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Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
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by Mel Valentin

"Another solid DTV entry in the DC Animated Universe."
4 stars

In "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths," the seventh direct-to-DVD DC Universe Animated Original Movie from Warner Premiere, DC Comics, and Warner Bros. Animation, Lex Luthor, Superman’s arch-nemesis, and the Joker, Batman’s arch-nemesis, break into a super-secret, high-security building to steal something extremely valuable to their foes. This Luthor (voiced by Chris Noth) and this Joker (actually called the Jester), however, aren’t supervillains. They’re the last two members of a Justice League from an alternate universe. In this alternate universe, the Crime Syndicate, analogues of Superman (Ultraman), Batman (Owlman), Wonder Woman (Superwoman), Green Lantern (Power Ring), and the Flash (Johnny Quick), is ready to extend its rule over the other Earth.

Luthor flees to Earth-1, where a Justice League (the Justice League familiar to casual and non-casual DC fans) still exists. He convinces Superman (Mark Harmon), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall), Green Lantern (Nolan North), the Martian Manhunter (Jonathan Adams), and the Flash (Josh Keaton) to return to his Earth and defeat the Crime Syndicate. Batman (William Baldwin), however, refuses to join Luthor or the other members of the Justice League, citing the need to focus on Earth’s problems first and the completion of the Justice League’s new, outer-space headquarters, the Watchtower.

The Justice League soon learns that defeating the Crime Syndicate isn’t as simple as it seems. The parallel Earth’s governments, led by the U.S. president, Slade Wilson (Bruce Davison), a.k.a. Deathlok on Earth-1, refuse to help Luthor or the Justice League, fearful of retaliation by the Crime Syndicate if the Justice League loses. The president’s daughter, Aimee Brenner (Alyssa Milano), sides with Luthor and the Justice League, but the Justice League doesn't foresee an unexpected alliance between Owlman (James Woods) and Super Woman (Gina Torres), Ultraman’s (Brian Bloom) wife, which could result in the end of the multiverse.

As super-powered gangsters motivated by greed and power, the Crime Syndicate aren't particularly compelling supervillains for the Justice League, with the exception of Owlman. He's the most fascinating character (because he’s not motivated by greed or power) and the most frustrating (because his monologues are underwritten). As written and drawn, Ultraman is a thug in cape and spandex (with deep-set eyes and eyeliner, no less) who speaks with a borderline-offensive Italian accent. Superwoman (not to be confused with Supergirl, Powergirl, or the superheroine currently using that name in DC Comics) is a seductive sociopath with a fetish for power. McDuffie doesn’t clearly explain, however, why Superwoman would go along with Owlman’s plan.

Given its brief 75-minute running time (the standard for direct-to-DVD DC features), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths leaves the Crime Syndicate’s backstory unexplored. Some characters, including two of the Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), are barely onscreen. Superman is still the Big Blue Scout, always eager and lend his superpowers to a noble cause (often without thinking through the consequences). Batman is cold, cynical, clinical. Wonder Woman plays a supportive role, relegated to the sidelines until her obligatory fight with Superwoman. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) gets a few lines of dialogue before his big showdown with Power Ring. The Flash (Wally West) functions as comic relief. Martin Manhunter actually gets a character arc, though crammed into a few minutes of screen time.

Writer Dwayne McDuffie (Ben 10: Alien Force, Justice League, Static Shock) drew his inspiration from Gardner Fox’s 1964 two-part story in issues 29-30 of the Justice League of America, Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Crisis on Infinite Earth, and most specifically, Grant Morrison’s JLA: Earth 2 story arc (later collected into a trade) and Gardner Fox’s two-part Justice League of America story (#29-30) that appeared almost 46 years ago. Another parallel exists, however, in the Justice League animated series that ran on the Cartoon Network from 2003-2008.

In “A Better World,” a two-part episode (inspired, in part, by the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “Mirror, Mirror”), the Justice League met their mirror universe counterparts, the Justice Lords. The Justice Lords ruled their Earth as fascistic dictators, justifying their brutal suppression of any opposition as necessary for the care and protection of humanity (Warner Bros. Animation included the two-parter as a special feature on the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths DVD/Blu-Ray).

Whatever its faults, however, "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" provides an above-average mix of story and action. Thanks to co-directors Lauren Montgomery ("Green Lantern: First Flight," "Wonder Woman," "Superman/Doomsday") and Sam Liu ("Planet Hulk," "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies," "Hulk vs."), "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" moves briskly between plot points, explaining just enough about the parallel Earth to keep the momentum. Montgomery and Liu deliver on the promise present in the premise: the Justice League will meet their supervillain counterparts in battle, putting their respective superpowers to the test.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20374&reviewer=402
originally posted: 02/24/10 03:00:00
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  DVD: 23-Feb-2010

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