“This is not like the Jedi mind trick.”
The Scoop: 2010 PG-13, directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery and starring Mark Harmon, Chris Noth and James Woods
Tagline: When Justice meets its match, worlds collide.
Summary Capsule: The Justice League travels to a parallel universe to save it from the menace of… themselves.
Drew’s rating: I’m talking to the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways. With my fist.
Drew’s review: I wasn’t planning to review this film. Comic fan though I am, DC cranks out animated movies faster than I can watch them, and lately they’re all standalone films instead of feeling like part of one cohesive universe. But two things combined to make me take a chance on Crisis on Two Earths. One was finding it for a cheap price; the other was the unfortunate passing last week of its writer, Dwayne McDuffie. I haven’t read much of Mr. McDuffie’s stuff, but I know he was well respected in the comic and film industries, so I thought this’d be a good way to sample some of his most recent work while paying tribute to the man himself.
Crisis begins with business as usual- Lex Luthor threatening to destroy the world and demanding to speak to the Justice League. But when they acquiesce, it becomes clear that this is an entirely different Luthor, one from a parallel Earth where he is the last remaining superhero. The rest have been wiped out by the Crime Syndicate of America, evil versions of the Justice League who plunder and terrorize their world at will. At Lex’s insistence, the League agrees to travel to his world to free it from the yoke of their evil counterparts. But meanwhile, the Syndicate is constructing a device powerful enough to hold the world for ransom, and one of their number has goals far loftier than simple blackmail… like, say, multiversal genocide.
With no disrespect intended, one of the first things you’ll notice is that the voice acting is okay but nothing special. Gone are the days when Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Tim Daly would knock it out of the park every time. Surprisingly, the one notable exception is James Woods. I was mildly worried when his very distinct voice issued from Owlman’s mouth, but as the film progressed, I became convinced that no one else could have pulled off the smugness and sheer contempt for everyone else that’s necessary for the anti-Batman. Well done, Mr. Woods. The one other standout in my mind was Brian Bloom, who voices Ultraman like every mobster you’ve ever heard on TV or film. It really drives home that the Crime Syndicate are not just supervillains- they’re actual mafia families, with Ultraman as the boss of bosses. And remember, I’m from New Jersey, so odds are I’ve met actual mobsters at some point without realizing it.
Voices aside, the animation is pretty darn good, as are many of the costume redesigns for the evil counterparts — having the advantage of not being tied to 1940s design sensibilities, Ultraman doesn’t get saddled with red underpants, and Owlman’s goggles give him the unearthly quality that Batman always strives to project. But what’s most important is plot, and that’s where Crisis, if it won’t blow your mind, at least has more twists than the typical “good guys battle evil versions of themselves” that I was expecting. I never thought I’d say this, but with Kyle’s retirement, I feel like I owe it to him: Grant Morrison’s version of this story was better. Grant wrote probably the definitive Crime Syndicate story, but there’s no way you could put half of his ideas in an animated movie without packaging the DVD with an annotated guide or some really good weed. In the absence of either of these things, Crisis makes due with an evil twin storyline that turns into how one evil twin is eviler than the rest and has to be stopped from destroying reality.
In the end, I can admit that this movie won me over in spite of myself. I went in expecting a very by-the-numbers affair, not the pretty engaging film I actually watched. Can it stand up with the best animated superhero films, like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm? No, but hell, neither can most live action movies. Crisis certainly isn’t redefining genres or trailblazing epic mythology, but if all you’re expecting is a mindless superhero romp with a couple of laughs, you will be pleasantly surprised. Assuming that’s the case, it’s definitely worth at least a rental.
- DC’s “multiple earths” concept arose in the 1960s, when writers wanted the (then new) Justice League of America to meet the old 1940s characters, the Justice Society of America; they did so by establishing that the two teams lived in similar but distinct universes. (Showing the class you’d expect from the Greatest Generation, the JSA allowed the League’s world to be dubbed “Earth-One” and their own world “Earth-Two,” even though they were around first.) A year later saw the introduction of Earth-Three, where everything was reversed. It was home to the Crime Syndicate of America, evil counterparts of the JLA like Ultraman, who gained a new superpower every time he encountered kryptonite, and Owlman, whose criminal parents were gunned down by police when he was a child, and who worked with mobster “Boss” Gordon to terrorize Gotham City.
- This film was originally meant to bridge the gap between the “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” cartoons in 2004 — the script was shelved at the time and only recently produced as a standalone film. Despite rewrites (swapping Green Lantern John Stewart for Hal Jordan, etc.), some elements of this remain, like the League being down to 6 members (Hawkgirl having resigned at the end of the JL series); the heroes being in the process of rebuilding their headquarters, destroyed in the final JL storyline; and Wonder Woman stealing Owlman’s jet, which gets stuck in stealth mode, becoming the invisible plane she used in JLU. Also, Batman’s recruitment of Aquaman, Firestorm, Black Lightning, Black Canary, and Red Tornado foreshadows the League’s massive expansion.
- Nerds will have fun picking out the evil versions of many DC heroes among the “Made Men,” the lieutenants of the Crime Syndicate. Among others, the entirety of Justice League Detroit and many of the Outsiders are represented. Interestingly, Superwoman is NOT a villainous version of Wonder Woman, as she is in the comics. Instead, WW’s counterpart Olympia works for Johnny Quick, and Superwoman is an evil Mary Marvel. Her three lieutenants are corrupted versions of Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and Uncle Marvel.
- Likewise, “President Wilson” is a benevolent counterpart of Deathstroke, one of the most feared supervillains in the DC universe. His daughter Rose Wilson has been both a hero and a villain as the Ravager, lending irony to J’onn’s “With my luck, she’ll be evil” comment.
Flash: I don’t know, Batman. This is pretty radical. You’re absolutely sure it works?
Batman: Pretty sure. [pushes button]
Flash: “Pretty sure”? That isn’t– [teleports] –good enough!
Batman: Teleporter’s online.
[JLA walks into a room where Lex Luthor is sitting naked]
Flash: Whoa, and they call me The Flash!
Superman: What do you think you’re doing?
Luthor: I’ve come to talk. As you can see, I’m not armed. You’re going to find what I have to say very difficult to believe–
Superman: You’re from a parallel earth.
Luthor: How could you possibly know that?
Superman: Your internal organs are reversed. Your heart is on the wrong side.
Wonder Woman: It could be a trick.
Superman: Could be. But our Luthor’s still in his cell on Stryker’s Island.
Luthor: And now that we’ve clarified the matter of my evil twin, I’ve got quite a story to tell you. [stands up]
Model Citizen: You don’t want to fight me. You want to help me.
Flash: I don’t want to fight you, I want to– hey, this is like the Jedi mind trick!
Model Citizen: This is not like the Jedi mind trick.
Flash: This is not like the Jedi mind trick.
Owlman: Man is a cancer. And I’ve chosen to cut out the disease.
Batman: You’re talking about killing–
Owlman: Everyone who ever lived. Who ever will live. I choose to make the only possible real choice.
Batman: You’re insane.
Owlman: Does it really matter? There are alternate versions of me that you would find quite charming.
Owlman: You should have sent your flying man. With his strength, he might have had a chance. But you don’t trust anyone else to do what needs to be done. Heh. I feel the same way.
Batman: There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the abyss… but when it looked back at us, you blinked.
Ultraman: That’s real sad, ain’t it? Now get your asses off my moon.
Wonder Woman: Maybe there’s another one like her back on our earth.
Martian Manhunter: With my luck, she’ll be evil.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Justice League: The New Frontier
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
- Justice League Unlimited