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Josh Reviews Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

May 21st, 2010
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I know I’m turning into a bit of a broken record regarding the continuing series of animated DC Universe DVDs, but I can’t really help it.  I’m really enjoying the direct-to-DVD series so far, and I certainly understand that I should count my blessings that these unique and well-made animated projects exist at all.  But I’m still waiting for one of these new animated films to truly hit the ball out of the park.  These films are great, but none yet rival, say, the animated Batman: Mask of the Phantasm from 1993.

Which is not to say that the latest animated film, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, isn’t a lot of fun — it certainly is!  Based on a variety of different comic book story-lines, this film has some fun with the idea of alternate universes existing parallel with the main DC universe.  Lex Luthor flees one-such alternate world, where alternate versions of the Justice League members have banded together to form the Crime Syndicate and take over the world.  Luthor — actually fighting on the side of good in that universe — determines that his world’s only hope lie in heroes from another universe entirely — our Justice League.

It’s a pretty familiar set-up, but what follows is a fun, tightly-paced action adventure in which Superman, Batman, & co. are forced to confront darker, more ruthless versions of themselves.  There are some nice character beats, and several terrific action sequences.

The voice acting — as is par for the course in these Bruce Timm-supervised DC animated productions — is top-notch.  Hark Harmon (NCIS, The West Wing) is Superman, William Baldwin is Batman, Chris Noth (Mr. Big from Sex and the City) is Lex Luthor, and Vanessa Marshall is Wonder Woman.  Portraying their adversaries are Brian Bloom as Ultraman, James Woods (so many great movies, including Casino and Once Upon a Time in America) as Owlman, and Gina Torres (Zoe from Firefly) as Superwoman.

Despite those great actors, though, I must confess that I miss the voices from the original animated Superman, Batman, and Justice League TV series.  It was GREAT having those core original actors (Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, and Clancy Brown) back for the last DC animated DVD, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (read my review here), and I missed them in this installment.  This was particularly the case because this film isn’t a direct adaptation of a specific comic book story — in fact, of all the DVD films, this adventure feels the most like it could have been an extra-long episode of the Justice League series.  This isn’t a surprise, because on the special features it is revealed that writer Dwayne McDuffie had originally written this adventure as a Justice League episode!  (Attentive viewers can clearly see how this adventure could have fit between the 2nd season of Justice League and the start of Justice League Unlimited — we see the retrofitting of the Justice League’s satellite headquarters, we see the main team make the decision to incorporate other heroes into the League, etc.)  So all the more reason for the original voice actors to have been used.  Oh well.

The word Crisis has a strong meaning in the DC universe.  It has come to indicate important, universe-shaking adventures.  Crisis on Two Earths, while a fun film, doesn’t quite live up to the weight of the Crisis title.  In many ways, it feels like a tease for a greater adventure to come.  (Even the title — Crisis on Two Earths, rather than, say, Crisis on Infinite Earths — the famous DC universe-wide crossover series from 1986 — indicates that this adventure is something of a prelude.)  I do hope that the story-lines begun this film are followed-up on in future DVDs.  It would be absolutely amazing, for example, to see Bruce Timm and his talented team of collaborators take a stab at adapting the seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths series.

Hope springs eternal!

I should also comment that the DVD has some decent special features.  There’s a fun documentary called DCU: The New World which spotlights several of the big DC crossovers of the past few years.  (Though I thought it was a little bizarre that the doc didn’t spend too much time talking about the classic Crisis story-lines, on which this DVD film is loosely based.)  But the best special feature is an additional short film featuring The Spectre.  Done in a really snazzy, almost-retro style, this extra feature was a TON of fun.  Props to the filmmakers for choosing the always-great Gary Cole (Crusade, The West Wing, Pineapple Express) to voice the title character.  I hope to see more of these additional short films, spotlighting other DC Universe characters, on future DVDs!

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