"Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths," the latest animated feature from Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, hits shelves today and pits Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and the rest of the Justice League against their alternate-Earth counterparts, The Crime Syndicate.
Along with the full-length feature, "Crisis On Two Earths" also features the first in DC's new line of animated shorts introducing lesser-known DC characters — in this case, a dark tale that puts the spotlight on DC's white-skinned, green-cloaked "Spectre." There's also a short featurette on "Batman: Under the Hood," the next original DC animated feature to hit shelves, and several episodes of the "Justice League" animated series.
Based on a script by Dwayne McDuffie, a writer of both "Justice League" comics and the "Justice League Unlimited" animated series, "Crisis on Two Earths" is co-directed by Sam Liu ("Planet Hulk," "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies") and Lauren Montgomery ("Green Lantern: First Flight," "Wonder Woman"). This review is based on the "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" Blu-Ray Special Edition.
THE GOOD: The DC/Warner Bros. team couldn't have picked a better author for the "Crisis On Two Earths" script than comics veteran Dwayne McDuffie, and his knowledge of the DC Universe and love for the characters shines in the film. Story-wise, "Crisis On Two Earths" ranks as one of the best animated features to come out of DC or Marvel in recent years, with enough fan-friendly moments to please the diehards and an accessible story that introduces not only the main characters, but also the B-listers and DC's "multiverse" concept.
As far as voice actors go, there were some big casting changes in the latest animated feature, as well as a host of new characters for actors to make their own. James Woods provides the perfect take on the calm, calculating and dangerously lethal Owlman (the evil version of Batman), and the voice of "Firefly" alum Gina Torres is just the right mix of sex appeal and raw power for Super Woman (the evil version of Wonder Woman). Josh Keaton also does well as the voice of Flash, with a snappy delivery and comic timing that seem well-suited to the character.
Roster-wise, "Crisis On Two Earths" certainly shouldn't disappoint, either. While it doesn't boast nearly as many cameos as previous DC animated features such as "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" or "Green Lantern: First Flight," it makes more efficient use of the characters it does introduce. There's an extended brawl with a team of evil Justice League Detroit and The Outsiders dopplegangers, as well as another long skirmish involving Red Tornado, Black Lightning, Firestorm, Aquaman and Black Canary. There's also a nice, flashback-style reference to the Justice League's origins featuring a familiar cover image of the Justice League battling Starro.
On the special features side, "The Spectre" animated short is a great first entry in the new line, and writer Steve Niles offers up a great take on the character that draws heavily from the types of stories that first made DC's Spirit of Vengeance so popular. The short is equal parts '70s pulp, noir mystery and messy horror, and both the animation and the script play well with the subject matter and tone.
Oh, and one final note: The climactic battle in "Crisis on Two Earths" between Batman and Owlman is not to be missed. It's everything you want a brawl between these two characters to be — and then some.
THE BAD: It's disappointing to note that the weakest elements of "Crisis On Two Earths" lie in the voice casting of two of the film's most popular characters. Mark Harmon and William Baldwin voice Superman and Batman, respectively, and neither actor seems to put much heart into their performance. For much of the film, both characters' dialogue feels forced — as if they're just reading their characters' lines rather than actually becoming the voices of their characters.
In the end, the voice casting of Superman and Batman has the effect of jarring you out of the story every time each character speaks, and it's even more noticeable in the exchanges between Batman and Owlman. Given how great the rest of the film is, one can't help but wonder what it would have been like with veteran Superman and Batman voice actors Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy in their regular roles.
FINAL WORD: One of the strongest animated features from DC or Marvel to hit shelves thus far, "Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths" is not only an enjoyable film, but it's a strong film from start to finish. It also stands heads and shoulders above many of its animated peers by finding the right combination of nostalgic, superhero fun with a sense of urgency and genuine danger for its heroes. Similarly, "The Spectre" is exactly what fans will want and expect from an animated version of the character (I know because I'm one of 'em), and will likely leave its audience wanting more (in the best possible way). If future installments of DC's animated shorts are half as good as "The Spectre," I'll be a happy camper.
However, I can't heap enough praise on James Woods' spot-on performance as Owlman. Mark my words: Owlman is the star of "Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths" — and once you see it, I think you'll agree.
"Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths" arrives on shelves today (February 23) on DVD and Blu-Ray Special Edition.
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