In terms of ambitiousness, Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier is in many ways as ambitious as a superhero comic book can get. Cooke tied DC Comics superheroes to the American political landscape of the 1950s and, while he didn’t have an absolute success, he did just fine, never losing the zeal (occasionally letting it go too far even). Now, as Warner Bros. has finally sunk low enough to do direct to video movies–some of these being animated superhero projects–a bunch of unambitious cartoon guys (and I say cartoon guys as a pejorative–I mean, the animation in The New Frontier is barely on the level of the “G.I. Joe” cartoons I saw as a kid) decided to adapt it. In doing so, shaving Cooke’s 400 plus page comic book down to seventy-five minutes, they haven’t just missed the point, they’ve also turned Cooke’s ambitious work into a low-rent Independence Day rip-off with superheroes. Maybe that element was always a little part of Cooke’s comic, but with the movie, it’s the most important part.
The problem with The New Frontier–and with the idea of it in the first place–is the medium. It doesn’t lend itself to a cartoon and the cartoon guys do nothing to make it excite the medium’s possibilities (like I said, it’s less ambitious than a “G.I. Joe” cartoon, so comparing it to Sleeping Beauty would just be silly). It’s only a cartoon because… well… it’s a toy commercial. There are New Frontier action figures and all of this hoopla is a toy commercial.
Oddly, it’s pretty watchable. Throughout three-quarters, it’s almost good. There’s a speed to it in the good parts and a car wreck quality in the bad parts. It’s offensive, for example, when they use the JFK speech at the end (the title comes from the speech). Cooke’s comic book was ambitious enough, even with a bad ending, it had the bedrock to print the speech. As the movie is an unambitious, trite flop, it’s stunningly inappropriate.
Of the voice actors, only Jeremy Sisto is actually good. Neil Patrick Harris and Miguel Ferrer come close. David Boreanaz is particularly awful. Lucy Lawless is a bad Wonder Woman and Kyle MacLachlan an ineffective Superman, but a lot of those problems have to do with Stan Berkowitz’s execrable script. And Keith David as the movie’s bad guy, a giant monster–a misfire going back to the comic book–is terrible too, but the whole thing is dreadfully handled, but in terms of visualization, dialogue and filmic conception. Berkowitz’s dialogue’s dumb and bad; Kevin Manthei’s music not fit for an elevator to Hell. Besides some of the female characters, all the artwork is bad (for whatever reason, only the female characters retain any of Cooke’s style).
I can’t stand cartoon storytelling–that lowest common denominator storytelling for the kid who can’t even read the TV Guide to see what’s on, but can still tell his mom he needs the action figures–so I can’t blame watching The New Frontier on anyone but myself (the short running time and, possibly, the knowledge I’d be writing about bad it turned out… didn’t expect how offensive the JFK use would come off though). I also didn’t expect to run out of synonyms for bad, but I did.
The funniest part comes at the end. Cooke, in the comic book, ripped the volunteers moment from Pearl Harbor and did it with superheroes in a sequence of still images and got the same effect. For some reason, with motion and audio, the clowns behind The New Frontier can’t get it right.
Directed by Dave Bullock; screenplay by Stan Berkowitz and Darwyn Cooke, based on the comic book by Cooke; edited by Elen Orson; music by Kevin Manthei; produced by Berkowitz, Cooke and Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.
Starring David Boreanaz (Hal Jordan/Green Lantern), Miguel Ferrer (J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter), Neil Patrick Harris (Barry Allen/The Flash), John Heard (Ace Morgan), Lucy Lawless (Wonder Woman), Kyle MacLachlan (Superman), Phil Morris (King Faraday), Kyra Sedgwick (Lois Lane), Brooke Shields (Carol Ferris), Jeremy Sisto (Batman) and Keith David (The Center).