Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Charles Webb
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
Director: Sam Liu & Lauren Montgomery
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Starring: (voices of) William Baldwin, Mark Harmon, Chris Noth, Gina Torres, James Woods, Brian Bloom, and a roided-out Jimmy Olsen!


Scott Pilgrim vs. Michael Cera’s Increasingly Diminishing (Internet) Reputation

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-gb&from=sp&fg=shareEmbed&vid=3dca99ef-87c0-4343-a0da-f7f329301841" target="_new" title="Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - Trailer (HD)">Video: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - Trailer (HD)</a>

I was pleased to see this trailer hit earlier this week – the culmination of a few judiciously parceled-out teases and images shown askew by director Edgar Wright. Since the initial announcement of the Scott Pilgrim film I’ve been kind of bipolar in my reaction. Actually, make that a range between excitement and cautious optimism – the latter fueled by a concern that in spite of the quality of the source material it’s certainly very niche and will definitely have trouble finding a mainstream audience.

There’s definitely interest within comic fandom and even in a few quarters of gaming fandom – no surprise given that Scott Pilgrim hits that sweet spot of comic-to-film meets 8/16-bit nostalgia trip that attracts a segment of the population that has strong opinions on The Goonies and keeps the page counts high on The Onion. That’s to say it’s got a gen-whatever audience still hanging on to mid-decade ironic detachment who need their romance filtered through a couple of layers of something – anything just so everyone knows that they’re not taking it too seriously. This isn’t a knock against the series, which I enjoy. But it is what it is which is to say a book as much about the pop culture fishbowl of its characters as it is about the central romance between Scott and Ramona.

Now the movie has a problem which is both real and internet-imagined for the unconverted: namely the casting of Michael Cera of the slightly dim but exuberant Scott. Cera was likely cast on the success of Superbad and Juno during that period where he was kind of sort of a crush object for sensitive girls into sensitive boys. Unfortunately, the failure of his last couple of films Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and the truly excellent Youth in Revolt along with bit parts here and there have reinforced the meme that Cera is a one-trick pony and audiences are tired of him.

You know the trick: the low energy, quietly nervous thing he’s been doing since Arrested Development. To the extent that it’s true that he’s played a variation of the same character in several films I would tend to agree with the critics*. At the same time, I tend to like that character and the variations Cera has found in it. Most notably, he injected a palpable quiet hostility to his performance in the aforementioned Youth.

The question is how much play will the “Michael Cera is over” meme get upon Scott Pilgrim’s August release? More importantly do either Wright/Universal believe they have a problem? How will that ultimately affect the marketing in the coming months? I can imagine now Cera’s profile increasing a bit with more Funny or Die videos and maybe appearances on the talk show circuit – but it’ll be important that whatever exposure he gets it shows that he’s bringing some kind of new energy to this movie.

*There’s an argument to be made that some of the most interesting performers in film are those who create a variation on what appears to be their core personality. Pre-2000’s Deniro/Pacino and Dustin Hoffman of an earlier generation and George Clooney, Denzel Washington, and Amy Adams of a later generation come to mind. I’d like to revisit this topic at a later time, though…

Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths

The latest release from Warner Brothers Animation advertises itself a cartoon epic, pitting the universe of the mainstream DCU against its evil counterpart. Unfortunately, the production ends up feeling so small, the conflicts so narrowly-focused, and the action so stale that it compares unfavorably to even the least effective weekly Justice League episode.

When a heroic Lex Luthor from one dimension over pops into the DCU proper, he enlists the aid of the Justice League to help him battle the villainous Crime Syndicate. You know the drill – the Syndicate is comprised of evil analogues of DC heroes, typically with variations of their costumes and arbitrarily bent moral codes. Where there’s a Batman there’s an Owlman, where there’s a Superman there’s Ultraman, where there’s Wonder Woman there’s… well, Superwoman. And so on…

The problems with the movie are again, multifaceted. Many of them are based in the movie’s failure to expand its scope beyond one-on-one dustups between mirror images. A large portion of the running time is devoted to this, with the real stakes of the story not entering until perhaps the last 15 minutes of the movie’s anemic 75 minute runtime.

Some of the character work is curious and/or shallow as well – Batman (a growly William Baldwin) isn’t interested in helping the heroes from the other dimension and Superman is fairly hostile to the enterprise based on his distrust of Luthor (despite knowing fairly quickly that this Luthor is from another dimension). Other characters in the JL roster lack anything remotely approaching character, just kind of showing up as a character set and costume design in order to duke it out with an opposing costume set and character design. It’s surprising that writer Dwayne McDuffie was responsible for so many of the best episodes of Justice League and JL: Unlimited - that gift for characterization and ear for dialog is missing here.

There is one notable exception to all of this: Owlman (James Woods) is the standout character in the entire production and if given more room to breathe could have propelled the story to more interesting territory. In fact, the disjointed plot as currently conceived presents the real conflict as one between Owlman and Batman in the climax in spite of little interaction between the characters or any obvious parallel action. Which is again, a shame given how interesting Woods’ oily performance makes the nihilistic villain.

Another curious aspect is how much story there seems to be in and around the two fictional worlds. There are numerous Easter Eggs for viewers who bother to keep their eyes open – nods to comic history and even the source material. It feels like there was more story here which went underexplored for whatever reason. Details like Ultraman being a racist or a budding relationship between two of the characters get short shrift and are sort of mentioned quickly without any real elaboration.

I had the same complaints about Planet Hulk, also directed by Sam Liu. That film was also plagued by anemic action, slim characterization, and a terribly limited scope.

Reading the Wiki entry for the movie it appears that this was something of an orphan project, originally intended to bridge the two Justice League series. Perhaps that would explain the fairly unimpressive, almost perfunctory final product.

You can find the trailer for the movie below:

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