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Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Posted by Luke Brown On February - 23 - 2010

Over the course of the last few years, DC has teamed with Warner Home Video to create a series of direct-to-video movies based on classic comic storylines and characters. Whether it’s been an adaptation of the death of Superman, a brand-new telling of the origin of Green Lantern, or an anthology of Batman stories bridging the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, each of the standalone films has been an interesting take on these well-known properties.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is the latest adventure, and features the Justice League as we know them going toe-to-toe with an evil alternate Earth version called the Crime Syndicate. I’ve said before that seemingly each of the movies supplants the last as the best yet, but with Crisis on Two Earths, DC and Warner have set a new bar for what fans can expect from these direct-to-DVD features.

The movie opens on another Earth, where Lex Luthor is a hero teaming with the Jester (alternate Joker) to break into what appears to be some sort of research facility. The duo gets their hands on what they were looking for, but suddenly, alarms sound, and Luthor and the Jester frantically try to escape before they’re caught. Luthor makes it out alive, but at a great cost, only to find that he’s come face to face with Ultraman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, and Owlman, four of the core members of the Crime Syndicate. Instead of trying to face them all head-on, Luthor teleports away, eventually finding himself on our version of Earth, where he seeks the help of the Justice League. From there, you can pretty much guess the rest, but you’ll still have a really great time seeing how the adventure transpires. What’s great about Dwayne McDuffie’s script is how it makes DC’s otherwise indecipherable multiverse concept accessible to people who aren’t as familiar with the comics. McDuffie and directors Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu make sure to include a litany of great Easter eggs throughout the film, with one of the final moments stealing the show. Only one plot point really bothered me, and the moment you see it in the film you’ll know what I’m talking about, but for the most part, Crisis on Two Earths is a solidly constructed superhero story.

Despite what you think of the man’s Justice League comic work, McDuffie has got a great handle on the characterization of these heroes and villains. Dwayne’s ability to juggle so many voices is impressive, and even though the bulk of the dialogue belongs to Owlman, McDuffie is able to present just as much personality for the rest of the cast even though they don’t get nearly as much screen time. Both Superwoman and Wonder Woman truly stand out, though just as much of their shine comes from the impeccable voice work of Gina Torres and Vanessa Marshall, respectively. Torres’ Superwoman is the definition of femme fatale, and even though Wonder Woman’s character is prevalent much more in her actions, what Marshall is able to do with her time makes her performance memorable. Truly though, the star of the film is James Woods’ Owlman. Of course Woods’ interpretation of the character as a quiet, nihilistic madman is brilliant, but just as much credit has to be given to the way McDuffie wrote the caped menace. He’s never portrayed as opposite Batman so much as he is portrayed as the example of what happens when brilliance and sociopathic tendencies combine into one being. Sure, he’s got all of Batman’s moves, and probably the same backstory, but something happened during Owlman’s development that turned him from a brooding vigilante into an introspective, philosophical mad scientist. You believe this character thinks he’s doing the right thing in spite of how awful it is, and watching his plan unfold via Woods’ performance is one of the primary reasons you should be watching this movie.

For the most part, every other performance is solid. Chris Noth’s Luthor really does feel like the anti-Clancy Brown, and hearing Nolan North’s Hal Jordan reminded me that Nathan Fillion would have made a great Green Lantern. That’s no slight to Mr. North, it’s just that somehow, the characters he’s chosen to portray are almost always the characters you could imagine Fillion playing in real life. William Baldwin’s Batman never gets time to grow on you, and of all the characters in the DC animated library, Kevin Conroy’s Batman will always be the hardest to replace for the fans. It’s a shame Baldwin isn’t given more time, but he still does a fine job as Bruce Wayne. Ultraman, portrayed by Brian Bloom, is exactly the character he needed to be. At times, it may seem the performance is a bit heavy handed, but that’s just the way the character is in this particular universe, so I didn’t have a big problem with it. Is the entire Crime Syndicate a bit of a mafia stereotype? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Johnny Quick and the Flash are pretty forgettable, which is a shame because both of those characters deserved more. Of course, there’s only so much time to deal with so many characters, so someone has to take the backseat. I really like Mark Harmon, but for some reason his Superman just didn’t click with me. Though to be fair, I’m pretty sure the only reason his voice took me out of the movie was because I kept hearing Mark Harmon, and not Superman.

As for special features, the Blu-Ray includes a first look at the next animated feature, Batman: Under the Red Hood. There’s no completed footage yet, so all you can see are animatics. I’m not crazy about the stylizing of Doug Mahnke’s work (he was the main artist on the comic story), but I’m willing to give the final product a chance. The comic arc wasn’t something that redefined Batman or anything, and I’m dying to see how Judd Winnick plans to explain Jason Todd’s return from the grave (it’s a five-year-old story, so I don’t feel bad about spoiling that), and even more so, I’m looking forward to Bruce Greenwood’s Batman. There are a few pilot episodes for Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) and the never-aired Aquaman, with that guy who became Green Arrow on Smallville. You’ve also got four Justice League cartoons featuring the Justice Lords and Darkseid, which are great to revisit if you don’t own the DVDs of the series. Perhaps the best part about this release is the very first DC Showcase, featuring the Spectre.

Written by Steve Niles and starring Gary Cole as Jim Corrigan, DCS: The Spectre is a ten-minute short featuring a character that would likely not have gotten a feature-length adaptation, and after watching this, it’s a damn shame. Niles’ script called for the story to be in the vein of a 70s detective television show, ala Kolchack, and the way the Spectre works as a character in that type of genre is surprisingly awesome. It’s so brief that I don’t want to give away any of what happens, just know that you’ll be super-hyped for more adventures that will probably never happen. Gary Cole is, as per usual, excellent as both the subdued Jim Corrigan and the haunting voice of the spirit of vengeance. The animation on this segment is radically different from that of the main feature, and feels more like a 70s anime than it does a modern superhero animated cartoon. Now, that’s not a bad thing. The stylized look and feel work great, from the green aura of the Spectre, to the great facial expressions, right down to the faux grainy film filter. If the rest of the DC Showcase shorts are as interesting and fun to watch as this one, they may well have a new anthology series on their hands.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths spent a long time in development. Dwayne has said the premise started as a way to bridge the gap between the two Justice League cartoons, but was shelved until now. I can tell you after watching it multiple times that it was well worth the wait, and is a film that fans and non-fans alike will highly enjoy. I hope DC and Warner can keep up the momentum from this movie, and continue to up their game with each subsequent entry. If they do, we’re all going to be in for some great stories in the foreseeable future.

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