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Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Original Release Date - February 23rd, 2010 (DTV Only)
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.

Voice Direction by Andrea Romano
Editor Margaret Hou
Music by James L. Venable
Additional Music by Christopher Drake
Themes by Christopher Drake
Executive Producer Sam Register
Producer Bruce Timm, Bobbie Page
Co-Producer Alan Burnett
Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Directed by Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Main Title Animation by Peter Girardi Wutitis Inc.
Animation by Moi Animation Studio

Reviews by Zach Demeter, James Harvey, screw on head
William Baldwin as Batman
Mark Harmon as Superman
Chris Noth as Lex Luthor
Gina Torres as Superwoman
James Woods as Owlman
Jonathan Adams as J'Onn J'Onzz
Briam Bloom as Ultraman
Bruce Davison as President Wilson
Josh Keaton as Flash
Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman
Nolan North as Green Lantern
Freddi Rogers as Rose Wilson
James Patrick Stuart as Johnny Quick
Carlos Alazraqui as Breakdance
Richard Green as Jimmy Olsen
Jim Meskimen as Captain Super
Andrea Romano as Watchtower Computer
Bruce Timm as Uncle Super
Kari Wuhrer as Model Citizen
Cedric Yarbrough as Firestorm
Review (Zach Demeter)
Either I’m just out of it or it seems that this latest DC Universe effort hasn’t made very much noise in the online community (I said the same thing about Green Lantern, of course). The publicity for it seems greatly diminished when compared to past films, but that may just be the direction these titles are headed—they don’t pull jaw dropping numbers in terms of sales, but they well enough that they will continue coming to us for awhile now (or, at least, I hope they do). This most recent entry is a bit of an odd-one-out when it comes to this series so far; it’s an original story, so it’s not like The New Frontier, even though this is the Justice League once again. No, this film was originally written for the animated Justice League/Unlimited series. Perhaps a lull in ideas kicked up this old script from Dwayne McDuffie, but whatever the reason fans who wanted to see this “lost” story will no doubt crack smiles as they see long rumored elements of this story finally come to light.

This is genuinely a hard film to describe. I know I say that about nearly all of them and end up going on for three or four pages, but while watching this film I was hit with a feeling I hadn’t felt while watching these films before: indifference. I enjoyed the action that was going on (which is really almost the entire film to be honest) and the story itself was interesting…but I really just wasn’t all that compelled to stick with it. I did, of course, and the ending was more than enough of a satisfactory payoff…but this is really quite a bit more dramatic film than we’ve gotten in the past. It’s also almost entirely plot driven as opposed to character driven, as we enter a world where all the main characters are already established. Sure, the Crime Syndicate has some relationships and character setup of its own, but it’s pretty minor as they’re basically just evil versions of characters we already know anyway.

The story itself is pretty straightforward (Good JL fights Bad JL) and reminiscent of the season two Justice League Unlimited finale (“Divided We Fall”). Good versions fighting evil versions is always fun to watch as its essentially complete equals dueling it out and that’s really what 60% of the on-screen time is spent on. Which is really fine with me as Moi Animation is absolutely brilliant here and there are some genuinely painful looking fight animations. It’s all very slick and smooth too, so anytime a punch or kick is thrown it’s done with such fluidity that you can’t help but drop your jaw at the choreography of some of the scenes. There’s the usual shaky cam work thrown in there too, but there’s also some just good ol’ fashioned face smashing and there were more than a few times I cringed as the violence dial got turned up.

Another thing about this film, aside from the violence and singular act of cursing (which I thought was really well done), it was really adult feeling. Not in just a “oh there’s violence and language and innuendo” sense either; it was just a very psychological story and the basis for Owlman’s ultimate plan would be enough to send a Spongebob loving child into a fit of tears if there wasn’t an adult nearby to soothe his fears away. I mean, yeah, it’s still a cartoon and there are elements here that lighten the mood (mainly the characters of Flash and Johnny Quick), but my first impression of this film is that it’s genuinely a lot darker than the material we’ve received previously.

