Biggest surprise of Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths? It's not the fast-moving, funny script, nor the best-looking animation from a DC Universe project yet. Nope, it's that Wonder Woman comes away as the most impressive character of the movie.
At times, Crisis feels like the perfect Justice League movie; it manages to mix large scale spectacle and smart writing that, although this could never be described as a character-based piece, still manages to have enough character to keep everyone from devolving into generic superheroes; writer Dwayne McDuffie shows off an economy learned from years of working on the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited shows, managing to sketch each member with just a few words, but make them believable despite everything. He also manages to add all manner of easter eggs and injokes to keep the viewer's interest (Longtime comic fans will be amused by the identities of the parallel world Batman's henchmen, and SF movie fans might be surprised by shoutouts not only to Star Wars and Star Trek but also a completely unexpected, and awesome, riff on James Cameron's Aliens when you least expect it) that never threaten to overwhelm - or even slow down - the main action.
Plotwise, it begins, essentially, as Grant Morrison JLA: Earth 2; a Lex Luthor from a parallel world where moralities are reversed comes to the Justice League's world to enlist their aid in overthrowing their evil counterparts. Granted, there's a lot toned down from Morrison's version - the parallel Earth isn't actually evil, just ruled over by bad versions of superheroes; the evil Flash doesn't get his powers from drugs - but the basic idea is there. Where it differs is in the second half, which has a cohesiveness and satisfaction that Morrison's version lacked; instead of bringing in a threat outside of conventional morality, the trouble comes from a nihilism on behalf of the Crime Syndicate that matches the Justice League's optimism, and both the ultimate threat (the destruction of every parallel Earth) and confrontation have a grand scale much more impressive than the comic version.
Visually, it's the best looking of any of the DC Universe animated movies to date, and arguably better looking than the Justice League's TV incarnation as well. Certainly, the animation is smoother and character design more easily animated than recent efforts, and directors Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu choreograph some impressive sequences throughout that show off their animators' skills to best effect; sequences like the aerial fight scene or the Justice League fighting Owlman's Outsiders are the kind of thing that, CGI-special effects included, live action movies still couldn't pull off as well just yet.
Oddly enough, as I said above, one of the most lasting impressions the movie leaves is how cool Wonder Woman is. The mix of the animation, voice acting (by Vanessa Marshall, not one of the bigger names in the cast, but definitely one of the most impressive. Also a lot of fun is Gina Torres' Superwoman, who manages to sound seductive and evil as only she can, and James Woods' melodramatic Owlman) and McDuffie's script turns her into a character who's not only the most capable of the good guys - Yes, even more than Batman - but also one of the most decisive, when needs be (Again, watch the aerial fight; she lets Owlman fall to a possible death without a second thought), without falling into the "She's A Warrior" cliches that such a portrayal often does. Of all the characters in the movie, she's the one you want to see more of.
...But she's not the only one you'll feel that way about on the DVD. Because, alongside the Crisis movie itself (And two parallel-earth-spanning episodes of Bruce Timm's Justice League series), there's an extra short written by Steve Niles and starring The Spectre that has to be seen to be believed. Surreally - but definitely welcomely - going for a 1970s TV detective aesthetic, Niles' Spectre comes across as creepy and cool in a way that seems entirely different from the Justice League main feature, and will also make you hope that someone can make it into a full series for Adult Swim. It's a wonderful value-add, and almost worth the price of the DVD by itself.
Overall, the Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths DVD is pretty much everything a superhero fan, or even just animation fan, could want; everyone brings their best efforts, and the result is something that puts most mainstream superhero movies to shame.
Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths is released tomorrow.