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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Justice League: The New Frontier is a 2008 animated feature in which beloved superheroes face Cold War paranoia and a spreading international threat. This is a violent cartoon, with blood and dead bodies shown. A little boy is threatened with cult sacrifice by a knife-wielding cult leader. There are two close-up fatal shootings, not directly shown, but there is blood. After Wonder Woman liberates the women of a Korean village from soldiers who (it's strongly implied) raped them, the women take up the soldiers' dropped arms, kill them, and leave the bodies burning in bonfires. These moments, as well as scenes of suicide by gun (heard, but not shown), the demonic imagery shown as a vast herd of dinosaurs go on the attack, and the overall creepiness of the cult conveyed in the movie, surely played a role in the PG-13 rating, and while some might find the rating a bit harsh, the violence and content are a lot for kids and younger tweens to process. There are also themes of some of the more unsavory aspects of the 1950s, such as racism, the Korean War, McCarthyism, and U.S. government paranoia and treachery.
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- Kids say
What's the story?
It's the mid-1950s, and America's Cold War pathologies, conformity, and anti-Communist paranoia have even turned against the nation's superheroes, forcing many of them to go underground -- all except Superman, who took a loyalty oath to the U.S. government. But the Flash is berated for keeping his identity secret (and wearing a politically suspect red costume), Batman is a fugitive, and Wonder Woman (as she helps some oppressed peasants in a far-off place called Vietnam) complains that her adoptive country is not as dedicated to truth, justice, and the American Way as it used to be. But the Justice League pulls together again to fight the rise of "the Center," a powerful ancient life-form pre-dating the dinosaurs, who has also decided that humanity is a planetary nuisance and decides to eradicate humankind altogether.
Is it any good?
This is a super-sized story, super-stuffed with super-events that superhero super-fans will consider super-canonical. It's a feature spin-off of the Justice League of America TV cartoon series. In addition to the battle against the Center (an entity so powerful it can put Wonder Woman and Superman both out of action), the audience gets to behold the interconnected origin stories of two other DC superheroes, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern, as well as the Flash revealing his identity to the woman he loves and Batman's early motivations in partnering up with Robin the Boy Wonder (to present a "friendlier" image to Gotham citizens during the fearful '50s).
It's rather amazing that the overstuffed narrative holds together as well as it does, and some good scriptwriting and clever tie-ins to real-world events and attitudes help to keep all the various super-balls in the air. But viewers who are total strangers to the Justice League gallery of heroes and villains and their involved backstories -- Green Arrow, Hawkman, Gorilla Grodd, Aquaman, the Joker, and more make cameos -- may find it all rather confusing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of comics icons. Ask kids who their favorites are: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, or their competitors over at Marvel like the X-Men? Comics-savvy parents can talk about the "Silver Age" of comics, an era this film deals with, and how this movie weaves into the costumed-superhero mythology the historical offscreen menaces of McCarthyism, Jim-Crow lynch mobs, Communism, and xenophobia -- a DVD "extra" documentary helps with some of the background.
The movie ends with an excerpt of President John F. Kennedy delivering his "New Frontier" speech, in which he connects the pioneer spirit of America not only to space exploration but also to "unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus." How does the use of this speech connect the movie's story to its theme? How is this speech, given in 1960, relevant today?
Do you think this movie warrants a PG-13 rating? Why or why not? What themes and content do you think influenced the decision made by the MPAA and its raters?
- In theaters: February 26, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: February 26, 2008
- Cast: David Boreanaz, Miguel Ferrer, Neil Patrick Harris
- Director: David Bullock
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Superheroes
- Character Strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 77 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violent content, images
- Last updated: November 15, 2019
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