Then again it could just be my mind playing tricks on me; some of the DC Universe subject matter was just as dark, I suppose, but I think the fact this production reminded me so much of an extended Justice League Unlimited outing is the cause for my main feeling of this film being a much more dramatic production. The core League is the same (sans Hawkgirl and a changeup of Lantern’s…who is hardly used in the film anyway, so that didn’t matter much) and even the voices are eerily similar in some cases. Mark Harmon sounded a lot like George Newbern at times to me, if a bit younger sounding at times (which is odd). Other voice actors delivered the job remarkably well too, although Josh Keaton as Flash seemed to stick out like a sore thumb to me for some reason; it was just some the earlier dialogue I think, because later on he seemed fine. And William Baldwin as Batman…well, has Romano ever cast someone as Batman that didn’t work out in some fashion? I didn’t even bat an eye at when he started speaking…it just oddly felt right. The rest of the voice actors all did remarkable jobs as well, especially James Woods as Owlman…which, if nothing else, will be the main performance you take away from this film as he has some of the most twisted and evil dialogue in the entire film.

Which is really an interesting way to look at the whole “evil JL” angle. I mean you’d think Superman would be the most evil because he’s the most powerful and the “boy scout” of the group, but no…it’s Batman. Owlman proved that if Batman was evil he would be the most twisted and death inducing villain out there. It’s a thought that hadn’t occurred to me previously and I guess I just wasn’t going into this film expecting to get so much out of it. The previous DC Universe titles have been pretty straightforward (setup hero, introduce villain, mix in plot and add finale), but this one already had all of the ingredients except the finale mixed in within the first ten minutes so it just had a lot more time to breathe. At the same time it just used that space to toss in tons of violent battles, but as I said before that was fine with me. I’m still not sure why I was so indifferent to this film while watching it at first. I think the pacing is just a little bit slow as it seems like there is never a second act, just a long first and a curt finale. The thing about the finale though is that it will stick with you. To really drive home the point of what it was about the finale that does that I have to drop some spoilers, but I’ll do so in a spoiler block so you can safely avoid it.

Spoilers (Highlight to read)
While there is death and destruction throughout the film, it’s mostly caused by the Crime Syndicate. But two of the major Crime Syndicate deaths were caused by Batman. This Batman is reminiscent of the Tim Burton Batman, who seemed indifferent to causing the death of someone if it really mattered. I won’t detail who he kills exactly as that’s a little too spoiler specific, but not only did Batman tell a lie that resulted in the death of a CS member, but he was also directly and personally responsible for the death of one of the others. It’s a pretty major twist for the character and I’m not entirely sure it would’ve worked out in the grand scheme of things for the Justice League Unlimited show had this film actually come out. It could have been a revision to the final script, of course, but that was a pretty major element to me.

The rest of the story really did flow directly into Justice League Unlimited. The introduction of the Invisible Jet, the bolstering of the roster, construction of the new Watchtower, testing of the transporter and a handful of smaller things that made the JLU fan in me crack a smile. So not all of those elements were shed in the script transition and as a standalone film it almost feels kind of out of place…but aside from some character designs and voice changes (and some really slick animation upgrades), this film wouldn’t have all that hard of a time being shoehorned in-between the series. Aside from the aforementioned added darkness (but then again Return of the Joker was a pretty dark story too), that is. Of course I don’t want this to turn into a big “omg jlu is back omg!!!” debate, but someone’s going to spark it anyway. Let me just say that while this film can stand by itself quite well without any problems, it’s a whole lot better if you’re familiar with the past animated series. And it’s a lot easier to mix this in with the series than it was trying to do the same with Teen Titans, which to this day is something that confuses me as to why someone would try to do such a thing.

