I really want to say definitively Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is my favorite DC Universe DTV to date but I do have reservations that prevent me from declaring that. I can say with confidence that this felt like it had the strongest footing out of all the DTV’s so far. From the start it just felt well established, introducing us to all the character effortlessly and you get who all the characters are very quickly. I felt very comfortable with all the characters and the way they were all introduced. That may be because it benefits from all the characters’ exploration and development from the Justice League series, which is the “universe” this movie was originally meant to be set in.
A “good” Lex Luthor arrives from an alternate universe to recruit the Justice League to help save his Earth from the Crime Syndicate, a gang of villainous characters with virtually identical super powers to the Justice League. What ensues is the ultimate battle of good versus evil in a war that threatens both planets and, through a diabolical plan launched by Owlman, puts the balance of all existence in peril.
It’s hard to talk about this film without discussing my feelings about it’s DCAU connection. I must say I didn’t find myself wishing the story was presented in the “DCAU” while watching the film. After seeing the film now, I do sort of wonder what could have been. If this film was released in the interim between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, I probably would have been more wowed by it than I am. It’s a very strong story, comparable to the best Justice League Season 2 episodes, but after enjoying all the great stories presented in the 39 episodes of Justice League Unlimited, this film just doesn’t shine as brightly in comparison. Things like Wonder Woman’s acquisition of a certain item and seeing good versions of Lex and Joker would’ve had an extra zip if presented in a DCAU setting. DCAU fans might catch things like that and can’t help but get hung up about it, but trust me, the film has so much going for it that those hang ups aren’t that big a deal.
As a Justice League story on it’s own, this story is written wonderfully by Dwayne McDuffie, and beautifully designed and executed by character designer Phil Bourassa and directors Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery.
I think what struck me first about this film is how well the dialogue is written. It’s effortless and never feels heavy handed. There is some trademark heavy “sci-fi science” dialogue that I’ve seen Dwayne McDuffie indulge on in previous works, but with this film it isn’t distracting and feels true in the setting of the story.
The story is pretty straightforward but there’s plenty of fun nods for fans that it never drags or loses momentum. Without going into specifics, the good version of Lex Luthor is surprisingly effective in the story. I’ve gotta say I didn’t trust him through the story and McDuffie plays on that distrust really well. The most compelling component of the whole film’s story is Owlman, who obviously plays a vital role in the movie if you’ve seen the trailers, and is a very effective villain for the film above all the other villains.
James Woods does an amazing job as Owlman and is easily the best performance in the whole film to me. There’s plenty of other great performaces like Billy Baldwin as Batman, but Woods’ delivery is so unusual for animation that it really shines. Woods plays Owlman in a very understated way. Whenever you hear him speak you just believe this guy isn’t someone to mess with. A huge part of that is how well thought out and how well written Owlman is in the overall story. Owlman is sort of the crutch of the whole movie, and Woods’ and McDuffie’s portrayal of the character is a huge draw for why this film works so well.
The rest of the performances in the movie are fantastic. As I stated earlier, I felt very comfortable with this film from the start, and that’s due to how well the actors sell the characters. I really loved hearing Billy Baldwin as Batman. Batman’s written really well and true to the DCAU Batman we all know, and Baldwin delivers the dialogue in his own way so well that I didn’t really miss Conroy in this story. Mark Harmon does sound pretty similar to George Newburn at times in the film, but on the whole Harmon portrays a very warm but strong Superman.
Josh Keaton does a fantastic job as Flash and sells the comedy really well. There are really genuinely funny moments with Flash in the film, which drew some huge laughs from the audience I saw this film with. The storyboard artists and animators also do a great job at selling some sight comedy gags with Flash which also got big laughs from viewers. I think this story serves Flash really well and gives him some fun material to work with. He obviously doesn’t bring the film together in as big a way as Owlman does, but he does have some pretty significant and satisfying character moments in the film.
Performances and writing aside, I can say without a doubt this film sports the best looking animation we’ve seen yet from any DC Universe animated film. Moi Animation Studio has probably come closest to reaching the fan revered “TMS” level of animation. The animation in this film doesn’t have the bounce and personality that TMS brought to their work (MOI’s approach feels a bit more mechanical), but Moi certainly brings a lot to like. The animation is incredibly consistent, and characters move with weight and a definite mass and volume. There’s just so much great draftsmanship to be enjoyed in this film… I don’t remember once seeing any glaring perspective issues or strange anatomy. The storyboard artists include a tremendous amount of poses and fight moves in any given single fight. Characters exchange blows with a frenetic pace and it’s a joy to watch. The animators overseas do a great job plussing and selling all the great poses the storyboard artists built at the ground level.
I’ve gotta say this film has my favorite character design work of all the films so far. I was surprised this movie sports the same character designer as Planet Hulk, Phil Baroussa. I thought Baroussa’s work in Planet Hulk was kind of bland and not very striking. This film is certainly the opposite. I absolutely love Baruossa’s take on Superman… it’s a face for Superman we’ve never really seen before and really stands on its own well. Owlman is another notable design, and I really liked the layers in Ultraman’s costume. One little embellishment that Baroussa does that I think is really unique and neat is the spare couple lines he draws for abdominal lines… I’m not sure if that’s of his own creation or if its borrowed from some designers that I’m unaware of, but it’s certainly a neat approach that I can see popping up in other designers’ work because it’s really different and effective.
