Confession time: I’ve always had a soft spot for the whole alternate universe concept vis a vis superheroes. The idea of folks like Superman having completely different adventures — maybe even being completely different people! — just thrilled me as a young comic book collector for reasons I can’t really quite to explain (although the cynic in me might say it might have had something to do with the fact that these stories were allowed the grace of an actual ending). Whatever the reason, imaginary stories, parallel worlds, alternate universes, Earths 1-52, I loved em all. As a kid my big addiction was trying to get a complete run of the first run of Marvel’s “What If?” series (it wasn’t that hard).
So when Warner Brothers announced that their next straight-to-DVD animated film was going to be titled Crisis on Two Earths I acted a bit like Hugh Herbert. On the other hand, the company’s last offering, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, was abysmal, and left a bad taste in my mouth for days. Would this new film run along similar lines? Was I foolish to get my hopes up?
I needn’t have worried. Crisis on Two Earths is a fun, action-packed superhero cartoon. It’s not particularly deep or thoughtful (the two-part Justice League cartoon that’s on the second disc offers more in the way of character development and philosophical insight), but it’s solidly written (by Dwayne McDuffie), animated, acted and otherwise produced. I wasn’t in thrall to it, but I didn’t feel my time was being wasted either (and these days that’s a big compliment as far as I’m concerned). It’s certainly one of the more entertaining DC movies I’ve watched.
The story starts when the Lex Luthor from an alternate reality (or Earth 3 as we DC nerds know it) shows up in the “main” DC world asking for help from Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the gang (see the image at the top of this post). His problem? On his world, the Justice League’s counterparts, known as the Crime Syndicate, are kicking ass and taking names, with only the heroic Luthor (up being down on this planet, you see) being barely able to keep the peace. What’s more, the Syndicate is putting together an ultimate weapon that would make the threat of nuclear weapons (the world’s only threat against them at this point) useless.
From there it’s basically a mosaic of well-choreographed fight scenes, interspersed with cameos from some of the lesser stars in DC’s roster. A lot of those kinds of guest appearances annoy me to a degree in the sense that I always get the feeling that DC is trying way too hard to convince me that their characters are really, really awesome, even when they’re not — i.e. “Look, Aquaman’s beating up the evil Marvel family even though he’s much weaker than they are! Isn’t he great? Why aren’t you reading more Aquaman comics?” (I confess I did like seeing who ended up as the President, though).
Still, there’s a lot of nice touches here. I liked, for example, how Superman’s counterpart, Ultraman, acted like a big goombah — Ray Liotta meets Charles Atlas. I also enjoyed how Superwoman suggested all the kink laden in Wonder Woman’s DNA without ever becoming too suggestive.
The most interesting character of them all was easily Owlman — a psychotic version of Batman voiced very nicely by James Woods — which is not surprising, considering they spend most of the time focusing on him. He’s clearly the big villain of the film, so it won’t be too surprising when I say the whole film comes down to him and the Caped Crusader battling it out for the safety of the entire multiverse. As a result, a lot of the other characters — Green Lantern, the Flash — are given short shrift, but Owlman’s such an entertaining bad guy I really didn’t mind.
The only serious problem I had was with the dreary subplot involving the Martian Manhunter wooing the President’s daughter. It didn’t do anything to further the plot, kept grinding the movie down to a near-halt and only serves to underscore how much of a third banana J’onn J’onzz is, since he doesn’t actually help the rest of the League at all, except to provide a little deus ex machina at the end.
The DVD comes with a few extras that are worth noting, the main one being a short starring The Spectre. Written by Steve Niles, the cartoon sports an anime-heavy style quite different from Crisis‘ sleek, streamlined look, with a 70s setting that feels straight out of Boogie Nights, bell bottoms and all. I’ve never been a big Spectre fan — I’ve always thought he was far too powerful and aloof to be interesting — and this short really didn’t do anything to change my mind. It’s stylish, but bubble-headed and obvious — there’s no real mystery surrounding the plot, despite the pretense of one.
The DVD also boasts a preview of the next DC film, Under the Red Hood, which, I’m sorry, looks godawful, and a documentary of sorts titled “DCU: The New World,” wherein Dan Didio, Geoff Johns, Paul Levitz and a bunch of other folks talk about how gobsmackingly awesome Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis were. Since I absolutely loathe both of those comics and consider them to be responsible for a host of bad decisions that currently plague the comics industry, I don’t think I have to offer too much of my opinion for you to glean my feelings toward this pompous bit of fluffery. (I will note, however, that the most amazing thing about the doc is how they never once talk about the plot to either series, so that a newcomer could watch the thing and still not have the slightest idea what either comic is about.)
Still, it wasn’t enough to dampen my enjoyment of Crisis on Two Earths. It remains a smart, solid film that DC fans in particular are going to get a kick out of. Especially if you’ve got a thing for that whole “alternate universe” booshwah.