dispatches some of League members, who have been captured in these underwater pods, into a crevice. He uses a tune similar to what we heard him do on Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which adds a bit of other-worldliness to the moment. It’s a great score overall, but these two bits of music really stood out for me.

Overall, it’s a definite step-up from Justice League: War, though it still has a couple issues. Justice League: Throne of Atlantis definitely could’ve used a good five-ten extra minutes to flush out the final third of the film. It would've provided some more character moments, allowed the movie to breathe a little more and just match the excellent pace of the film’s first two-thirds. That being said, it's still safe to consider the film a success. The story is pretty enjoyable and the characters feel a bit more “classic” this time around. Nothing feels forced or edged up, and our heroes seem to act like they should, even with the odd PG-13 mandated quips tossed in to add a bit of hipness. The animation is thankfully on point for the most part, too, besides the odd blip. It all makes for a good effort. Aquaman fans should be pleased and, hopefully, the Justice League animated features in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line will continue on this positive trend. Recommended.

Oh! And, yes, there's another short scene after the end credits. It’s a great little bit, and I kind of hope to see something similar in the next few animated films as a way to set up a potentially epic future Justice League animated film.

[ Continue on to the Justice League: Throne of Altantis Blu-ray review ]

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