On the whole, this is the overall strongest film that I’ve seen from the DC universe line. It doesn’t have the emotional push that Superman: Doomsday had, and I can’t say it has the personal touch of New Frontier, but it doesn’t leave you feeling unsatisfied in any noticeable way that I felt after seeing those films. This film feels complete and well established, and is a helluva lot of fun. Owlman is a very unique villain, and the Crime Syndicate works in a pretty interesting way. The villains in this film pose an extremely credible threat to the league and it’s pretty exciting to see how everything gets resolved by the end.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths arrives on DVD from Warner Home Video, the disc placed in a standard Amaray case which itself is housed in a foil cardboard slipcover. Once again, a nice, shiny package that will help the two-disc release stand out on shelves.
Diving in, Warner Home Video has provided the main feature with a solid audio and video presentation. For the video transfer, colors appear full and vibrant with a nice amount of detail. The transfer does suffer from a few blips I found, mostly some aliasing and ghosting, but those are infrequent. It’s a good transfer, but not the best. As for the audio, we get a well-rounded Dolby Digital 5.1 track. It definitely delivers for the most part, though the quieter scenes can be a bit too quiet at times. Despite that, I found the dialogue still came through easy to understand and the action scenes resulted in some great use of the speaker system. The aerial battle mid-way through the film boasts a few impressive moments in the audio department.
Moving to the bonus features on this release, we get a mix of new and repeated content, sadly more repeated content than new. Spread over two discs, first up is the utterly excellent DC Showcase: The Spectre animated short, the first in an ongoing series of animated shorts slated for inclusion on all forthcoming DC Universe Animated Original Movie home video releases, in addition to other venues. Presented as a creepy 70s supernatural thriller, DC Showcase: The Spectre is a short-but-sweet affair that’s fairly predictable but hard to turn away from. Every little aspect of the animated short – the music, the dialogue, the voice-over, the fonts, all of it – are all used to successfully mimic the era it’s placed in. The short even uses special effects to make the film look ragged and over-exposed. All in all, it’s a solid start to what should be a thrilling line of animated shorts. I’m already looking forward to the next installment.
The “DCU: The New World” featurette looks at the long-established “Crisis” events that tend to plague the DC universe. Starting with Crisis on Infinite Earths and running to Final Crisis, this featurette looks at the ever-changing landscape of the universe and how these monstrous events affected those characters. Creators old and new, including Paul Levitz and Geoff Johns among others, share their two cents on these comic stories and the real-life events that shaped them. All in all, it’s really interesting, with some of the more compelling discussion coming from Dan DiDio’s memory of the events of September 11th and how that eventually played in a role in DC’s current landscape. Please note the version on DVD is an abbreviated version, with the full version on Blu-ray.
The last of the new content is the “A First Look at Batman: Under the Red Hood” featurette, which has definitely caught my interest. The featurette takes a quick look at two popular Batman storylines that serve as inspiration for this flick and provide a nice helping of behind-the-scenes details. It’s your standard fluff piece, yes, but there’s plenty of artwork and production content to look at. Sure, the featurette makes no real attempt to hide the mystery behind the film’s antagonist, but I doubt that will deter anyone’s interest.
The rest of the content here is made up of a couple great Justice League episodes and a collection of “First Look” featurettes for previous releases under the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line.
Now, I’m of two minds with the bonus features for this release. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the”DCU: The New World” featurette, especially as a long-time comic book reader. It serves as a nice look into the world of DC Comics that is both entertaining to those who are long-time readers, like myself, or those interested in checking out the four-color adventures of DC’s best. Sure, the featurette could have actually delved a bit further into what these events were actually about, deeper than the broad comments made about each, but there should be enough there to whet anyone’s appetite. The inclusion of animated shorts under the “DC Showcase” banner is also a great addition to the bonus content for these releases. It’s a great idea on Warner Home Video’s part, and I hope these remain a permanent fixture on these releases for years to come. And, like all fans, getting a look at the next animated feature is always a major plus.
However, I feel that there’s not enough bonus content directed toward the main feature. Why isn’t there a new featurette for the main feature? Maybe a look at the voice cast? What about deleted scenes or outtakes? More thoughts from the cast and crew, perhaps? Given the rather colorful history of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, there is plenty of meat here for a solid featurette or even a commentary. I just cannot help but feel a little let down that we do not get to see a look at the production behind this animated feature. Hopefully we’ll see this change in future releases.
Overall, for those picking up Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths on DVD, you’ll want to spring for the Two-Disc Special Edition release. The DC Showcase: The Spectre animated short is worth the extra couple bucks, hands down. And, hey, the movie itself is a solid addition to the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line, so that should also be enough incentive. Plus, thankfully, Warner Home Video served up a very respectful audio and video transfer for the flick. As I mentioned above, we just need to start seeing more bonus content focused on the actual movie itself. Thankfully, the main feature is easily worth the price of admission alone, and DC Showcase: The Spectre definitely warrants picking up the Special Edition DVD release of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. Highly Recommended.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is now available to own Blu-ray, Two-Disc Special Edition and single-disc DVD.
More details on Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths are available at The World’s Finest.
Film Review written by screw on head.
DVD Review written by James Harvey.
–Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths Feature Talkback (Spoilers)
–Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths DVD/Blu-ray Talkback (Spoilers)
–DC Showcase: The Spectre Animated Short Talkback (Spoilers)