You know, if you had told me five years ago that we were getting a movie involving — let alone STARRING — the Justice Society, I would have laughed in your face. “No way,” I’d have said, “They’re too focused on the Justice League and Batman to do anything cool like that! Speaking of Batman, did you hear they’re making a Killing Joke movie with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill? It’s gonna be awesome!”
Well, suck it, 2016 Cam, because Justice Society: World War II is here, and it’s awesome. Also, sorry about that Killing Joke thing. That was a bummer.
It’s our second installment in the newly revamped DC animated (movie?) universe (DCAU? DCAMU? I’m so confused), and I couldn’t be more excited. Following up a movie as fun and fantastic as Man of Tomorrow is no simple feat, but I think this movie more than does the job. It’s fun, funny, exciting, and everything I think I would want in an animated tribute to the greatest heroes of the Golden Age.
The Source Material
You’re in luck, sports fans! There’s no required reading to “get” this movie!
“But Cam,” I hear you saying, “then why is this section titled ‘The Source Material’?”
Calm down, I’m getting there. I wanted to talk about how much I appreciate the narrative freedom that comes with original movies like this. Just like its recently released cousin Batman: Soul of the Dragon, Justice Society: World War II still feels like a comic book movie should, but it’s not bogged down by comparisons to source material, and I think that’s what allowed me to fully sit back and enjoy the ride. I know we’re getting a Long Halloween adaptation later this year, and it looks promising, but I really hope we see more original stories like this in the future.
First, a synopsis: The Flash ran 80 years back in time, and finds himself surrounded by… Nazis?!? Where is he? How does he get home? Who are all these strange heroes running around, and, more importantly, why doesn’t he remember them?
A Man Out of Time… Again.
So, we need to be upfront about this. This movie begins with Barry running too fast, and accidentally sending himself through time. It’s a solid premise, and an easy explanation for why he’s in this movie. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that “The Flash runs so fast he accidentally travels through time” is just a tad overplayed these days. Not necessarily a negative thing for the movie, but it does feel a little tired at this point.
Other than that, though, the story is fantastic. It’s a wonderful thrill-packed adventure full of humor, intrigue, and, of course, some sweet sweet Nazi-punching action. The film plays out almost more like an Indiana Jones tribute than a superhero story, and I love it for that. Not to mention the fact that it manages to introduce an entire new super-team and really make them feel like real characters.
Speaking of that team, the cast for this movie is fantastic. Matt Bomer headlines as Barry Allen, and he does a wonderful job. He really nails the goofier side of Barry while still believably remaining intelligent and capable. It’s honestly the first time I’ve seen a Barry Allen Flash done right in a long time. He’s absentminded and funny, sure, but he never loses his penchant for science, babbling off scientific explanations the whole movie. It’s a wonderfully charming performance, and really helps cement Barry as the core of the story here. Other shout outs go to Stana Katic as Wonder Woman and Chris Diamantopoulos’ Steve Trevor. Their performances were genuinely great, and command your attention whenever they’re on screen. Darren Criss returns as Superman for this film, and while we don’t see the Man of Steel for a large portion of the movie, he’s just as great as ever.
That’s probably my favorite thing about this movie, to be honest. It manages to be about both Barry Allen and the Justice Society without letting either one outshine the other. I was extremely worried when I saw that Barry was a large part of the movie, but my fears cleared up by about the second act. Barry gets a decent amount of screen time and plot, but this really does feel like the JSA’s story. That being said, the JSA’s story is not without problems…
Between the intro with Barry and Iris, the fight with Brainiac, the romance subplot between Steve and Diana, introductions and character arcs for a full team of new characters, resolving the World War II era conflict, and Barry completing his own arc, a LOT happens in this movie! And with it only being an hour and a half, the narrative can be overwhelming. There’s not enough time to give everything the attention it deserves, and while none of the film is BAD per se, there are a couple threads that feel awkward coming to their conclusion. Barry’s relationship problems that are present in the beginning of the film, for example, get wrapped up very abruptly at the last possible second.
Another pretty glaring flaw is the dialogue. There are several scenes that either needed a second look over the script or were edited very poorly. For example, during the second act, Barry meets someone he recognizes from right before he disappeared, and he starts asking a bunch of questions: How did they end up here? Where are they? Do they know how to get back? etc. All standard time travel stuff, until [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS] replies with “Stuck? What are you talking about?” and then you rewind the film because you’re pretty sure you didn’t hear Barry say anything about being stuck, and when you watch the scene again, he definitely didn’t, and then what could have been a really cool scene is kind of ruined for you. There’s another detail in that same scene that REALLY doesn’t make sense to me, but if anyone out there can answer this question for me, I’d be extremely grateful. This detail is in the spoiler tags because it’s a MAJOR plot twist in the film. If you care at all about not being spoiled, DO NOT CLICK!!!
This is all well and good, until you remember that BARRY DOES NOT KNOW WHO CLARK KENT IS. The whole beginning of the movie has Barry excitedly asking Iris if she thinks they’ll see Superman while they’re in Metropolis. The line is delivered with the implication that Barry has never seen Superman before, and that Superman is considered a tourist attraction. This is further reinforced by the interactions between the two heroes, especially at the end of the film. Superman reacts incredulously to Barry’s speed, and they call each other by code names, even with no one around. Taking into account that the major cliffhanger for the movie is that Superman and the Flash decide to form the Justice League, all signs point to Barry and Clark barely knowing each other. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I missed something, but this seems like a pretty big flaw for a film with a twist like that.
Justice Society: World War II is a fun movie. The action is great, fast paced, and exciting. The dialogue, apart from a few instances, is charming and witty. Characters and concepts are introduced very well, and the movie fits very nicely into the newly rebooted continuity. The voice talent is insanely good, I don’t think there was a single actor I disliked, and the score, done by Kevin Reipl, fits beautifully into and accentuates every scene. There’s a death in particular, towards the end of the third act, that made me actually tear up due to the wonderful acting and beautiful score. Ultimately, the film is fun and solid enough to stand on its own, even with complex concepts like time travel being explored. Not necessarily a family flick, it gets a little gory for that, but definitely a movie I recommend checking out. Worth the $20-25 respectively for the Blu-ray or 4k discs, for sure, but I would recommend getting the movie physically, as the bonus features like the Kamandi: Last Boy on Earth! short and the Batman: The Long Halloween sneak peek are not included with the digital release. I hope to see more original stories like this in the future, it’s a really nice breath of fresh air after years of pure adaptations!
Disclaimer: Batman News was provided a copy of the film by Warner Bros. for the purpose of this review.
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