DC Animated Movies: Let's Talk About Them

2015 will see the release of three DC/WB animated movies. First up -- and on sale today -- is Justice League: Throne of Atlantis. Many of us have been anxiously awaiting this project and rightfully so. Geoff Johns' comic was awesome and the chance to see Aquaman as the lead is an exciting change of pace. I welcome a great Batman or Superman movie with open arms, but this universe has so much more to offer and this is a terrific opportunity to show casual fans there's more to love than just these two iconic dudes. Plus, DC has a pretty long history of very, very enjoyable animated movies. Unfortunately, I thought the movie was just okay.

Usually when the credits begin to roll for a DC/WB animated movie, I'm left with a positive impression and a smile on my face. I'm left wanting to head right to the special features and wonder when I'll have some time to watch it all over again. I may not love every single project, but I do enjoy a vast majority of them. However, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis isn't the first recent movie that I think is just okay. Son of Batman also failed to really win me over. It looks like my opinion of both movies being just "okay" are pretty kind compared to many of the comments I've seen about them. I won't repeat any of the comments, but let's just say there's a fair number of people who aren't happy with either project. Not being won over by two recent features does generate concern, but despite that, I still look forward to what's to come and I really am rooting for them. I want nothing more than to love each of these films and I want them to succeed so DC and Warner Bros. can keep making more movies and eventually take risks by allowing other characters to shine.

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis would have benefited from a slightly longer runtime. If you're going to tell a brand new character's origin story, introduce their world and supporting cast and follow-up with a couple of Justice League characters' arcs, things are going to feel a bit unfocused and definitely rushed if it isn't handled properly. That's exactly how many of us felt us about Arthur, Mera, and Ocean Master's stories. It was a little odd to have a movie about the King of Atlantis and walk away feeling like Cyborg had the more compelling plot. But the thing is the movie has roughly the same runtime as several other animated movies. Throne of Atlantis is listed as being 72 minutes long. That's not a lot of time to tackle all of the story it wants to tell. However, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox faced a similar situation and pulled it off with just 75 minutes. That movie needed to establish Barry Allen's story, introduce a whole new world, and unleash new characters while also giving the iconic ones just a bit of love. The difference here is this movie embraced Flash as the lead. It gave love to other characters, but it was all about Barry's journey. That's exactly what Throne of Atlantis needed to do, but instead it spent too much time with the Justice League and, because of that, Arthur's story felt like it was put on the fast track and that never gave us a chance to really care. It started off strong, but then things raced ahead.

I understand the desire to focus on the fact they're creating a new DC Animated Movie Universe (which began with Justice League: War, a movie some hate but I think it's an enjoyable action-comedy), but if they're going to take a risk and give someone other than the Dark Knight or the Man of Steel the spotlight, they need to go all-out and truly celebrate this character. When Throne of Atlantis was over, it didn't make me care any more or any less about Aquaman. That feels like a missed opportunity and hopefully something they'll work on if they do give Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, or anyone else the top spot in an upcoming Justice League project. So, as much as I'd prefer a longer runtime, I don't believe that's the problem. Batman: Year One, Superman vs. The Elite, and Wonder Woman all have runtimes that fall short of 80 minutes. Hell, Batman: Year One is only 64 minutes! That said, if we're one day lucky enough to get a movie inspired by something huge like the Sinestro Corps War, they should strongly consider turning it into a two-parter like they did with The Dark Knight Returns. Everything else though is doable with the limited runtime. It's just a matter of keeping the script focused and making sure we care about these characters while also enjoying some action and comedy!

Aside from Batman: Assault on Arkham, the recent movies haven't been creating interesting or compelling villains. Darkseid showed no depth and was essentially a conqueror who loved to brawl (Steve Blum screamed more than he spoke), Deathstroke was turned into a total chump, and Black Manta and Ocean Master were in serious need of more focus. Orm just felt like a power hungry fellow and Black Manta had to give some exposition in the end to justify what he was doing. Ra's al Ghul was removed before we even had a chance to know him. Each of these characters have so much potential and are amazing villains. Orm's a complex character who could have brought so much more emotional weight to the picture. Black Manta's a badass who deserved more time and Deathstroke is a fan favorite and full of possibilities. Instead of being thrilled to see these characters appear in animated movies and how they may be incorporated in future ones, I was left disappointed by their roles and actions. How exceptional would it have been if Batman and Robin needed to work together to take down Slade Wilson? Damian Wayne could have still reached that moral dilemma in the end and it wouldn't feel like it's majorly downplaying such a cool villain. I'm not saying he needed to be virtually unstoppable, but he didn't come across as formidable. Turning one of the universe's most dangerous mercenaries into someone who has trouble with a ten year-old just felt completely off. If they're going to really embrace the lead heroes, they also need to really embrace the characters who challenge them.

