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February 21, 2010

I recently had an opportunity to preview this week's direct-to-dvd release of "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" and jumped at the chance since I've really liked almost all of them so far (Batman: Gotham Knight being the exception).  I'm a sucker for stories set in the multiverse so this is one I've been looking forward to since it was first announced.

Before the review itself there's a little bit of back story to this movie.  Between the "Justice League" animated series and the start of "Justice League: Unlimited" Bruce Timm and company felt that there needed to be a story that bridged the "Starcrossed" movie and the start of the new show to explain how and why there were so many new members.  So Dwayne McDuffie wrote a script for a story called "Justice League: Worlds Collide" that was to be shot as a direct to video production.  This film was scrapped and it's this script which was retooled to become the script for "Crisis on Two Earths".

Red Tornado, Firestorm, Aquaman, Black Canary and Black Lightning represent new recruits for the Justice League in "Crisis on Two Earths".
With that said my first impression of the new film is that, like "Public Enemies", it's got a lot of action, but that's about it.  I liked it, but it once again felt like a movie starring the Trinity with a few other characters thrown in to say it's a Justice League flick.  Flash and Green Lantern aren't given anything of note to do other than take up a few minutes of film to show them in action, at least the Martian Manhunter got a subplot, albeit one that's a little silly in my opinion and derailed the main plot.  I was more taken with the appearance of some of the potential new Justice League members than I was with the use of Flash and Green Lantern. 






Archer has the Flash in his sights.
The film looks great on bluray and some of the fight scenes have some really smooth animation sequences, particularly those between Wonder Woman and Superwoman.  The soundtrack by James Venable fits the darker tone of the movie as well.  And there are some cool cameos in the alternate universe Earth, I geeked out at seeing the interaction between our Flash and the alternate version of Green Arrow.  Lobo was also cool to see as well.  And I won't spoil who the U.S. President is for those who haven't already figured it out or read that elsewhere.

The Crime Syndicate is handled well and you get the sense of them really functioning as a super powered mafia complete with a "family" structure.  The voice work is really good as well.  James Woods is perfect and he's given a meaty role as the psychotic Owlman.  Mark Harmon does a good job with Superman, as does Gina Torres as Superwoman.  Brian Bloom does a great job of channeling Ray Liotta for Ultraman. 

I was really excited to see Nolan North's name associated with Green Lantern and Power Rings' voices, him being the voice behind Nathan Drake in the "Uncharted" games for the PS3.  Oh, and for the record he's the first guy to be both Green Lantern and Deadpool on film having voiced the merc with the mouth on the "Hulk Vs" feature last year.  Unfortunately he just doesn't get enough to do here, although I did enjoy his interactions with the Flash.  My one complaint on the voice acting is William Baldwin as Batman.  I don't know if it's just because Kevin Conroy has become so synonymous with the dark knight that the bar is set too high for us to like anyone else, but Baldwin just doesn't have the right intonations for what I think Batman needs to sound like.

Hal throwing down
In terms of the character design, everyone's costume is pretty much dead on, including GL's white gloves.  I think they got Hal's body a little too spindly and not enough bulk for my own tastes, but other than that he looks okay.  In terms of ring usage we of course get the prerequisite boxing glove and giant hand, but nothing of note in terms of creativity.    I had my hopes up with Hal partnering up with Wonder Woman, but alas he didn't get to do much.  Not to make any accusations, but I wonder how much Green Lantern action got cut from the script when it was changed from John to Hal knowing how much McDuffie likes John.  I can't imagine John's role was so minor in the original script.

Speaking of the script, while it's "dark" there's a couple of things that really kind of bothered me.  Without giving away too much there's a bit where Batman crosses a line that I really didn't think he would with a decision he makes regarding the Flash and Johnny Quick.  The story could have reached the same overall conclusion without having occurred happen, so I question why it was decided to do what they did.  I know that sounds a little vague, but I don't want to spoil anything since this review is coming out before the film is. 

My other issue is Owlman's whole plot - I mean I know he's supposed to be out of his mind but even his plan was a little too irrational for a crazy guy.  In the end it just seems like the film is another "bad guys plots to destroy the universe" action movie without anything thought provoking to make it stand out.  I think the multiverse concept lends itself to some high-concept stories that have a balance of narrative and action and they missed the boat with the ability to tell us more. 

Feel the Spectre's wrath!
The first of the DC animated shorts is also on this disk, this one being the Spectre. I won't say much about it here other than the plot was little too predictable for my tastes.  The animation style is markedly different from the main feature, which is okay because it is a standalone story and it appears like it jumps off the pages of a 1970's comic book.

I think the Spectre is one of those characters who may be too powerful to be used very often, but he'd be a great character to base a horror animation anthology on, preferably on a premium cable channel like HBO that could get away with the adult level animation that should accompany a being who can turn a human into a pile of melting wax.  In fact, after watching this it makes me wish that DC Entertainment would do just that. This short is well done even if the plot is a little predictable, and if this is any indication of what future holds for these DC Showcase episodes I'm looking forward to rest of them.

The preview of "Batman: Under the Red Hood" has me concerned.  The voice acting in the sneak peak sounded awful.  Maybe I'm being over critical and I hope I'm wrong but I didn't end up feeling any anticipation for this one after watching the feature.

The bluray has the pilots for the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman TV show from the '70's and "Mercy Reef", the unaired Aquaman pilot starring Smallville's Green Arrow, Justin Hartley.  I didn't get the chance to watch them yet, but they are a nice bonus to getting the bluray edition.

We of course have the obligatory addition of episodes from the Justice League animated series.  They're good episodes, don't get me wrong, but I think that the majority of people that are buying these features probably already own the Justice League episodes and I'd much rather have some real behind the scenes features on these DTV's or at least a return of the commentary tracks.  And of course there are the "First Looks" for the last three DTV's in the line to advertise them to people who didn't already pick them up - again a waste of space for the majority of the audience who most likely own them already.

"DCU: The New World" is the lone documentary type special feature on this disk, featuring Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns and others discussing the role of the Crisis events in the history of the DC universe.  There's not really anything new for DC fans who've read the books, but it's always cool to see some of the DC talent used to promote the comics on a disk that may help bring a new audience to the medium.  

All in all I'd give this three lanterns.  If you have a bluray player I'd recommend getting that version (why you'd buy it on DVD escapes me anyways) just because of the better picture quality and the extra goodies.







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