'Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths' was intended as a link between the Cartoon Network animated series 'Justice League' and 'Justice League Unlimited,' but it was eventually revamped as a stand-alone movie. Borrowing from Gardner Fox's story in 'Justice League of America' #29–30 and Grant Morrison's 'JLA: Earth 2,' Dwayne McDuffie uses an intriguing premise common to comic books, one of parallel worlds and dimensions, but the film stumbles in its execution.
The movie opens with Lex Luthor (Chris Noth) and the Joker outfitted as never seen before, so it's safe to assume we are on another Earth, which is Earth-3. They steal a device called a "quantum trigger" and Luthor travels to our world seeking help. Above our heroes' Earth, the Justice League is building a space station. The current line-up is Superman (Mark Harmon), Batman (William Baldwin), Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and Martian Manhunter. Luther explains a parallel version of the Justice League known as the Crime Syndicate is essentially ruling Earth-3, bribing officials and doing as they please. They have killed off the heroes and he is the last. Naturally, the heroes agree to go, except Batman.
On Earth-3, the Syndicate, comprised of their leader Ultraman, Owlman (a wonderfully sinister performance by James Woods), Superwoman (Gina Torres), Power Ring, and Johnny Quick, has decided they don't need to continue with bribes and will just take over. However, Owlman has a plan of his own and reveals himself to be completely insane. Because of how flawed humans are and the damage wreaked as a result, he is determined to eradicate the species throughout all dimensions. According to him, for every choice not made by an individual a new dimension is created where that decision was made. Just thinking about the number of dimensions created by visitors of Baskin Robbins is enough to set the mind reeling.
Owlman plans to find what is designated as Earth-Prime and destroy it with a bomb he's developing that needs the quantum trigger Luthor stole, causing a ripple effect like falling dominoes. Oddly enough, Superwoman, Owlman's girlfriend and fellow Syndicate boss, has absolutely no problem with his plan and helps him execute it. While I won’t spoil the ending directly, once the choices are revealed, the movie's conclusion shouldn't be a surprise.
Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good in this movie. Immediately upon hearing them, two of the main casting choices are problematic. Mark Harmon as Superman sounds much older than he should. William Baldwin conjures none of the strength and menace required as Batman. Why Warner Brothers Animation and the producers don’t follow the Marvel Comics movie model and sign actors who do great jobs performing to multiple movies is beyond me? Even if there's not supposed to be continuity between movies, the characters are drawn the same, so what's the harm in them sounding the same?
There are many moments that didn't seem well thought out by the crew. First is a personal preference, but I have never liked Wonder Woman having the ability to fly. Seems too easy. A few odd moments happen with the President (Bruce Davison), a military veteran. He threatens the Syndicate with nuclear weapons, which always works as a trump card, but I don't see why villains wouldn't call his bluff. Ultraman slaps him and the Secret Service doesn’t react. Then he goes after the villains in a tank, which is hard to believe the President would do. The Archer is caught trying to kill the President's daughter, and as he is cuffed and taken to the police car, his quiver filled with arrows is still on his back.
Not only was his voice bad, but Batman is involved in the movie's more egregious flaws. When fighting Superwoman, he is in a hydraulic lifting outfit similar to what Ripley uses in 'Aliens,' although this one was created with the foresight that not only would the user need to fight in it, but would need weapons built in. Never a smart thing on a space station. In a later fight, Superwoman breaks one of Batman's ribs, which is normally a very severe injury that can affect breathing, but Batman appears to have Wolverine's recuperative powers and is unbelievably ready to do battle in the movie's climax. That leads to the worst transgression: Batman allows another character to die so that he may live. Not only completely unheroic, it seems completely out of character for Batman. Once the revelation is revealed, it came across as a cheap trick to avoid killing a popular character by the writer who painted himself into a corner by enlarging the stakes to such great heights.
That aside, the movie had good elements as well. Led by the directing team of Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery, I enjoyed the movie's look as well as the fight and action sequences, which take up a large portion of the movie almost at the expense of telling a good story. Comic book fans will have a lot of fun seeing heroes tackle their counterparts and deciphering the cameos on Earth-3. A subplot with Martian Manhunter and the President's daughter is compelling and filled with believable emotion. It's too bad other story moments couldn't have been this well crafted.
'Crisis on Two Earths' is given a 1080p/VC-1 transfer and a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The source looks pristine and is awash in big, bold colors, like a comic book should be, as it brings the adventure to life. The animators appear to use the full spectrum of their digital crayon box with all hues looking bright and vibrant, from the blues of Superman outfit to the Flash's red. Blacks are rich and inky and there is very good contrast.
Being that this is animation, artistic intent affects the visuals greatly. When the artists draw fine images, they have sharp, precise lines that stand out. Some images are rendered slightly out of focus to create the illusion of depth. Another trick used to create three dimensions in this two-dimensional medium is the use of forced perspective. Another element that appears only when intended is detail. Most items have the look of smooth, solid color, but on occasion a texture is added to a surface, such as a wall or column, but not always.
Warner Brothers unfortunately appears to be sticking with the audio option of Dolby Digital 5.1, which they used on 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies,' the previous DC Universe Animated Original Movie. Not sure why they turned away from Dolby TrueHD, the option on previous movies like 'Green Lantern: First Flight' and 'Wonder Woman' (2009). Even though it's better than a DVD by being encoded at 640Kbps, fans and the sound design team deserve better.
The mix is front-loaded and the surrounds offer minimal support with music and effects, which is disappointing considering the number of fights and battles the viewer could be immersed in. A thunderstorm can be heard along with weapons but don't have enough oomph. Also a letdown is the effects never moving in unison with the images through the frame and sound system. The Flash runs all over the room stretching out Extruded Man over its expanse and an aerial dogfight between heroes and villains featuring all sorts of weapons, yet they just play out in front of us.
The dialogue is clear, remains in the front center speaker, and is part of a balanced mix where all elements can be clearly distinguished. Like the surrounds, the subwoofer also offers minimal support to action sequences and in the scores by James L. Venable and Christopher Drake. For those who enjoy the music, a soundtrack album is available. Personally, I would rather have had that included than a digital copy of the movie.
There are over four hours of features, most of which are well worth viewing, but inexplicably not a one deals with the making of 'Crisis on Two Earths.'
'Crisis on Two Earths' has a fair amount going for it, but the potential is ultimately wasted. It's disappointing that this film fails to come together in the end. Those who enjoy seeing heroes and villains fighting and in cameos will be able to overlook the multiple flaws. The Blu-ray has marvelous video with average audio. 'The Spectre', however, is a must-see, so this is still recommended, particularly for fans.