Barry Allen is startled awake in the forensics lab, halfway-glancing at a PC with some ominous headline splattered across the screen. He catches wind of some villainy that only the Flash can handle, makes a mad dash towards the front door, strikes his usual heroic pose, and...stumbles down a few steps and falls flat on his face on the pavement. Before Barry can even try to make sense of whatever it is that just happened, he looks up and sees his his mother smiling down on him. She's there for her birthday dinner with her baby boy, and she doesn't even mind that it apparently slipped Barry's mind. It's not that Barry forgot, exactly; it's that his mother had been brutally murdered decades earlier.
Everything has changed. A war between Atlantis and Themyscira has claimed more than a hundred million lives. The only 'Man of Steel' most anyone has heard of is Cyborg, someone most cape-'n-cowl types sneer at as the President's lapdog. Batman looks to be a hell of a lot older, gunning down costumed freaks atop the Wayne Casino with a semi-automatic pistol in each hand. The power of Captain Marvel...errr, Captain Thunder is
I'm astonished by how effective Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is. As thoroughly impressed as I've been by so many of DC's animated films of late, this readily ranks among their very best. That's all the more remarkable considering that I didn't think all that much of the "Flashpoint" miniseries that spawned this adaptation. I love the contrast between the classic superheroics that open the movie and the bleak, dystopian world that soon takes its place. Twentysomeodd years ago, the Flash was my absolute favorite comic book character (I was even devoted enough to suffer through the endless Trial of the Flash arc!), and it's a thrill to see him take center stage. Hell, it's a thrill to see a DC animated movie starring anyone other than Batman or Superman. The acting weaves together established talent in DC animation with several new voices, with the ensemble cast featuring Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Nathan Fillion, Justin Chambers, Vanessa Marshall, Kevin McKidd, James Patrick Stuart, Cary Elwes, Ron Perlman, and Michael B. Jordan, among many others. A small minority struggle to deliver their lines convincingly, but the performances are generally outstanding. The anime-influenced character designs look incredible, especially when animated with such polish and fluidity. It's a daunting challenge to effectively realize the Flash's impossible speed on a direct-to-video budget, but the animators at Studio 4C do a brilliant job with this as well, especially throughout the awe-inspiring final moments of the film. The Atlantean/Themysciran war is addressed in a far superior way here than in the core "Flashpoint" comics, and the resistance
The Flashpoint Paradox is genuinely horrifying. Heroes we once looked up to now murder one another without hesitation, and the body count is staggering. Aquaman skewers a freedom fighter with his trident. A severed head is held up as a trophy. Wonder Woman strangles a spy, and the movie doesn't turn away from the sight of his neck snapping and blood spurting from his mouth. This may be the single most brutal superhero movie I've ever experienced, animated or live-action. There's an emotional core to the story that transcends the hero-trapped-on-an-alternate-Earth premise, delivering levels of joy, hope, determination, and heartbreak that are remarkably powerful. That Flashpoint takes place outside of established continuity allows it to better explore these characters -- or what we've come to think of these characters -- in an entirely different context. Because there are no concerns about marketing to kids, how anything that happens here will impact the next installment in the franchise, or whatever else, these twisted reinterpretations of iconic heroes can kill and be killed. There are stakes that go far beyond what's generally felt in direct-to-video superhero animation. Despite the staggering scale of the action and the sprawling roster of heroes and villains -- I mean, you get Grifter, the Golden Age Sandman, The Top, and Ocean Master in the same movie, among 15,000 others -- characterization doesn't get lost in the shuffle. The Flashpoint Paradox is unnervingly intense, and yet it's hardly masturbatory brutality or grim and gritty just for the sake of being grim and gritty.
Admittedly, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is aimed towards established comic fanatics; I doubt those with more of a casual interest will get much out of it. The movie also earns its PG-13 rating and then some, so it's certainly not for the junior set either. For anyone of age with a longstanding fascination with DC's universe, even if it's a number of years in the rear view mirror, The Flashpoint Paradox is essential viewing. The unrelenting intensity, its resonant emotional core, its size, scale, and ambition: there's almost nothing in the superhero movie space like this, animated or otherwise. Very Highly Recommended.
By and large, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox looks spectacular on Blu-ray. The linework is fairly crisp and well-defined, aside from some especially diffused moments that are clearly a stylistic choice. Color saturation reflects the tone of the film: the bright and vivid hues at the outset make way for something far bleaker once the life is drained out of this reality. For whatever reason, Warner's authoring chain struggles with animation, and The Flashpoint Paradox is occasionally marred by the banding that's plagued so many of these releases, though it's generally easy enough to shrug off here. Compression artifacting is similarly present but unintrusive. Aside from dodgy shots like the one below, nicely done.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox arrives on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The movie is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and has been encoded with AVC.
Its 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is similarly robust. The brutal action is reinforced nicely in the surrounds, from Captain Thunder's magical bolt screaming down from the heavens all the way to Yo-Yo whipping around her...um, razor-edged yo-yos atop the Wayne Casino. The rear channels are also teeming with the sounds of speedsters tearing across the screen at tens of thousands of miles per hour. Less dramatic effects such as Barry Allen accidentally kicking over a lamp in the Batcave are reinforced effectively in the surrounds as well. Bass response is substantial, if not up to the level of live-action blockbusters. The stomping of the colossal beasts in New Themyscira leave the greatest impression there. Every element in the mix, from the voice acting to the superhuman sound effects, is rendered cleanly, clearly, and distinctly. A very strong effort.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox also features lossy Digital Digital 5.1 dubs (640kbps) in French and Spanish. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox arrives in an embossed cardboard slipcover, and an anamorphic widescreen DVD and UltraViolet digital copy code are also tucked inside.
The Final Word
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox opens up what's quite literally a new world of possibilities for DC's animated universe, resulting in what is easily their most intense and most ambitious movie to date. Highly Recommended.