A League of Its Own

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Even the most hardcore fans of DC Comics’ “Crisis” storylines would probably admit that distilling one of these notoriously exhaustive multidimensional narratives into a feature-length film is nearly impossible. But Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, directed by Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu and written by Dwayne McDuffie, manages to tell an engaging, fast-paced and—perhaps most importantly—accessible Crisis tale that is one of the best direct-to-video DC Universe films we’ve seen.

In an alternate version of Earth, Lex Luthor is the last surviving member of the Justice League. To save his world from the tyrannical Crime Syndicate—led by Ultraman, Superwoman and Owlman (sensing a pattern here?)—Luthor travels across dimensions and asks the Justice League for help. While Batman is averse to the idea of the Justice League racing to the aid of an alternate reality when there are so many lingering problems in their own, the rest of the team travels to the parallel Earth to take down the Crime Syndicate. But fear not, Bat-fans. The Caped Crusader eventually changes his mind and joins the fray once he learns that Owlman aims to detonate a doomsday device on Earth-Prime, which would destroy all of existence in the process.

One of the most surprising aspects of Crisis on Two Earths is how well realized—and well cast—Owlman is. James Woods is pitch perfect as this character, who eventually emerges as the dominant villain in the piece. More than just an “evil” version of Batman, Owlman in this film is calculating, creepy and a serious threat to the multiverse.

Also impressive is Gina Torres, who voices Superwoman. The Firefly alum seems to relish playing this hyper-sexual and hyper-aggressive version of Wonder Woman, and that enthusiasm pays off, especially during one scene in which she toys with an outmatched Batman like a cat swatting around a wounded mouse. It’s not exactly clear at that moment whether she wants to kill him or sleep with him, but we’re fairly sure bones would be broken either way. Yikes.

William Baldwin voicing Batman is a bit jarring, if only because he sounds nothing like veteran Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy. Conroy has been voicing the character rather frequently lately, most notably in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum. He would have been a great fit for Crisis on Two Earths’ version of the character, but since these animated features are trying to avoid any semblance of continuity, it’s probably for the best that different actors are being used. Gripes aside, Baldwin makes Batman sound older and more world-weary compared to the more idealistic Superman, voiced in the film by Mark Harmon.

It goes without saying that the animation in Crisis on Two Earths is phenomenal, since all of the DC Universe direct-to-video films have boasted top-notch production values. The action scenes are well choreographed and energetic, and the film rarely loses forward momentum during its 75-minute running time. 

Wait, 75 minutes? Unfortunately, these DC Universe films tend to run a bit on the short side. Heck, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, the previous film in this line, clocked in at just over an hour. It would be nice if these features shot for a running time of about 90 minutes, especially since they’ve been generally good thus far. The content’s great: let’s just see more of it.

Fortunately, the bonus features on the two-disc special edition DVD make up for the relative brevity of the film itself. The DVD includes an 11-minute animated short starring the Spectre. Written by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and fashioned after a 1970s-era grindhouse film, this short does a whole lot with very little. Even if you’re not a fan of the Spectre—or have next to no idea of who he is—this film is outstanding.

Other extras include a sneak peek at the next film in this line, Batman: Under the Red Hood, two Crisis-esque Justice League episodes presented by producer Bruce Timm and a featurette on DC’s Crisis events.

If you’re a fan of DC animation, you need to own Crisis on Two Earths. It’s not the best DC Universe Animated Original Movie—that distinction still arguably belongs to Wonder Woman—but it’s definitely up there. For more casual fans of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the rest of the Justice League, this is more than worth a rental. 

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  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Feb 25, 2010 at 11:59pm

    This was pretty awesome. Good story, great action, lots of nods to the comics, and cameos galore. I agree that James Woods and Gina Torres were perfect. I didn't really like William Baldwin as Batman though. Partly, yes, it's his non-Conroy-ness (it's hard for me to hear anyone else as Batman after all these years) but it's also that the voice isn't deep or imposing enough. For instance, Jeremy Sisto made a good Batman in The New Frontier and I didn't mind the lack of Conroy. Other than that small gripe, I really enjoyed this.

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