Sunday 19 January 2020

REVIEW: Crisis on Infinite Earths

It took the Marvel Cinematic Universe eleven years to bring us their over-the-top, self-indulgent and thoroughly enjoyable time-travelling crossover. So for the CW's Arrowverse to get there in just eight years is pretty swift. Although I've never been the biggest fan of Arrow itself, it's a testament to the huge franchise of DC superhero shows that it has spawned that, in its final season, it would be part of a five-part crossover with all of its sister shows involved. Although that's not the half of it; this is as much an event for Supergirl , and particularly, The Flash, which has been counting down to this Crisis since its first season, with glimpses of the inevitable future marking Barry's time.

Plus it's a much-needed boost for Batwoman (a show I'm behind on, but still, from the evidence of early episodes, one that needs an injection of fun) and a celebration of the ridiculousness of Legends of Tomorrow. Even that doesn't cover it, though. By taking the idea of Infinite Earths to its logical extreme, Berlanti and the CW team realised they could put everything in there, if they could get the right people involved. And they got away with it; Crisis on Infinite Earths is an absurd celebration of the entirety of DC's live-action screen history, and a fair bit of the animated universe too. It's amazing that they got so many actors from DC productions past to get involved, even if some of them were just fleeting cameos.

It's nicely balanced on that front, too, with the regular cast still carrying the bulk of the story. The only alternative version of a character to get a big cut of the action is the Earth-96 Superman, and he, of course, is played by Legends regular Brandon Routh. It's particularly lovely how the reuse of actors isn't glossed over, but commented on by the characters. Superman productions in particular have a tradition of reusing actors in new roles, so there are a lot of characters who look like other versions of people they know. It's ridiculous, but as always, the Arrowverse embraces that ridiculousness.

There's also a nice balance to how they manage the repercussions of the Crisis. The original comics events used it as a way of tidying up continuity, starting a tradition of periodic DC universe makeovers that only ever made things more complicated. This was more straightforward – it got the main Arrowverse series, Arrow, The Flash, Batwoman and Legends, into the same reality as those acquired later, Supergirl and Black Lightning. But really, this just seems like an excuse to have fun. Yet it still left us with a multiverse, so there's no disjoint between the joy of seeing your favourite version of a character make a cameo and realising they've been killed along with everyone in their universe. It's all still out there, so we can still enjoy the infinite versions of this nonsense.

Part One: Supergirl

It starts beautifully, with a knowingly daft and over-the-top voiceover from the Monitor that leads into a multiversal montage of multiple Earths. It's a damned shame Adam West is gone, because I'm certain he would have jumped at the chance to appear alongside Burt Ward on Earth-66. Then we're into the action, with the universe of Earth-38 – the “Superverse” - under threat from the antimatter wave. One thing that this crossover managed very well was keeping each episode feeling part of its parent series, with this episode focusing on Supergirl and her friends and their reaction to the devastation. And it's pretty full on – Kara loses her entire world, and Argo, bar the lucky few survivors. Rightly, Superman and Lois are part of the team, not just because they're setting up their own series, but because they're pretty bloody important. But Supergirl herself is bloody impressive here, saving millions by working with the DEO and sundry aliens to evacuate people from their Earth. It's a shame we couldn't actually see much of this, but I guess a planetary evacuation is a rather expensive thing to put on screen. Still, it really makes it clear that this is a big event, with repurcussions. Supergirl's Earth is gone, and billions are dead. We know they'll find a way to put things right, somehow, but nothing's going to be the same after that.

It works very well as part one of the overall story, as well. It sets up the new Arrow spin-off by focusing a section on Oliver's relationship with his daughter and bringing in Laurel, and rightfully having Oliver lead the battle against the wraiths that precede the coming of the Anti-Monitor. It's the best battle of the serial, because it's relatively small scale, and features characters who fight without superpowers. It ends with Oliver's death, which is very poignant, even though we can already sense that he's going to be back before the end.

Other bits I loved:
  • Sara and Ray just chilling at a pub quiz, with no idea that the Crisis is coming.
  • The respective Batman themes on Earth-89 (the Keaton movies) and Earth-66 (the West series and movie).
  • Titans is included as Earth-9 – there's too much comicbook TV to watch right now, and I've just started this, but I loved seeing it included. It's another Berlanti one, although not one that's getting folded into the main universe.
  • Harrison Wells in a brilliantly comicky Pariah costume.
  • Wil Wheaton's cameo.

Part Two: Batwoman

While this one does put a lot of emphasis on Kate Kane, her friendship with Kara, and her complex relationship with Bruce Wayne and his memory, there's a huge focus on the Suerman mythology. However, for that reason this is my favourite of the episodes, as I just love the interaction between multiple Supermen. The visit to Smallville's Earth was a special treat; we'd all heard it was coming, but there was a spectacular frisson seeing Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch meet Tom Welling. It's a pity we didn't get any interaction between them and Erica Durance's Lois, though. It's perfect that this version of the character gave up his powers to live an ordinary farmboy life. Plus, Lex became president on that Earth, just as was foretold. It's slightly odd having Iris along for the ride, but Candace Patton is pretty great here, and after all, they're all journalists, right?

