Justice League: Throne of Atlantis REVIEW
It was a rough first year for DC’s new animated continuity of original movies. Justice League: War was nowhere near the quality of previous releases, Son of Batman was a mess and the one off film, Batman: Assault on Arkham was a mixed bag. WB/DC Animation did not especially whelm fans with their first offerings. New Year, new film and thankfully Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is a small improvement and shows how continuity could be used to benefit these films; however, it still suffers from many of the same faults as the previous three movies and is a far cry from the best of DC’s animated features.
Throne of Atlantis is a loose adaptation of Geoff Johns’ Justice League and Aquaman crossover of the same name. After a US sub is attacked and its missiles stolen, Steve Trevor requests the Justice League to investigate. This would be a fine plan, if only the Justice League was a team in more than name only. Cyborg, who is still adjusting to being more machine than human, is the only one holding down the still under construction headquarters. After Cyborg is attacked during his search of the sub does the rest of the League realize the severity of the looming threat and comes together again. This soon brings them on the trail of Arthur Curry, a young man not taking the resent death of his father well. Arthur learns his true heritage and soon finds himself fighting next to the Justice League for the future of Atlantis.
Being a sequel to Justice League War and an origin story for Arthur Curry’s Aquaman, Throne of Atlantis has a lot of ground to cover in a short time. Unfortunately, given the film’s 80 minute run time neither story gets told well. Of all the Bruce Timm design philosophies being embraced by this new crop of animators, limiting these films to 80 minutes is possibly the most arcane and questionable one. Arthur’s journey from sad, drunk man to super hero defending Atlantis is very rushed and leaves very little room for character development. Black Manta is just here, not really used in a worthwhile way. Orm, Arthur’s evil half-brother, does not fare better. There are interesting ideas, only the film does not have enough time to explore them and Aquaman’s origin has been told better before. Arthur embraces being Aquaman and the League comes to the same conclusion they came to at the end of War– “there are threats, we need to work together.”
Most of the League is not very interesting. The only member having anything resembling an arch is Cyborg, which consists of him working the courage to ask the cute doctor who is clearly into him out. Simple tale, works given the subtext Vic is still struggling to make sense of his own humanity in his current state. But even the apex of that arch happens off screen. Superman and Wonder Woman’s romance make for some of best part of the film. Clark and Diana’s dynamic, especially Clark encouraging Diana to explore a secret identity and their subtle but very different definitions of what that means are some of the most compelling parts of the film. One wishes more of this was explored.
The voice cast does a fine job for the most part. This is expected as most are returning from War and other animated WB/DC projects. A few of the leads have been switched out, most notably Nathan Fillion taking back the role of Hal Jordan, Jerry O’Connell for Superman and Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman. Steve Blum returns as well, not as Darkseid, his voice credit ruins the “surprise” after credit scene, but even in his new role, he is still criminally under used.
Director Ethan Spaulding does a good job keeping things moving at a brisk pace. The animation is on par with the last few DC films. There is still heavy use of CGI for backgrounds and vehicles making cities look bland. Fights are visceral, there is plenty of action. Mera has a style that could be described as a less fluid more violent variation of water bending(likely inspired by Spaulding’s previous work on Avatar The Last Airbender.) The quality is more consistent, but nothing truly awe inspiring or seen before. Throne of Atlantis is excessively violent. Mera for example is frequently dissecting, beheading and lobotomizing foes. Even with that said parts of the film are toned down from previous releases. It’s never that violence is an issue, only it’s how violence has been used in these recent films as a cheap ratings bump and lazy misguided way to achieved “maturity” that cause the huge disconnect.
With Justice League Throne of Atlantis, WB/DC Animation has release another serviceable feature. Long time viewers will appreciate the slight improvements and this new continuity will create interest. With the next line of films already announced for the year, it does not appear that much will be changing from a quality stand point. This continuity still has promise, but WB/DC might want to consider less loose adaptions and more original material better suited to the medium, like their films from five years ago. However, as long as middle of the road features are being produced, it is going to be hard to recommend them as anything other than a rental or stream for the most diehard fan bored on a Saturday afternoon.