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JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS Review

I finally got Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths from Netflix — which may have been the wrong way to go, since their version lacks the DC Showcase: Spectre short film.  Anyway, this latest entry in the DC Universe animated film series is an adaptation of Worlds Collide, a planned direct-to-DVD film in the continuity of the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited television series, which would’ve bridged the gap between JL and JLU.  Dwayne McDuffie’s script was rewritten only slightly for this version, which is nominally a separate continuity, but you can still see the signs of its JL/U origins (the League building a new Watchtower complete with teleporters, deciding to add new membership, etc.) — so much so that you wonder why they didn’t either do it in the DC Animated Universe as originally intended or else rewrite it more heavily to make it stand more apart.  As it is, it’s kind of betwixt and between.

Although maybe that’s fitting, since the story does postulate a multitude of parallel worlds, some of which are wildly different, others nearly identical.  The two Earths in question are the world of the Justice League we know (or this version of them, which differs from the DCAU version only in having Hal Jordan as Green Lantern instead of John Stewart, and of course in the character designs and voices) and the world of the Crime Syndicate of America.  The CSA is a concept from the Silver Age of comics, coming from “Earth-3,” where the morality of the characters we know gets inverted: the heroes become the villains and vice-versa.  Instead of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, we have Ultraman, Owlman, and Superwoman.  And so on.

The story’s pretty straightforward; good-guy Lex Luthor comes to the JL universe to recruit their help against the CSA, they go to the other world to do battle, some of the CSA come to our world to fight our heroes, and ultimately the whole multiverse needs to be saved from destruction because Owlman’s a nihilist or something.  And of course, with all these superbeings around, the salvation of the universe comes down to Batman alone, because he’s Batman.

So yeah, it’s a pretty flimsy story.  It doesn’t have the depth of JL’s classic “A Better World,” where the evil JL counterparts were the same people who took their heroism too far and became benevolent dictators.  Here there’s no moral ambiguity or introspection, just clear-cut heroes and villains.  It’s basically just an action romp.

But accepting that, it was executed very well for the most part.  McDuffie’s story may not be the deepest thing ever, but it’s got a lot of the clever dialogue he does so well.  The animation, co-directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery, is fantastic.  In past projects, Liu has shown a knack for really big action and Montgomery has demonstrated great skill with subtle, expressive character animation, so putting them together results in a film that’s really compelling to look at.  The music, by James L. Venable using themes by Christopher Drake, didn’t really grab me but was pretty good.

The casting, however, was a mixed bag.  Of all the actors that Warner Bros.’ legendary voice director Andrea Romano has cast as Superman and Batman, this film’s choices of Mark Harmon and William Baldwin, respectively, are probably the weakest.  I thought Harmon would be an interesting choice for Superman, but he was just too strident and unsympathetic throughout.  And Baldwin… well, I’m being too harsh.  He didn’t do a bad job, it was perfectly serviceable, but his performance didn’t stand out the way a Batman voice should.  It paled in comparison to James Woods’s extremely creepy and menacing Owlman.  (Yes, for whatever reason, the Crime Syndicate counterparts were given different appearances and voices, even though in most other incarnations they’re supposed to be actual evil twins of the heroes.)  Not to mention Chris Noth, whose heroic Luthor kind of stole the show, really sounding the way a superhero should sound.  And Gina Torres was devilishly sexy as the psychopathic Superwoman.  Josh Keaton (the lead on The Spectacular Spider-Man) made an excellent Flash.  Vanessa Marshall (Mary Jane on the same show) was a serviceable Wonder Woman, neither better nor worse than Susan Eisenberg from JL/U (who barely beat out Marshall for the role in that version), and nowhere near as impressive as Torres.  So kind of a pattern: Noth would’ve made a better Superman (if a tougher one than usual), Woods a better Batman, and Torres a better Wonder Woman.

I think this review sounds more critical than I intended.  I found the movie a satisfying experience, but it’s a thing better just experienced than analyzed.  It’s a popcorn flick, and a good one, aside from the disappointing casting of the Big Three heroes.

There’s one bit of controversy I wanted to address, but it involves the ending, so stop now if you don’t want to be spoiled:

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Some have complained that Batman is essentially directly responsible for the deaths of Owlman and Johnny Quick, something that’s out of character for him.  As a rule, I agree that Batman shouldn’t kill, even by omission.  But given that the fate of the entire universe was at stake, I can see how Batman might’ve been willing to do what had to be done.  And he did give both of them an out.  Yes, he sent Owlman to an abandoned Earth where the QED wouldn’t destroy everything, but he left the “ABORT YES/NO” dialog box active, so Owlman could’ve shut the bomb down, saved himself, and used the dimension-hopping device to escape to a habitable world.  He just chose not to.  As for Johnny Quick, Batman tried to get him to stop as soon as he got back, but it was too late.  He knew there was a risk, but it wasn’t necessarily a suicide mission.

Okay, admittedly those rationalizations are a bit flimsy.  And I’m not saying Batman shouldn’t be haunted by his decisions here.  But it’s not as badly out of character as the Tim Burton movies where Batman blew up a warehouse full of bad guys or the ’80s comic where Batman sealed up a villain and left him to die of starvation.

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