Justice League of America
Justice League of America 1997
While I’ve delved through the entire depths of the Marvel film catalogue including their awful TV movie roots, I have yet to do the same for DC. I have seen nearly all of their films, but there are a handful of early animated movies from the 90’s and a couple TV movies including this one that was initially intended to be the pilot of a new TV series coming hot off the heels of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. But they also took a page out of the popularity of MTV’s the Real World which would have been on season 4 or 5 when this went into production and also would be near the height of the show’s popularity. So this show combines the superheroics with the daily life of the heroes alongside several “confessional” segments where the heroes talk directly to the TV audience. It’s bizarre how this managed to even make it to the pilot movie stage, the costumes and effects were lackluster, the characters were unlikable and barely resembled their comic book counterparts, and overall it feels roughly five years behind even 1997.
To kick things off, the Justice League of America or JLA consists of a team of misfits. Their heavy hitters are the Flash and Green Lantern, but Barry Allen is a muscle-headed meatball who can’t hold down a job and feels like his power is useless, and Green Lantern is the lesser known Guy Gardner who plays it up like a horn dog who has a resentful girlfriend while he constantly hits on the lone female member of the team any chance he gets. That female teammate is the relatively unknown hero with the simple name of Fire who can obviously create fire. And the final member of the team has become a little more well known due to his role in Legends of Tomorrow, Ray Palmer’s the Atom. Only here he’s a science teacher, played by voice of the Cryptkeeper John Kassier, who found some radioactive material that gives him the power to become small, rather than the cross between Ant-Man and Iron Man he has become in the Arrowverse. To wrap up the team, there’s the leader who is only hinted at for the first half of the film but eventually shows himself as the Martian Manhunter in the one costume that actually looks pretty decent aside from David Ogden Stiers’ potbelly.
The biggest problem with this team is how unlikable most of them are and how little they generally get along with each other. Especially how they treat poor Barry Allen who looks like he was rejected from the Jersey Shore auditions. He gets kicked out of his apartment and crashes with the rest of the team who apparently all live together in some random house. He tries to ingratiate himself by cooking a meal for the team, but ends up eating nearly all of it himself at super speed. Meanwhile Guy spends most of his time trying to win over the redhead from Clueless. Fire’s alter ego BB is a struggling actress who gains the attention of essentially a teenaged stalker, albeit a very friendly one played by David Krumholtz. Her arc is disappointing especially since she seems to revel in her past breakup with Guy while she happily strings along this teen who figures out her superhero identity by the earrings that he gives her. Not by the fact that she looks exactly the same plus a few coats of green eyeshadow, it’s the earrings. The two teammates that get off the easiest also kind of end up as a couple. Ray Palmer’s Atom is essentially the nice guy and voice of reason, though there’s also no shortage of jokes pointed towards his ability. Throughout the course of the film he: gets small to save a cat under a porch, gets small to fix the TV (and gets electrocuted), and gets small a couple other times with no real goal in mind. There’s also one member who I haven’t mentioned since the film is also a vehicle for her origin story and induction into the team as Tori gains the power of Ice. She also happens to be the mousy assistant to this scientist that eventually is revealed to be the villain of the story who can control weather and obviously goes by the name the Weatherman.
The basic story of the superhero section of the plot is fairly simple and could have easily been packed into a 30 minute episode (and I believe it quite possibly was, though I didn’t watch that version to note the differences). It’s the basic supervillain plot with just a few twists as the team momentarily think that Tori is the Weatherman, then they think that her suspicious co-worker is the Weatherman before finally realizing her boss is the villain who can create isolated weather events in the middle of Metro City, a coastal city that miraculously had never had a hurricane before. Surprisingly, even in the extended version of this pilot there’s an action scene that’s handled entirely offscreen and we only get to see the aftermath of Fire saving people from a mudslide by drying up all the moisture. The confessionals themselves are entirely bizarre, sometimes it’s a single member talking to camera, other times they’re in pairs or even three of them. They are dressed in their civilian clothes, but they’re talking about both their civilian lives as well as their superhero lives even though there’s a moment where Atom tells Ice that they can never reveal their identity to anyone they know. Yet, they’re telling the audience? There’s not any explanation for this setup, no documentary or TV show concept, it’s merely the concept for concept’s sake. It’s not something that seems to work even then, but now it feels especially dated. There are hints of what actually could have become something like Teen Titans Go, but there just wasn’t enough action, enough comedy, and none of the characters are worth watching, especially if you happened to be a fan of Green Lantern or the Flash already, since their powers get the short shrift. Green Lantern’s constructs consist of an umbrella, a chainsaw that he merely uses as an empty threat that also looks quite like a middle finger, and a lock pick that doesn’t work. All the Flash gets to do in any heroic sense is run a couple kids out of the way from an oncoming tidal wave before returning to see the whole class and just give up and wait for Ice to save the day. It’s just completely ridiculous from start to finish. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.