We're living in a time when the comic book genre is thriving. Millions of people look forward to comic book movies and watch the TV shows, so these animated movies are yet another way to get them even more interested in the various characters and stories. But if these movies aren't memorable, it won't create new fans or make casual ones feel motivated enough to check out some comics. Have someone watch Under the Red Hood or Wonder Woman and I'm betting they'd be far more interested in reading the source material. Yes, the ultimate goal here is to produce movies that'll entertain people and make sure they want to buy the next one, but seeing as it draws from several great stories and characters, there's the need to make sure they do the stories justice -- something I'm sure they're well aware of -- and the goal to make even a casual viewer become interested in these individuals and their crazy world.

Recent animated movies had no problem delivering fun action (although several bits in Throne of Atlantis did feel generic) and comedy, but the minds behind these movies also need to make sure there's plenty of heart and personality, too. I have no problem admitting that Under the Red Hood's ending still gets to me and Batman: Assault of Arkham was just oozing with personality. I love a fun action-comedy, but as said above, they need to really make sure they're focused on an absorbing story, too. If the bigger picture isn't all that original, the dynamics between the characters need to shine. It often feels like we only get a sample of all the great relationships this evergrowing universe can utilize. Still, I'd say DC animation has more hits than misses and that means they've earned my support. Yes, I'm part of the crowd who enjoys Justice League: War (it's popcorn fun, people), but Throne of Atlantis and Son of Batman don't have me all that concerned about the upcoming projects.

After Throne of Atlantis comes Batman vs. Robin. It is written by J.M.DeMatteis and directed by Jay Oliva (a.k.a. not the team behind Son of Batman). DeMatteis has proven he can do character-driven and captivating stories (Kraven's Last Hunt) and he has no problem with comedy, either (LARFLEEZE). Seeing as Son of Batman established Robin's origin story, this project has the advantage of not needing to spend a lot of time setting up the leads. That means it can hopefully spend more time with the Court of Owls (the organization seems to be taking Nobody's place) and even more time on the father-son relationship. I'm confident in DeMatteis' ability to produce a good script that'll balance fun, heart and action and I'm absolutely confident in Oliva's ability to direct exciting hand-to-hand sequences. Did the trailer blow my mind or make me think it'll be the next brilliant DC animation movie? No. Did it look entertaining and much more promising than Son of Batman? Yes, I'd say so.

Expanding a new animated universe comes as a double-edged sword. As we saw in Throne of Atlantis, the need to include other heroes can be a hindrance and take away from the main story. That's always a bummer if it isn't executed well, but it also means there's so much potential for future projects. The fact Aquaman took the lead role is a big deal. It wasn't handled as well as it could have been, but it shows they're willing to let other characters shine. Who's to say they won't learn from their mistakes? A possible Wonder Woman could take note of what Throne of Atlantis did wrong and aim to fix that by focusing heavily on Wonder Woman and her world and not as much on the rest of the heroes. Or what about when they eventually focus on Cyborg, Flash or Green Lantern? The fact we're even talking about these characters potentially getting their own animated movie is thrilling. With DC beginning to create its Cinematic Universe (better late than never), DC animated movies should really take advantage of that and continue to offer more content with these characters who will soon appear on the big screen.

At the end of the day, the success of DC and WB's animated movies is on us. If we like what they're doing or simply want to see more and hope they'll improve, we need to support them with our money and spread the word. Why should they take risks only to have the final product not sell well? If they don't generate enough money, they won't have the opportunity to create more movies and won't have the confidence to truly focus on characters other than Batman and Superman. In the end, sales speak louder than online comments. That's not to say you should remain silent, though! We live in an age where you can send your immediate feedback directly to the creative teams via social media. If you like something, let 'em know what they're doing right. Who doesn't love a compliment? More importantly, they'll know what's working. If something rubbed you the wrong way, let them know. If enough people say they weren't a fan of something and why, it may make an impact. Just make sure it's constructive criticism. Being rude and offensive is not an effective way to make sure someone takes you seriously and listens to what you have to say. If you're disappointed with modern DC animated movies, maybe you should resist buying the next one and, if sales drop enough, it just may cause them to reevaluate how they're approaching these projects.

While Justice League: Throne of Atlantis and Son of Batman weren't all that great, I'm still excited for what's to come. More often than not, these movies successfully pull me into an entertaining world and remind me why I love the DC universe. They may not always live up to the source material and it may not seem like we'll get another "MUST SEE" movie in the near future, but if these movies can captivate us and keep us entertained for a little more than an hour, then I'd say they're worth rooting for.

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