DC has long since proven that they are the definitive name in straight-to-video releases. Much like Marvel with live-action superhero films and Blumhouse Productions with horror films, DC’s non-theatrical films have proven unerringly good at bringing the intensity and nuance of comic book characters to the small screen.
In the aftermath of Justice League: War, the king of Atlantis is dead. While the queen struggles to keep their silent peace with the surface world, her vengeful son Orm executes an escalating series of treasons designed to throw his people into battle against the surfacers. But when the newly formed Justice League becomes entangled in Orm’s conspiratorial webs, they must convince the grieving Arthur Curry – the queen’s bastard son – to join them in bringing his genocidal half-brother to justice.
After The Flashpoint Paradox and War, DC’s latest straight-to-dvd, shared-universe films had a lot to live up to. War made it onto my top ten movies list of last year, and The Flashpoint Paradox wasn’t too far behind it the year before. Additionally, Throne of Atlantis was one of my most anticipated films from this year. And, although it doesn’t quite live up to all of the hype built around it, it is never-the-less an excellent film that broadens DC’s animated universe and meaningfully furthers its larger storyline.
While its predecessors certainly did not skimp on animation quality, Throne of Atlantis is one of the most visually impressive animated films that I’ve seen in recent memory. Not only is its 2-D art style a welcome change of pace from the near omnipresence of 3-D animation in contemporary films, but it is impressively detailed for a non-theatrical release. The underwater scenes were particularly impressive, allowing for richly layered visuals that its shared universe forbearers lacked.
The land-bound scenes of Arthur Curry are some of the funniest that I expect to see all year. The once and future Aquaman getting into a drunken bar brawl when his conversation with a restaurant lobster is interrupted by a hungry patron is exactly what I wanted to see in the film. His struggling between the surface world and Atlantis is similarly what I was hoping for going in. The problem is that the film only shows us so much of that before deciding that we need to get back to the far less interesting plot.
Although visually impressive, the departure of director Jay Oliva is as noticeable as if Marvel chose somebody other than Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers. Sure, Ethan Spaulding (director of the similarly excellent Batman: Assault on Arkham) is no slouch at the helm of this film, but he lacks Oliva’s flair behind the camera. Throne of Atlantis often feels like a late-production draft of what it wants to be rather than the final film: the over-developed plot rushing from scene to scene without giving the characters a chance to develop and interact like they were able to in the previous animated Justice League films.
Although somewhat of a letdown, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is never the less a strong start to what promises to be an impressive year at the movies. Its strong animation, adult-level violence and eclectic cast of characters are sure to please genre fans, even if it fails to convince the unconverted of its worth. It’s a definite must see for superhero fans (and especially fans of DC).