Jon Cryer might be the best Lex Luthor ever (still a huge surprise), and seeing him travel to multiple Earths to do what their Luthors couldn't and take down Superman repeatedly is wonderfully villainous. Of course, he uses magic, always Superman's other weakness. Could the Book of Destiny be a hint of some Sandman elements being incorporated somewhere down the line? Even more wonderful than Smallville is Earth-96, both the universe of Superman, Superman II and Superman Returns, but also the live action version of Kingdom Come. It's great that Routh finally gets to play Superman again, even playing him alongside himself as Ray. Wonderfully daft.

Both the biggest treat and the most aggravating decision, though, is Bruce Wayne. Kevin Conroy is my favourite Batman, but this is clearly not the Bruce Wayne of the 90s animated series and/or Batman Beyond. No, Earth-99 is more like The Dark Knight Returns and the grim Frank Miller canon, with a bit of Kingdom Come and even a touch of the DCEU movies. It's wonderful to have Conroy appear in the flesh at last, but did they have to make him such a miserable version of the character?

Back to the plot, and Oliver is back already, but not quite himself. Love that they got Constantine involved for this, as is all right and proper. There's a distinct lack of Legends in the crossover so far, even as we get a version of Mick Rory providing a Waverider to act as a base of operations. Still, there are a lot of characters and you can't fit everyone in. The Paragons idea is very daffy, but very comicbook and it's a nice way to get a core team together.

Other bits I loved:
  • There are a lot of nods to the Superman movies, but the best was giving Bruce a Lex Luthor line just to show how villainous he's become.
  • Plus he refers to Superman as “a strange visitor from another planet, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men,” which is straight from the really old Superman material – on TV and radio.
  • I love how Routh's Superman references fighting himself before, ala Superman III, but that film isn't in continuity with Superman Returns.
  • Gideon with the voice of Leonard Snart. This crossover has a dissapointing lack of Snarts so I'm glad he's in there somewhere.
  • Mick Rory is good with babies!

Part Three: The Flash

This one really feels like an episode of The Flash, which is quite right. The Flash was always headed here, destined as Barry was to sacrifice himself to save the multiverse from the Crisis. At least, in the comics, things work out rather differently here. Was anyone really surprised when the Barry who sacrificed himself turned out to be the one from Earth-90? A cop out, perhaps, but not an unwelcome one, and it gave John Wesley Shipp the final send-off that he deserved. He's been wonderful all through this series as Henry Allen, Barry Allen and Jay Garrick, giving them all distinct characters, and it's a rather beautiful goodbye for him.

There are some very nice character moments for Team Flash, which is important, since while Grant Gustin's Barry doesn't die, he instead loses everyone. Indeed, everyone does. The episode ends with the destruction of the multiverse. I mean, we all know it'll be sorted out, but wow, that's a cliffhanger-and-a-half. Even so, the strongest moments of this episode were the character interactions, between Barry and his friends, between Kara and Kate, between Barry-90 and everyone who'd listen. It's a bit harsh on Hoechlin that Routh gets to be the “main” Superman, but it's not like he lasts long as a Paragon. The switch of Lex Luthor to take over his role is fantastic – ad the clear reason that the Monitor brought it back. You can't save everything just with heroes, you need a bit of villain in there as well.

There are some fluffs, though. Bringing in Ryan Choi (destined to become the new Atom when Routh leaves Legends later in 2020) is nice, and making the ordinary guy the Paragon of Humanity is a great touch. (I say ordinary, he's still a super-genius.) But his inclusion is underwhelming and feels undeserved (that said, he's much better in the following episodes). The introduction of Cress Williams over from Black Lightning is handled poorly. I'm miles behind on that show, so haven't seen its tie-in episode, but the guy has just lost his family and entire world, and he just has to shrug it off and get on with things. And after all that, he's fairly pointless, just a lightning zap here and there that could have been provided any number of ways. Also, after practically vanishing from events in Part Two, J'onn J'onnz is suddenly back as a Paragon. Not that he shouldn't be there, but the writing was sloppy there.

Other bits I loved:
  • Wow, Birds of Prey. I'd practically forgotten that one.
  • Ralph Dibney gets a few nice moments, particularly “Holy All-Star Squadron!”
  • Look, I really don't like Lucifer, it gets the comics and character so completely wrong, but it was still a nice moment having Constantine meet him.
  • Looks like Earth-73 is Black Lightning Earth, but it's not spelled out. Going with that one though. Still pleased they incorporated the series even if they did fluff it.
  • Jim Corrigan shows up! Now that's a development. It's a pity they didn't get Emmett Scanlan back from Constantine, but Stephen Lobo's suitably grim.

