Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS "One of the Best"

CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

From Warner Premiere/DC Animation

Produced by Bruce Timm

Written by Dwayne McDuffie

Directed by Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu

Starring Mark Harmon (Superman), James Woods (Owlman), Chris Noth (Lex Luthor), William Baldwin (Batman), Gina Torres (Superwoman), Bruce Davison (President Slade Wilson), Nolan North (Green Lantern Hal Jordan), more.

Review by Troy Brownfield

Though all of the various DC animated direct-to-DVD films have been sales successes, there’s been plenty of debate as to which films succeeded as adaptations.  While the main criticism has typically been “too short”, especially in terms of “The New Frontier”, fans and reviewers have been divided on which film is the best representation.  “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths” emerges as one of the best of the series thus far, and comes with a short that might actually be even better.

First, your feature presentation.  DC faithful know the gist of this story, which owes its genesis in broad strokes to the multiverse team-up tradition of the Justice League books and in particular to the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely “Earth-2” special of a few years ago.  A mirror universe Lex Luthor, the only surviving hero of his world, jumps to the world of the Justice League to seek their aid in defeating the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, a vicious version of the JLA that’s structured not unlike The Mafia.  Each of the CSA’s Big Guns is considered the head of a family with a huge crew of super-villains under his or her control.  Obviously, this puts the League at a huge disadvantage, pushing them to the limits of their capabilities.

Writer Dwayne McDuffie has handled the League in both their comics and animated incarnations.  He hits all the right character notes here, juggling a larger speaking cast with dozens of Easter egg evil versions.  McDuffie fundamentally understands that a Justice League story should be big and action-packed, and the fight scenes are among the best in the DC animated canon.  Even with the sturm and drang, McDuffie finds good character moments for many cast members, including the frequently overlooked Martian Manhunter and, surprisingly, Owlman (voiced to perfection by James Woods, who wisely forgoes any manic shadings and makes Owlman morose and dangerous).  Gina Torres likewise does a solid job with Superwoman; she could have played her as a shrieking harpy, but she makes her a perfectly inverted Diana by emphasizing both her seductive lilt and her unchecked aggression.

Overall, the movie looks great and certainly comes loaded with action.  McDuffie and others have commented that the original draft of the film was supposed to be a bridge-movie between the events of “Starcrossed” and the advent of the “JLU” seasons.  You can vaguely discern that if you look closely, but this piece definitely stands as its own thing.  It’s a good time with a number of seasoned actors obviously enjoying themselves.

As for the short feature, “DC Showcase: The Spectre” . . . well, I loved it.  The animators chose to hit it with a kind of ‘70s noir vibe.  In addition to overexposed scenes in sunlight, they intentionally distressed the film to give it a grainy look.  I enjoyed these details enormously, along with the obligatory jazzy score.  Gary Cole was an outstanding choice for Jim Corrigan/The Spectre, and Alyssa Milano ably handles the femme fatale slot.  The clever, graphic scenes where the Spectre gets his vengeance on made me long for a full film in this treatment.  If all the DC Showcase shorts (including "Jonah Hex" which was announced at Newsarama's Premiere as next up) will be this well-considered, then we’re all in for an ongoing treat.

 

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