Spectacular. That’s the Young Justice movie “Independence Day” in a single word. Gorgeous animation, great characters, a tight script, beautiful characters designs, solid performances, nary a hair out of place here. It is unbelievable how confident, how precise this show is right out of the gate. The only downside I can find here is a predictable one – the wait for Young Justice to start airing regular in early 2011. After this one-hour movie, laced with enough subplots and characters to keep any series going for quite a long time, it’s very apparent the creators here have a long-form plan in action for what looks to be a new benchmark for super hero animation.
In Young Justice, being a teenager means proving yourself over and over — to peers, parents, teachers, mentors and, ultimately, to yourself. But what if you’re not just a normal teenager? What if you’re a teenage super hero? How much harder will it be to prove yourself in a world of super powers, super villains and super secrets? Are you ready to come of age in such a world? Are you ready for life or death rites of passage? Are you ready to join the ranks of the great heroes and prove you’re worthy of the Justice League? That’s exactly what the members of Young Justice — Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian and Artemis — will found out … whether they have what it takes to be a proven hero. In the Young Justice premiere, Robin, Speedy, Aqualad and Kid Flash are finally granted access to the headquarters of the Justice League. But when that access turns out to be little more than a glorified backstage pass, Speedy walks, and the other three sidekicks go on a mission of their own…to Project Cadmus, where they make a startling discovery…
Young Justice is the DC Universe come to life. Yes, the show is focusing on a select group of characters, with plenty of others rotating in the background, but this show drips of the DC Universe. It looks and feels like it. It’s like a DC Comic come to life in the best possible ways. As dense and complicated as the DC Universe can be, producers Greg Weisman (late of the brilliant The Spectacular Spider-Man) and Brandon Vietti (fresh off the gripping Batman: Under the Red Hood) make it completely accessible and totally inviting. And what they create is a world, as I gushingly said in the introduction, that is full of spectacular awe.
While this comparison may be a little unfair and perhaps a little too early to make, Young Justice “Independence Day” blows The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the latest Marvel Animation series, out of the water in nearly all regards. Even if I was just comparing both two-part series openers from each respective show, it’s no contest. DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation just does it again, hands down.
As the synopsis above states, Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash head off on their own to investigate a mysterious fire at Cadmus after being essentially dismissed by the Justice League, and find themselves quickly over their heads. The majority of this special movie event , which is really the first two episodes of the series, takes place admist dark labs and grotesque creatures with our heroes trying to stay one step ahead. The premise of a mysterious lab isn’t exactly original, yes, but Weisman, writer for this animated Young Justice debut, makes it thrilling, tense, absurdly creepy, and even a little bit unpredictable. We know our heroes are going to survive, but there are a couple of surprises along the way that should throw the viewers for a loop. Thankfully, as dark as this opener can be, Weisman also makes sure there’s a fair amount of light-heartedness and tension breakers to keep things from getting a bit too serious. The banter between Robin and Kid Flash is particularly humorous, with Robin getting a sizable chunk of Weisman-esque one-liners and quips (“Way to be a team player, Rob!” is a favorite line of mine).
The violence is quick and hard, and looks painfully devastating at times. When Superboy throws a punch, you can almost feel it in your teeth. Whether our heroes are fighting off an army of disfigured clones or facing off against a hulking beast, this show does not shy away from the inevitable and brutal fisticuffs. The choreography and storyboarding makes it all look very stylish, with loads of flair, so it’s never boring or repetitive. Young Justice earns that TV-PG rating, no question.
While we don’t really see them in action, we also get plenty of face-time with the Justice League as well, particularly the adult counterparts to our main characters. Providing a nice balance to the main teen heroes, the series sets up which Justice Leaguers will be playing a bigger role in the series than others, but based on events in the latter part of the premiere, it is very clear we’ll be seeing the entire Justice League, and then some, from time to time.
The Young Justice creative team has really found an ingenious little way to make this series appeal to the younger crowd but also bring in the older fans. Long-time fans will get a kick out of seeing what is obviously a very well thought-out premise for the series, steeped in DC mythology, and new viewers will undoubtedly be drawn in by the charismatic main characters. Thankfully, the older members of the Justice League aren’t the cookie-cutter one-dimensional “we’re the adults and you do as we say!” types (even if they do give off that impression early on, that changes in the final moments), and the younger characters aren’t just looking for kicks, but heroes looking to prove they are ready to do what they’ve been trained for. The fact that our group of teen heroes will be doing covert missions for the Justice League is a nice dark twist for the series.
Naturally there’s plenty more going on here than what I’ve just said, and I don’t want to spoil what is really a tour-de-force from the creative team. They really show how to open a new animated series here with “Independence Day.” There’s layer upon layer here, and I have no question that “Independence Day” definitely lends itself to multiple viewings to catch all the hidden DC Comics easter eggs and nods toward future storylines. Character relationships are set up, some likely long-term villains are established (somewhat), and plenty of questions remain dangling, just waiting to be answered. And you will want the answers – trust me. There is plenty here that will keep fans talking for months to come. What we get here is a fine introduction to the world of Young Justice and the world this series inhabits. It’s actually pretty exciting knowing that, even based off the 45-odd minutes here, a whole new, expansive animated DC mythology is being born. Even if the creative team wasn’t so upfront about it in the press, it is very clear there’s a much bigger plan at work here, and I am excited to see more of it as soon as possible.
Simply put, Young Justice “Independence Day” is not to be missed. As I said at the beginning, the animation is gorgeous, the characters all like-able, the voice work is superb, the script excellent, all of it just coming together so flawlessly under the beautiful character designs of Phil Barbossa (fresh off Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths). This really does look to be the start of something big, the next landmark DC Comic animated series, and it shouldn’t be passed up. Be sure to catch it Friday, November 26th, 2010 at 7pm (ET) on Cartoon Network.
Note: This review was originally published for The World’s Finest.