In any case, there’s a lot to take in with Crisis on Two Earths. It definitely stands out from the rest of the pack so far, if only because of its nearly flawless animation, music, and voice casting. There were few moments where I felt something could have been handled better and even then that really just came to some of the oddly delivered lines (which I’m sure over time won’t feel so strange). It’s a shame more of the voice actors couldn’t branch out, as they all had very few lines. There was an entire subplot with J’Onn and the U.S. President’s daughter that I failed to mention, but that is a nice little distraction from all the violence.

Overall Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a Recommended film. I hesitate to rate it higher than that because I know some will take issue with the portrayal of Batman. But it really is a great film and it will likely only get better with repeat viewings. Dwayne McDuffie continues to prove that he was made a producer on Justice League/Unlimited for a reason: the man can write a hell of a compelling story. This film ranks up there as one of his better works in the animated DC world and even though it’s reminiscent of stories we’ve seen in animation before, the brilliant work done by Moi, the directing by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery, and story make it more than worth watching again.

Review (James Harvey)
There’s something about this new animated feature from the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line that feels like slipping on a familiar pair comfortable shoes. There’s a sense of warmth that comes from it. To see the Justice League back in action, in a great world-hopping thriller, is exhilarating. We get the big ones, too. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and so on. In addition, we get to see their twisted counterparts from an alternate earth, criminal overlords who use fear to dominate the populace. As you can probably already guess, the Justice League and their evil counterparts collide and, well, as exciting as this movie manages to make that tired concept seem, it gets much better from there.

For many, it will be difficult to view this movie without thinking of what could have been. Originally planned as a direct-to-video animated feature to bridge the gap between the classic Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series that aired a few years ago on Cartoon Network, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a riveting adventure with the Leaguers facing off against their evil doppelgangers from an alternate reality. Personally, I’m not going to review this feature as “what could have been” but instead “what is.” And just “what is” Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths? Well, likely the most enjoyable direct-to-video animated feature to come out of the “DC Universe Animation Original Movie” line since Wonder Woman.

Right away, before I go any further, I need to acknowledge the writing for this feature. Writer Dwayne McDuffie, a familiar name to animation fans thanks to his work on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, among other series, brings a touch to the dialogue that adds such a flare to the movie. The dialogue here has such smoothness to it, such a casual, comfortable feeling to it. Straight dialogue scenes come off just as engaging as the fisticuffs. Never feeling stilted or stiff, it all plays out rather natural. Sure, some of the expository dialogue can feel a bit clunky, but those instances are few and far in-between. Executive Producer Bruce Timm calls McDuffie one of the best dialogue writers in the business and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths definitely reminds us of that.

I suppose, to continue with a general overview of the film, I have to say I found it incredibly satisfying. The story works on many different levels, there's a more-than-satisfying conclusion, some nice winks toward the audience, and boatloads of action and satisfying character work. Everything is already established when the film starts, allowing Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths to just dive into the story without having to spend time filling viewers in on characters they likely already know about. And true, it is a pretty straight-forward story, but giving it room to breathe and naturally expand does this feature a world of difference.

And, since we have room to breathe, we get plenty of action. And, boy, there’s some brutal action. The Owlman/Wonder Woman plane fight stands out to me as one of my favorites. It’s not the biggest, brutal, most complex sequence, but it’s so wonderfully animated and the voice acting from Woods (“Get off my plane.”) is golden. There’s a fair amount of face smashing, pummeling, and fisticuffs to keep action-lovers engaged. It’s amped up above the usual television standards, resulting more than a few instances of bloodletting from both sides. Again, the fluidity of the Wonder Woman/Owlman fight just really catches my eye. There’s a handful of iffy moments here and there, but those are quickly lost in some genuinely beautiful action choreography. It's no Green Lantern: First Flight, but it's still looks sharp.

