There was a period a few years back where Warner Bros. had a deal worked out with Netflix that involved the streaming service getting access to a pretty big variety of DC animated movies. Now, I’m generally more of a Marvel fan, but even I have to admit that when it comes to animated features, DC’s films are the far and away superior product. I think I watched every DC animated movie that was available on Netflix back then, and I was admittedly sad when the contract expired and they all went away.
Cut to this month, when I’m perusing the Netflix library for things that my students might enjoy watching during lunch time (we eat lunch in our classrooms every day, and sometimes the kids get antsy once they’re done with their meal). Lo and behold, I spied three new DC animated movies that I’ve not seen before. I was ecstatic! I was overjoyed! I was met with indifference from my students even though several of them love the Flash and Batman.
Needless to say, my students have not seen these movies yet, though I’m sure the time will come in the near future when they’ll be intrigued enough to check them out. In the mean time, I decided to watch one of them on my own at home. I figured I’d go in order of release date, just on the off chance there might be some minor continuity nods between films (DC’s animated library has become more self contained over the years, with each movie doing very little to reference plot lines of other movies, but I still figured better to be safe). With that metric, I settled on The Flashpoint Paradox, the 2013 adaptation of DC’s major comic event Flashpoint that launched their recently ended New 52 continuity (DC continuity’s a complete mess).
Now, I feel like it’s important for me to emphasize here that I am not a continuity nerd for DC the way I am for Marvel (and even that’s only for Marvel heroes that I really like), so I don’t have any real opinions regarding the plot of Flashpoint and its impact on the DC universe. My interest in The Flashpoint Paradox is purely as a consumer of superhero stories and animated film.
On those metrics, I like it.
The interesting character bits here revolve around Barry Allen, the most prominent of the three major characters who have held the mantle of the Flash. After saving Central City from an attack by the Rogues (an assortment of Flash villains who like to team up against him) with the help of the Justice League, Barry goes for a run that leads him back in time to the point where his mother was murdered when he was a child, and he saves her, altering the timeline in the process. Now, apparently the Speed Force, which is the source of all speedsters’ powers in the DC Universe, is also the source of all do-whatever-you-want-with-the-plot devices as well, as Barry’s interference in one event has a retroactive effect on the timeline that totally alters the history of all the members of the Justice League. Superman’s captured by the government when his rocket crash lands in the middle of Metropolis, Cyborg’s the chief national security adviser for the United States, Hal Jordan wasn’t there to inherit his Green Lantern power ring from Abin Sur, Aquaman and Wonder Woman have destroyed Europe in the course of an ongoing war between their respective nations, and Batman is actually Thomas Wayne who saw his son fatally shot on the night when he and his family were mugged (Martha Wayne also survived and apparently became the Joker, though we don’t get to see her in action). Oh, and Barry doesn’t have his powers anymore.
This whole set up is clearly playing on the idea of dark alternate timelines and the unforeseen consequences of our actions. If you’re even vaguely familiar with the core members of the Justice League, the differences are pretty stark (and thankfully, the movie begins with an extended sequence that shows the Justice League as they are in Barry’s regular timeline just in case you aren’t). I’m generally inclined to quibble about Barry’s decision to save his mother being the nexus from which all other major events in the history of the Justice League’s members collapse (I just have a hard time buying that it’s this tragedy that holds cosmic significance). The problem that I have with all of this though is that Barry’s unaware that he’s done anything wrong for most of the movie’s run time. When he wakes up in the new timeline, he doesn’t even remember going back to save his mother in the first place, and the late revelation that the whole thing was orchestrated by the Flash’s arch nemesis the Reverse Flash (I think it’s pretty silly too, but just go with it) really strikes me as a major missed opportunity. Barry’s decision to save his mother from her murderer should have carry some significant ethical consequences, but structuring everything so that Barry can’t remember that he did it in the first place (let alone knowing he was going to change the entire timeline both before and after that point) lets him off the hook. Naturally, he’s a superhero and he decides to undo this mistake as soon as he’s capable again (there’s an extended sequence where Barry has Batman help him get struck by lightning–twice–to reacquire his powers; I can’t for the life of me figure out why the movie bothers to have the first attempt be a failure other than for the sake of fidelity to the original comics story, which I’m guessing had the initial failure as an end-of-issue cliffhanger), which isn’t particularly interesting. Being fully informed of the consequences, of course Barry makes the right choice; I wanted to see the conflict of him making the initial decision when he didn’t fully know the ramifications.
In the way of animation, Flashpoint Paradox is a remarkably beautiful movie. It has multiple high quality action sequences, and they’re all animated with excellent fluidity. Really, it’s the visuals that are the movie’s strongest point, and the thing that I ultimately enjoyed the most. While the plot’s solid enough, and competently structured, it doesn’t quite have the emotional punch that this kind of story should.