Alternate universes have been a staple of science fiction, in particular, parallel dimensions inhabited by evil doppelgangers. One of the best episodes of the original Star Trek was “Mirror, Mirror” where Kirk and company were accidentally transported to another universe where the Federation was a ruthless empire and Spock sported the most awesome goatee in goatee history. Comic books have tackled this concept numerous times. DC Comics’ Multiverse was littered with alternate worlds including Earth-3, a dark reflection of their main universe.
On the world of Earth-3, history unfolded in a backwards. England won its independence from the United States and Abraham Lincoln assassinated John Wilkes Booth. On Earth-3, there was no Justice League and in their stead was the Crime Syndicate, a brutal team of metahumans who ruled the planet with an iron fist. Their leader was Ultraman, a Kryptonian who gained superpowers from exposure to Kryptonite. The other members include Superwoman, Owlman, Power Ring, and Johnny Quick. His archenemy, Alexander Luthor, was one of only a handful of heroes fighting against the Crime Syndicate’s oppression.
This is the basis for Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, the latest installment in DC and Warner Premiere’s line of direct-to-video animated films.
Crisis wastes little time in establishing the topsy-turvy nature of the evil universe when the heroic Lex Luthor (Chris Noth) and The Jester (a good Joker) steal a device called the Quantum Trigger from Crime Syndicate headquarters. With it, Luthor travels to the Justice League’s world to enlist their aid in taking down his enemies. Except for a skeptical Batman (William Baldwin), the League accompanies Luthor to battle their villainous counterparts. However, with the discovery of an infinite amount of parallel universes, Owlman salivates at committing the ultimate crime, the destruction of all of reality.
Crisis is definitely more action-packed than its predecessors, but doesn’t suffer from a far too short runtime like Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Not a second after the JLA arrives on the second Earth are they attacked by a gang of twisted variations of fan favorites such as Black Lightning and Elongated Man. Our heroes even battle evil versions of Jimmy Olsen and Uncle Dudley Marvel, believe it or not. Consequently, when Superwoman and her cronies transport to the JLA’s Watchtower, they engage in a battle royal with Batman and Aquaman, among others.
While not nearly as brief as Public Enemies, Crisis still feels underdone at 75 minutes. It would have been nice to see the Justice League explore more of the Crime Syndicate’s world and its history. The filmmakers attempt to bolster the film with a subplot involving the Martian Manhunter romancing Rose Wilson, the daughter of President Slade Wilson who fanboys know better as Deathstroke. The love story really doesn’t go anywhere and feels completely out of place.
As usual, Warner Animation’s voice director, Andrea Romano, has assembled an all-star cast to sit in the recording studio. The voice-over talent includes Mark Harmon as Superman, William Baldwin as Batman, Chris Noth as Lex Luthor, James Woods as Owlman, and Gina Torres as Superwoman. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the television series, but I thought the cast, while well done, wasn’t quite as strong as those on Justice League Unlimited. For example, Baldwin may have captured the gravely voice of the Dark Knight, but he wasn’t able to truly make him spark the way Kevin Conroy did. On the other hand, James Woods seems to be enjoying himself as the chilling and calculating Owlman.
Though not based on any specific story, it does draw inspiration from JLA: Earth 2, a graphic novel by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely. Fans who’ve read that story will recognize certain scenes and even whole lines of dialogue ripped right out of its pages. At one point, Superman examines the good Luthor with his X-Ray vision, sees his heart is on the wrong side of his body, and (in a perfect bit of comic book logic) immediately concludes this Luthor must be from an alternate dimension. Differing from earlier incarnations, the Crime Syndicate is portrayed as much more of an organized crime family. Each member heads up their own territory enforced by a plethora of underlings.
The screenplay was written by Dwayne McDuffie, one of the writers for Justice League. In fact, the script was originally written as, Justice League: Worlds Divided, a direct-to-video tie-in to bridge the gap between the show’s second and third seasons when it transitioned into Justice League Unlimited. This wouldn’t be the first time the series tackled the subject matter. The two-part episode, “A Better World,” featured another Earth where the League became totalitarian dictators known as the Justice Lords.
Watching the resolution of Crisis, you can easily tell how the movie would have fit into the continuity of the animated series. There’s Batman’s recruitment of additional League members, the creation of the new Watchtower and teleportation system, and even a unique take on the origin of Wonder Woman’s invisible jet.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the transfer. More discerning videophiles may find some nits to pick, but I found the Blu-Ray to be just about flawless. The picture is of the highest quality with a clean image and the most vibrant of colors.
The audio is only presented in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 as Warner has once again decided not to release a high definition disc with lossless audio. The sound is decent enough, but feels flat compared to what should have been an HD audio track.
There is no doubt that the highlight of the extras is the all-new animated short, DC Showcase – The Spectre (11:51). For those who don’t know, the Spectre is Jim Corrigan, a cop who is murdered and becomes the host for the spirit of God’s vengeance. The short was penned by Steve Niles, the writer of 30 Days of Night, and is done in the style of a 70’s film noir. The animators even added grain and scratches in post-production for an extra layer of authenticity. Here, Corrigan, by day, is a Dirty Harry-style police detective investigating the murder of a prominent Hollywood producer. By night, he becomes the Spectre and dishes out his trademark brand of brutal and ironic punishment. Gary Cole voices the Spectre with Alyssa Milano playing the producer’s daughter.
Whoever came up with this brilliant idea deserves a medal. This is the perfect way to utilize DC’s rich stable of secondary characters, ones that might not be able to support their own movie.
The rest of the extras are in standard definition.
DCU: The New World (33:14) features interviews with the writers and artists of DC Comics as they discuss the changes in the DC Universe following 9/11. There’s a brief rundown of the various Crisis crossovers with a heavy focus on the controversial Identity Crisis mini-series.
First Look: Batman Under the Red Hood (13:46) is a preview of the next animated film which will feature the voices of Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Jensen Ackles as the Red Hood, and Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing.
You’ll also get the previously released previews for Wonder Woman, Green Lantern: First Flight, and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.
Also included is a quartet of Justice League episodes, the aforementioned “Better World” and the 2-part “Twilight” with Superman versus Darkseid and Brainiac.
Exclusively available on the Blu-Ray are the pilots for Wonder Woman (1975) and Mercy Reef, an aborted Smallville-style series featuring a young Aquaman.
Finally, the disc includes a code redeemable for a Digital Copy of Crisis for Windows Media Player.
Film Value: 7
After being sidetracked by Public Enemies, DC and Warner steer the ship back on course with Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. It’s a fun picture with plenty of superpowered fisticuffs to keep things entertaining. It’s not quite as good as Wonder Woman or Green Lantern: First Flight, but it comes close to knocking Justice League: New Frontier from its third place spot. The image quality on the Blu-Ray is exceptional with the lack of lossless audio being the release’s biggest black mark.