While there’s some heavy, heavy violence, it doesn’t seem gratuitous. Rather, it feels appropriate for the adult tone the creative team is striving for. The story itself can be considered pretty heavy, too, especially Owlman’s ultimate plan. Sure, the film does look pretty colorful, but that helps to deftly balance what’s actually a real weighty tale. We also get some comedic relief, which provides the odd break from some of the more stunningly dark moments we see here. Some moments, especially when Owlman and Superwoman are discussing Owlman’s real agenda, give off a definite sense of unease and general creepiness (with major props the voice talents of James Woods as Owlman). Compared to the previous efforts under this line, Justice League: Crisis Under on Two Earths is definitely darker than what we’ve seen before.

As I mentioned in the previous email, James Woods does a spectacular job as Owlman here, bringing a sense of controlled insanity, unhinged but an absolute ingenuity to his character, and will likely be considered a favorite by many here, and with good reason. While Woods did an absolutely phenomenal job as Owlman, I thought the majority of the voice cast turned in strong performances. To lightly touch upon a few here, I found Gina Torres was suitably twisted as Superwoman, Vanessa Marshall really impressed me as Wonder Woman, and Mark Harmon sounded almost identical to George Newbern. And, the biggest surprise to me, was William Baldwin as Batman. Once again, Andrea Romano really, really knows how to cast that role. We saw it with Jeremy Sisto in Justice League: New Frontier and now here with Baldwin as the Dark Knight. Baldwin just pulls it off without a hitch. Even Chris Noth as a very respectable Lex Luthor nails it on every turn. Not once did I find any of the voice work distracting, nor was I ever pulled out of the picture when I recognized the face behind the voice, another strong sign of great casting on Romano’s part.

The movie brings a sense of likeability to each of the main Justice Leaguers, even a “love to hate” vibe to the villainous Crime Syndicate. Each has their own quirks, allowing each of them to stand out in the crowd, despite the relative small screen time some of them receive. And, believe me, what will come in handy since viewers are essentially flung into a story that offers little background fill-in. However, based on who this animated feature is geared towards, I doubt that will be an issue.

For all the positives found here, there are a couple shortcoming here and there. While the 75 minute running time really allowed for the story to breathe, I found there was some material that felt unnecessary and slow, particularly a subplot with Martian Manhunter. Despite giving him a more human side, Manhunter's romantic subplot with the President’s daughter felt underdeveloped and superfluous. The absolutely sublime third act makes up for it, though. Once the film rolls toward its endgame, it becomes a tightly-paced, perfectly executed thriller. Additionally, I found there were a handful of moments where the use of CGI, along with some noticeable glitches or jerky movements in the animation, were distracting. There are only a few, that’s true, but some are particularly jarring. There’s one action sequence, where we see the Justice League duke it out with the villainous Crime Syndicate in the clouds, the background seems to change between painted backgrounds, line art, and CGI at random.

I can’t help but take pause for a moment, though. Since the crew behind this animated DTV dusted off an old treatment to bring this movie about, I wonder if any other abandoned episode of movie scripts will be resuscitated and given a second life. I can think of quite a few abandoned stories and ideas that would find a suitable second life under the “DC Universe Animated Original Movie” banner.

To get this review back on the topic at hand, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a grand adventure for sure, one fans of both the beloved animated series and popular comic series can easily enjoy. Sure, it kind of felt like a three-part Justice League episode, it was still a rollicking’ ride from start to finish. The sublime score is worth noting, as is the nifty directing. The animation was good, though a noticeable step down from the likes of Green Lantern: First Flight, but the story is compelling and the characters engaging. McDuffie hits nearly all the right notes here, and what we’re given is a solid Justice League adventure that fans of the comics or previous animated adventures can enjoy. As you can likely guess, this film easily deserves the Recommended stamp. Go out and give Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths a spin, and I guarantee you will find a wrenching world-hopping adventure.

Review (screw on head)
I was able to attend a special screening of JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS at the Paley Center in New York City. Seeing the film on the big screen with theater quality surround sound and hearing audience reactions made for a very enjoyable viewing experience.

Presentation quality aside, I really enjoyed the film itself. I really want to say definitively it’s 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.

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.

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