Warner Brother’s direct-to-video Justice League movie hearkens back to a simpler time when the heroic group was better known as the Super Friends. Similar to the setup of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, JLA Adventures takes its cues directly from the long-running TV series with matching character designs and mannerisms. The PG attitude of superheroes in a plot that trades in the grim/dark tone for light adventure was certainly a welcome change of pace in the current crop of DC Comics projects. But while encapsulating the spirit of Super Friends, JLA Trapped in Time also makes the mistake of trying to retain the writing style. Thus, what could’ve been a sensational video for the wee DC Comics fans turns into a bland reminder of why Super Friends still had its moments of lameness.
The story starts out promising enough with the Legion of Doom attempting to over-freeze the polar ice caps causing the water levels to dramatically decrease. The heroic Justice League descend on the scene to save the day with some good old fashioned justice. All the characters have wonderfully retro designs and have sly banter between punches. When the fight is over, Lex Luthor ends up being lost to the ice of the arctic. It isn’t until several years later that his body is found encased in ice and, for some reason, is kept on display in a museum of supervillains. This has to be one of the worst museums since there seems to be zero security guards and all the villain weapons on display are in perfect working order.
After being freed by a crack in his icy coffin, Lex arms himself with Captain Cold’s freeze gun and takes interest in a special time travel artifact (also in working order for being in a museum). The artifact harbors the supernatural time villain known as the Time Trapper who bends to Lex’s whim if it results in his freedom. Naturally, Lex decides to use these powers to go back in time and prevent the Justice League from ever being assembled soon after he was frozen in ice.
Only two superhero kids in training from the future can stop this madness: Karate Kid and Dawnstar. This is where the movie starts to fall apart as these two characters are our leads for the entire story. And, wow, are they bland. Karate Kid is an overzealous martial artists who doesn’t think before he attacks and Dawnstar is a pacifist who isn’t too keen on using her light abilities for force. They’re polar opposites that end up learning from each other with development you can see coming a mile away. If this were a 22 minute episode for just these two scamps, it’d be a decent if not forgettable story. But at almost an hour, it drags on far too long with hardly any action. Not only do we get very little of the superheroes you’d expect to see in the Justice League (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash), but the majority of the plot involves discussing the dynamics of time travel for far too long. Trim out that fat and you have an episode used to pad out the episode order for a JLA TV series.
The few moments when the iconic superheroes are on screen are the few moments that actually feel like a real Justice League movie. At one point the League must combat the Legion in past Smallville attempting to prevent baby Superman being discovered by the Kent family. It’s delightfully absurd with plenty of one-liners and some great bits with Solomon Grundy and Cheetah pretending to be the married couple reclaiming the young Kryptonian. Scenes like those come so close to being genuinely stellar that I let out a big sigh everytime the story focuses back to Karate Kid and Dawnstar.
I wouldn’t mind these characters so much if they were slowly brought into the fold to develop some better personality, but we’re pretty much stuck with them from start. It really does feel like one of the lesser Super Friends episodes reserved for the C-listers. It doesn’t help that there is also a cameo in the film by the three useless characters in the history of Super Friends: Wendy, Marvin and Wonerdog. What were their powers? Nothing. What were their talents? Solving simple riddles and puzzles as if they were part of Batman’s summer camp. The episodes they appeared in were also about an hour long so there’s another painful reminder.
The saddest thing about this whole ordeal is that I seriously wanted to love this lighter take on DC Comics characters. I appreciate the PG-13 DC Comics direct-to-video films for what they are, but it’d be nice to see some more titles you could watch with the wee ones. Kids love these characters so they should get to see them as more adventurous than grim and dark at least for one film.
While this attempt does deliver on the tone, it’s unbelievably dull for the truckload of exposition required for a time travel scenario. Plus, nobody wants to pick up a Justice League movie with the A-listers on the cover only to spend the entire film following forgotten characters. After watching this film from beginning to end, you’ll be reminded of why these characters were forgettable to begin with.