Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is an enjoyable alternate-universe tale that neatly sidesteps the problems of such things by being a contained, standalone slice of superheroics.
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As I’ve noted before in this very series, the idea of alternate timelines and universes and all their attendant paradoxes is largely what has prohibited me from becoming what one might describe as a “fan” of comic books, which some would consider a rather egregious oversight given my line of work. When I reviewed Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, another direct-to-DVD feature courtesy of Warner Bros. and DC, which also concerned a superhero team who ventured into a mirrored dimension to battle their doppelgangers, I expressed concerns about the futility of the endeavor, which I still hold. That movie surprised me, though, and it must be said that this one, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, which is based on the 2011 comic book crossover event “Flashpoint”, by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert, surprised me just as much, if not more so.
This was due to a couple of reasons. The first, rather obvious one is that a standalone feature-film is a very different proposition from a concerted effort to mingle and merge a dozen characters’ established continuities. In comic books, these events are permanent – until that is, the next one happens, or the whole line is arbitrarily rebooted, though even then the ostensibly clean slate still contains the sticky residue of versions past. It’s a nightmare. Something like Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox has the distinct advantage of having no obligation to a broader continuity. You can enjoy its hypothetical rearranging of DC’s stalwarts secure in the knowledge that by the time the credits roll, none of it will have mattered.
The second reason is that unwieldy title notwithstanding, it isn’t a movie about the Justice League.
Instead, it’s about, refreshingly, Barry Allen, aka The Flash, here voiced by Justin Chambers. I don’t know much about The Flash other than him quite clearly being a man in tights who runs very quickly, but I found that I enjoy the lightning bolts he has stuck to his ears.
Apparently, The Flash also has a tragic backstory concerning his dead mother, which he’d very much like to be a different, happier backstory, and thus he runs so quickly that he travels back in time and makes it so. Of course, this being a story with the word “paradox” in the title, Flash’s temporal excursion results in a rip in the very fabric of time, creating an – altogether now – alternate reality in which Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) is at war with Aquaman (Cary Elwes) for nebulous reasons, and Thomas Wayne (Kevin McKidd), having witnessed the murder of his son Bruce, instead of vice versa, is a stubbly version of the Dark Knight who has a somewhat cavalier attitude to murder.
Flash prefers the old timeline, which is not unreasonable given that the inter-hero squabbling is about to bring forth Armageddon, although I must admit that I was quite partial to it. Flash and Batman have few allies, but one of them is Cyborg (Michael B. Jordan), who shows up prominently in a Justice League story once again, and helps the heroes, such as they are, deal with the machinations of Eobard Thawne (C. Thomas Howell), aka Reverse-Flash, whose meddling made no sense to me, but nonetheless makes for a compelling villain as Flash’s physical equal and moral opposite.
Jay Oliva directs, and while he’s unlikely to ever surpass his work in The Dark Knight Returns, he has done a good job giving life to Jim Krieg’s screenplay. The flexibility of a parallel reality allows the story to become surprisingly violent, and to off a great many of the principal cast, which is the best way I’ve found of working out grievances with the design of certain characters. Not that The Flashpoint Paradox looks bad, necessarily, but the more the heroes wear the darker, grittier tone, the less fun one tends to have looking at them. Aquaman’s steroidal neck was a particularly troublesome offender, so it was enjoyable to see him – spoiler alert – skewered straight through the back of it.
The voice cast is uniformly good, and the more you look into it, the more you notice how many fan-favorite names are credited. Kevin Conroy is on-hand to voice the “regular” version of Batman, Dana Delany reprises her longtime role of Lois Lane, Nathan Fillion (the people’s Hal Jordan) makes a brief appearance, and in an inspired bit of legacy casting, Sam Daly, the son of Superman’s definitive voice-actor Tim Daly, has a part as the Flashpoint version of the Man of Steel.
It’s good, as it happens. As wary as I am of alternate-universe tales, I enjoy them in this guise mostly because I can forget about them afterward, and while Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox has some untidy storytelling which suggests a universe that I’m sure the graphic novel explored more thoroughly, I don’t much care in this instance. The movie devotes just enough time to ensure the pieces slot together as sensibly as can be expected, and for 80 minutes, this temporary timeline is as compelling as any other.