Part Four: Arrow

God, they make us wait, don't they? More than a month without an episode, then two on the same night. I love how that month has passed in the show too, with the Paragons being stuck in the Vanishing Point all this time. There's an interesting universal set-up here: the multiverse has been destroyed, yet it would seem only in the present. So time travel is still possible, and timeless realms such as the Vanishing Point, Purgatory and the Speed Force continue to exist. Thus, we go back to the very beginnings of the multiverse to set things right, and get a time-travelling greatest hits parade to boot.

Yes, it's very Avengers: Endgame, but hell, these guys have earned it too. This is Arrow's show this time round, and Oliver Queen gets to shoulder the burden. Making Oliver the Spectre is an amazing move, one that's over-the-top but that seems right given the huge stakes here. Given that his character and series have evolved from vigilante-versus-assassins and criminals, to superhero-versus-metahumans and magicians, it follows that he ends up with powers of his own. And not just powers, he's an ultra-powered ghost! Somehow, even with something this silly, even though we've just done the same thing, Oliver's death is poignant. It's a hell of a move, killing off the star of Arrow halfway through his final season. It's a pity that Stephen Amell spends so much time with his voice so heavily modulated.

The final battle is a little underwhelming, if only because fisticuffs seem like a daft way to save the totality of existence. The build-up is more enjoyable, with Choi and Lex making a bizarrely effective team. Cryer's obviously having a fantastic time and is one of the best things about this crossover. Good to see that Supergirl doesn't deal well with working with him. She can be too saccharine at times, it's good to see her pissed off.

And then: the multiverse is restored, with tweaks.

Other bits I love:
  • LaMonica Garrett is awesome when he's playing Mar Novu before he becomes the Monitor.
  • You have failed this universe.” So cheesy. I love it.
  • Amell does get a really great final scene.
  • That cameo. Ezra Miller drops by as another Barry Allen, bringing the DCEU into the great DC screen multiverse. It really feels complete, now that the current cinema version is included. I like that they pointed out that his inclusion, at this stage in the story, made no sense, but it was the only way to get him in there, since he could only be squeezed in after most the filming was completed. Then again, the Speed Force is outside of time.
  • DCEU Flash gets the idea for the name from CW Flash.
  • The Spectre fighting the Monitor while reality reforms around them is straight from the comics, although this time we have a different Spectre.

Things I didn't love:
  • I know Emily Bett Rickards has left Arrow, but where the hell was Felicity? This is the biggest crossover ever and Oliver just died. She should be here.

Part Five: Legends of Tomorrow

And rightly so, the Legends episode is the silliest of all. I'm a bit disappointed that we didn't get more Legends in there, but we got some great stuff from Sara, Ray and Mick, even if the rest of the team was either absent or reduced to cameos. Again, though, with so many characters to include, it's understandable (presumably why the Legends were left out of the last crossover).

So, now we have Earth Prime, the combined elements of Earth-One, Earth-38 and Earth-73-or-whatever. Possibly the old Earth-Two as well, given that it seems to have been replaced. It's a weird place, with Oliver having used his infinite powers at the moment of his death to reboot the universe and do some tinkering while he did so. Questions abound. Why is Lex suddenly in position of trust and power? That can't have been Oliver's choice. An effect of the Book of Destiny, perhaps? We'll see the fallout of the Crisis on all six series, but things can't ever be the same after this. On one hand, it threatens to invalidate everything we've already experienced on the shows so far. On the other, characters can interact with each other more easily, and it looks like they're pulling out all the stops when it comes to comicbook daffiness.

The final battle against the Anti-Monitor manages to somehow be more absurd than the confrontation with Beebo, but it works, mainly because the various heroes feel like a real team, all bringing their own elements to it. There are still strange omissions and inclusions – J'onn is mainly included as a Paragon so he can infodump people psychically in the new universe – but on the whole it works.

If nothing else, it's worth it for that final big scene. After all this time, we finally have a live-action TV Justice League. The Flash, Superman, Supergirl, Batwoman, the Martian Manhunter, Black Lightning, White Canary, and whoever's going to take over as the Green Arrow. It's been a wild, eventful, ridiculous ride.

Other bits I love:
  • The multiverse continues. There's a new Earth-Two, it seems, which will include the upcoming Stargirl series. So even though they've gone to all this trouble to bring the shows together, they're keeping some in their own continuities.
  • Heavy set up for a Green Lantern show.
  • Best cameo of the crossover: Marv Wolfman himself. If you don't know, that's the modern DC equivalent of all those Stan Lee cameos.
  • Diggle gets to have both his son and his daughter in the same reality. One got switched with the other due to Barry's Flashpoint foolishness.
  • Good to see Mick's literary career is going strong.

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