Film Review Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
It had to happen sooner or later. The creators of Warner Premiere’s DC Universe Original Animated Movies have racked up a decently respectable track record since the series began with Superman: Doomsday in 2007. That first effort and Justice League: The New Frontier, which followed it, were excellent. Batman: Gotham Knight was at least an interesting idea, and the subsequent Wonder Woman and Green Lantern releases, while mostly just padded-out origin stories, were diverting, at least. Last year’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies was another strong entry, owing to a faithful adaptation of the original Jeph Loeb/Ed McGuinness comic book, and the presence of Captain Marvel.
But, as Longfellow said, into each series of direct-to-video animated movies a little shit must fall. To whit: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, the latest and least of the DCU direct-to-video features.
The premise — a heroic Lex Luthor from a parallel universe enlists the Justice League to battle evil versions of themselves — has been done a couple of times in the comics, and was initially envisioned as a story arc in the Justice League Unlimited television series. Its lowly origins are all too apparent — and when I say that, I mean the JLU show, which I was never a fan of. The DCU features I’ve liked the most have been the ones that have strayed the farthest from the DC Animated Universe which began with Batman: The Animated Series and now encompasses almost a half-dozen similarly overrated shows. Crisis on Two Earths displays the same flaws that hobbled JLU and its predecessors: broad characters, flat dialogue, and lengthy action sequences standing in for story.
Like the previous DCU direct-to-video movies, the characters have been redesigned from their DCAU models. Everyone looks skinnier and sharper than they did on Cartoon Network. They sound different, too, thanks to an all-new vocal cast. Bringing in fresh voices has benefited earlier productions in the series — notably New Frontier — but the actors hired for Crisis don’t exactly distinguish themselves. I’m as sick of Kevin Conroy’s Batman as everybody else (actually, everybody else still seems to be digging it), but Billy Baldwin isn’t much of an upgrade. Though hearing him read Batman’s lines in that familiar rasp reminded me of what a great Bats everyone thought Alec Baldwin would make back in the day.
The lone exception is James Woods, who stars as Owl Man. Owl Man is the alternate universe’s version of Batman, and he wants to kill everyone who has ever, or will ever live. As evil schemes go, it’s a hard one to top. Owl Man is one of the leaders of the Crime Syndicate, the evil version of the Justice League that includes alternates for Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash — you get the idea. Other than Owl Man (and Super Woman, to a degree), we get no sense of who these evil JL’ers are, or why they’re such rotten bastards. For most of them, we aren’t even given their names. It’s hard to give a shit about a story when you literally have no idea who you’re watching.
Worst of all, the Crime Syndicate is designed to resemble a mafia family, with Superman’s alternate as the boss of bosses, the others controlling their own territory and super-powered lieutenants, and everyone talking in dopey movie-mobster idiom. It’s like Goodfellas without compelling characters, blood, or a brain.
What little plot there is exists only to set up the next fight scene. It reminded me of the Matrix trilogy, which, in a masochistic fever, I watched for the first time in its entirety over the weekend: fight, dialogue, fight, dialogue, fight, fight, fight, dialogue.
Also included on the DVD is a ten-minute Spectre short, which is likewise nothing to write home about. But I’m not discouraged over Crisis on Two Earths being the first unqualified disappointment of the DCU series. I’m cautiously optimistic over the next production: an adaptation of Judd Winnick and Doug Mahnke’s Under the Hood story arc from Batman a few years ago.
The choice of material isn’t encouraging, since I thought Under the Hood was one of the worst Batman stories I’ve ever read. When I heard it was to be the next DCU direct-to-video feature, I made this face:
But then I read about the cast: Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing, John DiMaggio as the Joker, Jason Isaacs as Rã’s al Ghũl — and as Batman . . . Bruce Greenwood.
I know, right? The star of Nowhere Man, Captain Pike himself, Bruce Motherfuckin’ Greenwood as Batman. If not for the continued success/existence of Glenn Beck, I’d swear I’d died and gone to Heaven. We’ll see which face I’m making after I watch Under the Hood, slated for release this summer.
UPDATE (2/24): Due to my glee over the prospect of Nowhere Batman, I forgot to discuss something else about Crisis on Two Earths that bothered me. It pertains to Owl Man’s “destroy all the universes” plot, and the scientific explanation offered for the existence of the parallel worlds and how white hot fuck stupid it is.
Using Sliders technology, Owl Man plans to travel to Earth Prime, the dimension from which all the other parallel worlds have branched, and set off a bomb big enough to destroy the planet. This, by Owl Man’s reckoning, will set off a chain reaction that will annihilate not only Earth Prime, but every alternate Earth it spawned. But how’s that work? Nuking one Earth into smithereens wouldn’t do jack shit to any of the other infinite Earths, whether that Earth was the original Earth or not. Unless Owl Man wants to travel back in time to a point before the other Earths branched off, which is either beyond his capability, or he isn’t smart enough to have thought of.
Plus, Owl Man and those trying to stop him (spoiler alert: they do) repeatedly talk about his evil plot as though it stands to destroy the entire universe. Why would blowing up all the versions of the Earth destroy the entire universe, anyway? What about the other 99.999 . . . % of the universe that has never seen, heard of, or given a fuck about Earth? What kind of geocentric horseshit is this?
Which brings me to the other problem with this plot. Before their climactic fight, Owl Man tells Batman that the cause of the parallel Earths is choice — the choices made by human beings in their lives. Before humanity evolved, there was one Earth. Then along came mankind, who split off an alternate Earth every time they made a decision, so that every possible outcome of every possible choice exists somewhere in a parallel world. This is a twist on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which states that every observation that might be made of a quantum particle can be made in separate parallel worlds. Applied more broadly, this interpretation implies that everything that can happen, does happen, in an infinite number of universes.
It’s one of the most exciting interpretations of quantum theory (and only one of many such interpretations), especially to writers of science fiction and the nerds who worship them. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the choices people make in everyday life. There are variations on the many-worlds interpretation that mark the divergence of worlds inside the observer’s mind at the point the observation is made, but even then the splitting of the worlds is tied to the world of quantum mechanics and its wacky inconsistencies with our more familiar macro-world, not someone deciding to cross the street and simultaneously creating another universe where he steps off the curb and gets flattened by a truck.
If the many-worlds interpretation is true, the branching of the universes at the quantum level must have begun with the big bang. (Right? Science people? Am I even close?) By the time humans evolved and started making choices, there must have been virtually infinite parallel universes already. The universe is built of quantum particles. And even if I were to grant that it was choice that splintered the one world into many worlds, why would it be exclusively human choice? What about the choices made by non-humans? Animals aren’t capable of thoughts as sophisticated as humans, but they still make choices. Why wouldn’t there be a universe where the squirrel runs up the tree and survives, and another where it decides to stay on the forest floor and gets torn apart by the fox? And let’s not forget that the DC Universe is just crawling with extra terrestrials. The Kryptonians seemed to have their shit more or less together — their choices didn’t trigger multiple worlds?
Finally, if there are multiple Earths where every possible choice is made, mustn’t there be a world where Owl Man decides not to blow up Earth Prime? Wouldn’t they cancel each other out? I call anthropocentric bullshit on this whole thing.