The latest of the DC Universe animated projects, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths was brought to us by a combination of animation greats including writer Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League), producer Bruce Timm (Batman, Superman, Justice League and each DC Universe animated film) and directors Sam Liu (Planet Hulk, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies) and producer Lauren Montgomery (Green Lantern: First Flight, Wonder Woman). The anticipation of this feature was great to say the least. Developed out of a story line intended for the final season of Justice League before it was reformatted as Justice League Unlimited, Crisis on Two Earths is a slug-fest between two universes of heroes and villains.
The voice acting cast is no less stellar than the characters of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. Actors Chris Noth as Lex Luthor, William Baldwin as Batman and Superman Mark Harmon may lead the cast, but it has to be James Woods who steals the show as the evil genius Owlman. His calm dulcet tones off-set a maniacal brain set on nothing short of complete destruction of all life, simply because in a universe of infinite possibilities it is the only action worth making.
The story begins on a polar opposite Earth where the last remaining superheroes Lex Luthor and the Jester are making a raid on a Crime Syndicate base. The Jester sacrifices himself so that Luthor can escape to Earth-1 and make a plea for help, leaving the Crime Syndicate confused as to why they should be worried by Luthor’s actions. After all, they just saw the last of the opposition. Luthor jumps to a parallel Earth where the Justuce League is in the beginning stages of putting together an orbital space station. The League is understandably dubious of Luthor’s claims that he does not have an ulterior motive in seeking out help, but almost immediately accepts that he is from another dimension. That is the true measure of how evil Luthor is. People would sooner accept the existence of parallel realities than Luthor not having some secret ploy up his sleeve. Batman is not so easily swayed by the mission to the other Earth and decides to stay behind to watch after the League’s first responsibility, their own Earth.
On the parallel Earth, Luthor and the Justice League embark on systematic attacks on the Crime Syndicate’s numerous operations. It seems that the Crime Syndicate is set up in much the same way as the Mafia, with territories split up between the seven ruling powers. Under each of the seven is a gang of lieutenants, granted power by their boss. Presiding over them all is Ultraman (no relation) who is by far the meanest hombre of them all. But being the meanest isn’t everything. While Ultraman blusters and spouts about being the toughest of the bosses, Owlman is quietly pulling strings in the background. Building on Luthor’s research into parallel realities, Owlman has discovered that there is a nearly infinite number of Earths where each possibility is played out. All of the Earths hinge on a theoretical Earth Prime where all of reality was ‘born.’ It is Owlman’s ambition to plant a bomb on Earth Prime, thereby wiping out all of existence. In the end only the combined forces of both Earths can possibly stop Owlman’s plot for complete annihilation.
Even for Warner Bros., the animation is better than anything they have produced to date. The action sequences are fluid and energetic, the character designs unique and iconic and the facial expressions fill of life. I’ve been watching all of these comic book animation projects as they come out and can usually find little flaws here and there but in terms of presentation that was just not the case here.
Continuity wise, the Justice League in this film was a strange amalgam of the DC Comics world from a few years back, meaning that Martian Manhunter wore the blue and red costume and the new Firestorm was running around. The inclusion of the classic Aquaman and Hal Jordan Green Lantern off-sets the time period greatly… but it’s really not a good idea to gaze too deeply into the continuity abyss. In my mind, this film captured of not the exact roster then the spirit of the JLA of my youth circa issue 200 and that is a very good thing.
The voice acting had good and bad moments. The aforementioned Woods really stole the show while I struggled with my opinion on William Baldwin as Batman. I can’t put my finger on what was missing, but the voice of the dark knight detective was lacking somewhat. President Wilson (alias Deathstroke the Terminator) voiced by Bruce Davison was just awful on the other hand and only developed into something worthy of the character later in the film. Gina Torres (of Firefly and Cleopatra 2099 fame) as Power Woman was just phenomenal. It seemed that each scene she was in, her voice was sultrier than the last… even if she was mopping the floor with Batman’s face.
Regarding the voice acting cast, Bruce Timm had a lot to say:
This may sound confusing and contradictory, but in terms of just branding the movie, the decision was made that we should really do everything in our power to separate it from the TV continuity as possible. I love Kevin Conroy. I love George Newbern. They’re terrific actors and it would have been easier, frankly, to cast them in this movie. But again, for the sake of branding, we decided we needed to go with other actors to play those parts to further separate this from the TV continuity. Of course, it’s always a challenge to go back and re-cast these guys. You just sit in the room with the director and with Andrea Romano, our voice director, and just brainstorm ideas. “Who would be a good Batman? Or would be a good Superman or whoever?” It’s an involved process but ultimately, I’m thrilled with the cast we did get and I think they all did a great job.
Curiously enough, James Woods was the one person that actually ended up playing the same part that he would have played if we had gone ahead with “Worlds Collide” all those years ago. Back in the day, he was our choice for Owlman. Unfortunately, he and Andrea Romano, and I think even Dwayne, they might be misremembering it, because I’m pretty sure we had cast him as Owlman. They’re saying he was originally cast as Lex Luthor in the earlier version, but I’m pretty sure he was Owlman. Everybody else, we had a completely different cast in mind. We, frankly, thought he was a longshot. He’s a big name actor and he’s really, really good and too expensive. But at the time, he signed on for it, and years later, I was like, “Well, he was our original choice for Owlman. Let’s see if he would still be interested.” And he still was, and there we were.
Overall the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is just phenomenal. There are some logistical problems with the film that make much more sense when you realize that it was intended to operate as a bridge from Justice League to Justice League Unlimited, such as the ending that hints at a sequel that is not coming, but it is still lots of fun.
Not as potent in meaning or polished in look as Justice League New Frontier, Crisis on Two Earths is more concerned with actions and super battles… but there’s nothing wrong with that really. If you enjoyed the Batman, Superman and Justice League cartoons, you owe it to yourself to check out Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths on DVD.