In 2011, DC Comics made headlines in a lot of major news outlets when they announced that they would be canceling all of their ongoing superhero titles, and relaunching them all in a new continuity with brand new #1 issues. This publishing initiative, known as “The New 52” due to its launching of 52 new series, was a pretty heavy sales boon for the direct market and continues to cater to novice and initiate fans in comic shops across the world. Before the new series could be launched, though, the publisher had to reconcile the mass reconfiguration of their 70+ year continuity into something more streamlined.
That reconciliation came in the form of a five-issue miniseries written by comics superstar Geoff Johns, and penciled by the legendary Andy Kubert. In it, the Flash awakes in a world that is very different from the one that he knows. Nobody has heard of Superman, Batman is a brutal killer on the streets of Gotham, and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are locked in a war that threatens to destroy the entire planet. On further investigation, Flash discovers that this is no alternate world, and no alternate timeline. This is home, but something has changed it so definitively that he has to discover how he can change it back.
This is the world of Flashpoint.
As a relatively recent comic book story, I was surprised to learn that it was going to be the next DC Universe Animated Original Movie. As a comics story, it’s definitely fertile ground given the alternate character designs and characterizations of longstanding DC staples (particularly Batman), and I was very happy to see the story make the transition to animation. When translating any specific comic book work, there are bound to be some changes to the story content in order to be a bit more inclusive to general audiences. The most blatant changes made from the comics to the film were in the story’s opening, establishing this as a Justice League story with appearances from the entirety of the League’s traditional lineup.
The original comics story was more strictly a Flash-centric tale, but the opening of the film definitely helped to open it up to the rest of the League, and make their changes in the altered world a bit more jarring than they were in the book. There was a lot more description in the film for the character of Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse-Flash, and while it may have been helpful for people to keep up, it feels like something was…lost in his formidability when compared to how he comes off in the Flash comics written by Geoff Johns. He doesn’t seem nearly as terrifying as he should be, and that definitely bothered me.
Stylistically, The Flashpoint Paradox looks a lot more like a Japanese anime film than previous animated DC efforts, mostly due to the character designs and orchestration of action. There are a few moments where it lingers on action with bright backgrounds. The character designs themselves are very stocky, almost to the point of distraction. While previous DC films and TV series have always exaggerated human dimension to a degree, to me it seemed a little too much in places, especially with Batman and Cyborg.
One thing I’m on the fence about in regards to this film is its sheer brutality. This is, by far, the most shockingly violent of the animated DC films released thus far, and at times it was a little difficult for me to get behind it. On the one hand, it’s a great way to see the contrast between the regular DC Universe and the shattered mirror of the Flashpoint alterations, but on the other hand, it feels like some of the violence is there just for the sake of shock value. On principle, I’m generally not anti-violence, but I definitely want it to have a purpose in the narrative aim of the unfolding story. Some films demand a high level of violence because of the types of stories they’re aiming to tell, like A Clockwork Orange or Saving Private Ryan. In places, The Flashpoint Paradox goes to the very edge of what’s permissible in a PG-13 rating, and it’s not always clear why.
I had some problems with the dialogue as well. One of the saving graces for nearly every DC animated endeavor of the last 20 years has been voice director Andrea Romano, who often talks about one of her principal requirements in voice casting: what she calls a “voice with character.” Instead of hiring basic voice actors who do character voices, Romano has favored actors and actresses who have unique qualities to their voices that allow performances to come naturally from the cast’s normal speaking voices. For instance, one of the reasons Kevin Conroy is so great at voicing Batman is because he doesn’t have to put a whole lot of energy into getting the basic tone right, and he has a great knack for delivery.
In Flashpoint Paradox, it feels like too many actors are doing character voices as opposed to having voices with character. While some elements of the casting are pitch perfect (like Michael B. Jordan as Cyborg, Kevin Conroy as the “real” Batman, Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan, and Cary Elwes as Aquaman), there are more than a few voices that at times feel forced. C. Thomas Howell’s portrayal of Reverse-Flash, for instance, sounds far campier than the dialogue seems to demand from him. Kevin McKidd as the Flashpoint Batman sounded good in places, but at other times seemed like he was forcefully altering his voice a little too much, making it very…cartoony. A weird adjective to use in negative terms when dealing with an animated film, I know, but it’s not normally a vibe that comes across where this team is concerned.
Overall, though, The Flashpoint Paradox is enjoyable to watch. Because it deals with the Flash, there is no shortage of dynamic action, and while it can be brutal, the way in which the conflicts are constructed and resolved is fun to see unfold. It’s not the best DC animated film, but because it’s still in that category, it’s easy to see that it could be far, far worse. 3/5
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