Note: The following review contains spoilers. Reader beware.
Little known fact. Several years ago, I was replaced by a multiverse version of myself who, thankfully, proved to be somewhat smarter and better looking. Still no good at math, but until another version of me shows up from a mathy universe, this version will have to do. True story. So I know from multiverses. And so does DC. In DCU: The New World, a documentary accompanying Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Dan DiDio waxes nostalgic about the Identity Crisis miniseries from 2004:
“At the end of the day, if we had a seven-issue miniseries that was able to stand the test of time… That is able to give a layer of depth to the heroes… And had some ramifications that played out in the DC Universe, that would be great.”
Unfortunately, it’s those elements that are missing from this latest animated feature from DC. Saving the world has become so de rigueur in comics, movies and TV shows, that unless there’s a real personal connection with the characters involved, it just feels like the same old story. With a script by Justice League scribe Dwayne McDuffie and direction by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery, Crisis certainly had a lot of potential. In a parallel universe, the lone survivor of Earth’s Justice League, Lex Luthor, travels through other-world dimensions to join forces with our own Justice League in a desperate attempt to save his world and its people from the Crime Syndicate, controlled by Ultraman, Owlman and Superwoman.
With so many characters, there’s no shortage of fight scenes. In fact, Crisis indulges in every conceivable match-up between its characters, filling scene after scene with grunting and property damage. The fights in these films are certainly a draw, and I’m sure there’s a large fan base for that. However, I started to lose interest pretty quickly, mainly because the threat lacked personal stakes for the characters. The heroes decide to get involved in the parallel Earth’s problems because it’s “what we do.” I needed something a little more personal than that.
Familiar voices are also missing from this production. Longtime favorite Kevin Conroy has been replaced by William Baldwin. While Baldwin admirably resists the urge to do a Christian Bale impersonation, his Batman lacks gravitas. Also, Brian Bloom‘s Ultraman is little more than yet another Italian mafioso stereotype. An anti-Superman would have been more chilling in his similarities to Superman, not in his differences. Stealing the show, however, are James Woods as Owlman and Gina Torres as Superwoman. The subtlety and subtext in their delivery make them the most interesting characters on display. In fact, Owlman’s philosophical ponderings about the futility of free will are infinitely more interesting in terms of motivation than anything the heroes have on their side.
All that said, the production itself looks great. The animation is fluid and vivid, and the score and sound are top notch. I just wish I cared more about the end of the world. Or cared more about the characters caring about the end of the world. The other unsettling aspect of this feature is the rewriting of Batman’s code of justice. With no remorse, Bats kills not one, but two of the parallel Earth’s bad guys. A bizarre shift for the character, to say the least.
Accompanying Crisis is a short featuring The Spectre. Dressed up like a 70s exploitation film, overexposed and washed out, with dust and grain marring the quality, the short delivers the right mix of pulp and supernatural vengeance. It was just the right length, too, considering the stylistic choice. Hopefully, we’ll see more of these kinds of shorts in the future.
I’d still recommend the film, especially if you’re just in the mood to see a bunch of heroes and villains punching each other. But, if you’re looking for a little more, you might want to wait for the next DC release.