At the end of the Korean War, American fighter pilot Hal Jordan (voiced by David Boreanaz) and his wingman "Ace" Morgan (John Heard) come under fire from enemy planes who are unaware the conflict is over. Forced to bail out Hal lands right in a combat zone where he is forced to kill a North Korean soldier, something that sickens his innate sense of humanity. Meanwhile back in the USA, an experiment in teleportation inadvertently brings the last survivor of the Martian race, J'onn J'onzz (Miguel Ferrer) down to Earth. Now trapped on an alien world, the Martian Manhunter uses his shape-shifting abilities to adapt to his new environment and begin a second life as a crime-busting cop. Elsewhere, Barry Allen (Neil Patrick Harris) a.k.a. the scarlet speedster known as The Flash interrupts a live news broadcast to announce henceforth he will no longer be a superhero. In the wake of the anti-Communist witch hunts marshalled by Senator Joseph McCarthy, superheroes have been driven underground. While Superman (Kyle MacLachlan) and Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless) signed loyalty oaths in order to keep fighting the good fight under the tight leash of the American government and Batman (Jeremy Sisto) still wages a one-man war on crime, many others are hunted by the police and shunned by the very citizens they have sworn to defend. Yet when Hal Jordan becomes a test pilot for a secret space program headed by the beautiful and brilliant Carol Ferris (Brooke Shields), the discovery of an otherworldly threat to all mankind draws all the heroes together in a desperate fight to forge a bright new future for America and the world.
Justice League: The New Frontier was the third DC Universe animated movie produced by Warner Brothers Animation headed by the legendary Bruce W. Timm of Batman: The Animated Series fame. The film was based on the acclaimed 2003 graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke that took the iconic comic book characters back to their Silver Age roots covering a time period between the end of the Korean War and the rise of the Kennedy administration in 1960. While not quite Mad Men with superheroes Cooke's superb writing and delightfully retro art revitalized a staid and cynical comic book scene in the early Noughties by combining the warmth, idealism and sense of fun of the Silver Age with the more confrontational moral dilemmas of the modern DC universe. By contrast the animated version is too brisk to do justice to the complex themes in Cooke's graphic novel but still gives it a valiant try.
Working with input from Cooke, screenwriter Stan Berkowitz condenses the original narrative drastically but skilfully, weaving a compellingly labyrinthine mystery between some spectacular action sequences. Epic in scope the plot interweaves a Lovecraftian threat to all life on Earth and a heroes-in-hiding angle familiar from The Incredibles (2004) together with real historical incidents drawn from the anti-Communist witch hunts, Cold War paranoia and the space race. As depicted in The New Frontier beneath the surface charm the early-to-mid Fifties were a dark time for America yet the Silver Age heroes themselves crystallize the resurgence of American idealism paving the way for the accomplishments of the Kennedy era. America and true patriotism (rather than that of the shallow "love it or leave it" kind that marked McCarthy's cause) are central themes. Both Wonder Woman (first glimpsed aiding rebels in Indochina and inadvertently paving way for the Vietnam war) and Batman have lost faith with the government in the wake of the McCarthy debacle. Yet Lois Lane (Kyra Sedgwick) argues that while boogeymen invariably spring from every political corner, the core idealism of America must endure. What the nation needs is to put aside various political differences and rally behind a cause, and for that it needs heroes. Ultimately, The New Frontier is a feature length treatise on the importance of idealism and old-fashioned heroism.
Adding to the charm the plot interweaves a life-affirming friendship that blossoms against the odds between the Martian Manhunter and xenophobic government agent King Farraday (Phil Morris) alongside a brace of genuinely charming love stories. Too often neglected in live action superhero fare, the likes of Iris West (Vicky Lewis) and Carol Ferris join Lois Lane and Wonder Woman as strong, memorable female characters while the men combine the conviction and integrity of classic Fifties heroism with the more progressive outlook and sensitivity of the present. An outstanding voice cast do a fine job bringing these characters to life with genre veteran David Boreanaz easily eclipsing the live action Green Lantern, Neil Patrick Harris an unexpectedly vulnerable Flash and Miguel Ferrer an affecting, soulful Martian Manhunter. Some took Cooke to task for his depiction of Superman as a compliant government agent, claiming he simply lifted the concept from Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns. However, Cooke's take on Superman is far less satirical and arguably more faithful to the character, reflecting his fundamentally benign nature. Towards the climax he delivers a fantastic speech that truly encapsulates everything this iconic character stands for. Yet the key note speech belongs to John F. Kennedy from whose celebrated speech accepting the Democratic party nomination as a presidential candidate in 1960 ("We stand at the edge of a New Frontier...") the film derives its title.