Superhero Movie Month: "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" Review

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A good version of Lex Luthor from a parallel Earth comes to the Justice League's dimension for help to fight their evil counterparts.

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Rating: PG-13
Length: 75 minutes
Release Date: February 23, 2010
Directed by: Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery
Genre: Animation / Action / Sci-Fi

The heroes of the Justice League face off against their evil counterparts from a parallel Earth in one of the best offerings from DC Comics' new wave of animated direct-to-video features. When Bruce Timm and Paul Dini completed a legendary 14-year run helming animated TV series based on DC properties in 2006, many expressed worries that DC animation would suffer from their departure. However, "Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths" proves that the company is still capable of producing strong, exciting and well-polished animated stories.

On a parallel Earth, all the familiar characters of the DC universe exist, but their moral compasses are reversed. The alternate versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and others dominate this world through intimidation and fear. They call themselves the Crime Syndicate.

Opposing them are a handful of heroes who are villains in the mainstream DC universe, such as Lex Luthor and the Joker. The good version of Luthor jumps dimensions to the world of the Justice League to enlist them in the fight against the super-powered madmen ruling his world. The Justice League agrees to help. Their conflict against the Crime Syndicate makes up the bulk of the story, and this leads to the discovery of a new danger that could destroy both realities and many others as well.

The plot is based loosely on the classic storyline from the pages of the original "Justice League of America" comic book in 1964. The story was updated in 1999 for modern audiences in the graphic novel "JLA: Earth 2." It is this latter version that has most heavily influenced the animated feature. However, a number of character interpretations and conflicts, as well as a new universal threat, are unique to this version.

The voice actors in this production put in strong performances. Foremost among these is William Baldwin as Batman. Batman is a difficult character to bring to life using voice alone, but Baldwin manages to convey the Dark Knight's determination and inner conflicts very well despite this. Batman is the one most affected by the presence of his evil twin. Ultimately, his conflict with his counterpart (voiced by the inimitable James Wood) makes for the best and most thought-provoking scenes in the movie.

Other characters get their moments to shine as well. Chris Noth brings an excellent good guy Lex Luthor to the table, although he turns out to be every bit as brash and arrogant as Superman's regular archnemesis. Gina Torres delivers a great over-the-top version of Superwoman, Wonder Woman's evil counterpart who delights in her acts of cruelty simply for the thrill of it. Jonathan Adams portrays a poignant Martian Manhunter as he finds unexpected love with a woman from the other world.

One of the main selling points of a superhero tale is the action-packed battles between characters with titanic abilities. "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" delivers that in spades. The Justice League fights not only their doppelgangers in the Crime Syndicate, but many other evil versions of heroes from their world, including Captain Marvel, Hawkman, Green Arrow and more. The best battle scene is the rolling, thunderous brawl in the skies over the alternate world's version of Metropolis as the just-arrived Justice League at first has the upper hand against Crime Syndicate but quickly becomes overwhelmed when enemy reinforcements arrive.

The animation is crisp and clean with plenty of high-quality fluid movement. After the departure of Timm and Dini, DC animation struggled with finding a new visual style to replace Timm's highly stylized and dynamic designs. "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" seems to have set the new standard for these animated features as subsequent works by the same studio hew closely to the work done here.

The animated feature does have some minor flaws. For instance, the Martian Manhunter's love interest Rose Wilson could have been a more dynamic character. More chemistry should have been allowed to build between the two to give their budding romance more heft. While the focus on Batman and his evil counterpart in the second half of the film is great, it does take away the spotlight from other equally interesting characters, such as Flash and Wonder Woman.  A handful of minor characters, such as the evil Captain Marvel, Aquaman and others, were given great visual designs and could have benefited from some actual lines or more screen time.

"Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" is a very well-done adaptation of a popular comic book story. Fluid animation and excellent production values highlight every moment. Filled with thrilling action, intriguing twists and compelling characters, it portrays the best version of the modern Justice League ever released in a full-length feature.