It's the End of the World as We Know It (Again)

Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths, Part 1 (DCT 07)

Well, it’s been five years since the last time Crisis on Infinite Earths was adapted into a storyline from DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. (as part of the ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming.) which, apparently, means it’s time to adapt it all over again. Crisis is, of course, one of the most famous storylines DC ever produced. Hell, I’d probably peg it as this most important, seeing as it aligned forty years of continuity across a huge number of titles and multiple universes, remaking DC’s multiverse into something singular and comprehensible. It then led DC to realize that big, universe spanning, crossover events were big business and would massively goose comics sales, so they started doing these all the time. This Crisis, that Crisis, here’s a time Crisis, there’s a Final Crisis. We don’t get any of those, or the next forty years of DC Continuity, good and ill, without Crisis on Infinite Earths.

As I noted, we’ve already had an adaptation of this storyline, with the Arrowverse doing their sixth annual big crossover event. Despite the relative quality of previous crossover events, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was kind of a dud. Long, slow, boring, and ending in a way that violated the very setup we’d been given for it many seasons earlier, it was probably the worst way to adapt Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was a huge event at the time, even tying in other DC TV shows, movies, and the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe., but at the end of the day it was a bad crossover that left fans wanting. It’s no wonder that the Arrowverse petered out soon after.

Now, with a second chance at adapting the crossover event, this time as part of the DC TomorrowverseA fresh start for DC's direct-to-video animated films, this is the successor universe to the DC Animated Movie Universe, promising bright new stories for DC's classic stable of heroes., it was time for DC to see if their creators actually could make this event something worth watching. Like with the Arrowverse event, DC has elected to let this event play out over a longer period of time than a single episode or film. As the “Part 1” implies, this will be a multipart event, a trilogy of films this time, all to really tell the whole universe-spanning story of the Crisis. And, honestly, that’s a solid idea. There’s enough material here, with enough characters, that taking the time to tell the story right is important. But the other thing the creators for Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths, Part 1 have done is focus the story on a single character, making it a tale with personal stakes. This turns it into a quest for a single hero to take on, and perspective helps to ground the story and make it all feel more real and more essential. One change, and suddenly Crisis on Infinite Earths comes to life.

The story is focused on Barry Allen (Matt Bomer), The FlashStruck by lightning while working in his lab, Barry Allen became a speedster known as The Flash, launching an entire set of super-fast superheroes., speedster of Central City. He’s in his lab, asleep, when a vision of his future self appears and then suddenly vanishes. And then Barry is pulled out of this time and sent back to his past to see moments of his life, such as the day he met Iris West (Ashleigh LaThrop), the day they were married, and even a future with the two of them together. As he notes to her, after an accidental trip across the multiverse, Barry has been slipping back and forth through time and while he can’t always guarantee he knows when he is, he at least knows they’ll be together till the end.

But one specific moment he keeps returning to is the formation of the Justice LeagueThe premiere team at DC Comics, their version of the Avengers (which actually came before the Avengers and, really, has existed in some fomr since the early 1940s), the Justice League is the team-up to end all team-ups, featuring some of the most popular, and longest running, characters in all of comics history (and also Booster Gold). after a battle gone wrong with the cyborg Amazo (Nolan North). That robot was designed to preserve all life but, due to being funded by Lex Luthor, was perverted into a weapon. This was against the will of the cyborg as well as his creator, Dr. Ivo (Ike Amadi). It’s only with the combined power of the Flash, SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s. (Darren Criss), BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. (Jensen Ackles), Green Arrow (Jimmi Simpson), Vixen (Keesha Sharp), and Martian Manhunter (Amadi) that the heroes stand a chance of bringing the robot down. It also proves that heroes working together can solve any problem, and that knowledge will be needed when a multiverse ending threat comes for every single Earth in existence…

Barry Allen was a big player in the original comic run of Crisis on Infinite Earths. When the Anti-Monitor, the villain of the series, develops a weapon to destroy earth, Barry is able to stop it by creating a speed vortex. He saves the day, at the cost of his own life, and his death was kept as one of the irrevocable moments of of the DC universe (right until they undid it in DC Universe #0, twenty three years later). As such, grounding the story around Barry Allen gives the film emotional heft. Any fan of DC Comics knows his fate and what is to come. So we get to spend time with the hero, learn about him, see him through his life, right up until, we assume, when he’ll have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

It works, not just because of the history of the character, but also because the writers take Barry seriously. We get to see moments throughout his life, seeing him learn and grow as a hero, becoming the man we expect him to be. Moments like advising Batman that the dark avenger should adopt Dick Grayson and give the kid some guidance. Or walking with Iris as they pick out flowers for their wedding. He’s not just a hero but a man, and by seeing more of his life away from the battles and crises, we get to truly understand him. In just one movie we get more character development than we might have even seen in nine seasons of the Arrowverse Flash, and the movie is so much better for it.

It helps that Barry is voiced by Matt Bomer. The actor has worked in a huge number of DC projects, live-action and animated, and is just a fantastic performer in general. Although a charismatic lead in live-action, he’s able to imbue his vocal performances with real emotion and depth, something that’s not easy for all performers to pull off. He makes Barry into a real person, not just a vocal performance, and he gets you to care about each and every moment in the hero’s life, even as they happen out of order.

That does lead us to one of the two complaints I do have for the film: the time-travel mechanic, while reasonable for the kind of story being told here, does feel a tad jumbled in places. It can be hard to know sometimes where or when he is, especially once the multiverse comes into play and Barry is trying to help fight the crisis. When he bounces between one Earth and another, or between timelines while still keeping the costume on, it can be difficult to parse if we’re just seeing a follow-on scene or something taking place in a different time or place. The film tries to use transitional animations to show time travel but, even then, that doesn’t always help.

Meanwhile, the crisis is also a bit of a mixed bag. Barry’s part in the proceedings is great, without a doubt, being the hero he needs to be. And it’s great fun seeing all the heroes gathered together from across the multiverse, pointing out the who’s who nature of these big scenes. But with so many characters gathered together, very few of them get the time to stand out. SupergirlIntroduced in 1959 as a female counterpart for Superman, the Last Daughter of Krypton would go onto have a long career in the DC Universe, thriving, dying, coming back, all the eventually become an even more powerful superhero than even her famous cousin. (Meg Donnelly) is here, now as Harbinger, but there’s no explanation for how she got that role or what happened to her after the events of Legion of Super-heroes. Diana Prince (Stana Katic) of Earth-2 (see: Justice Society: World War II) appears for a couple of scenes, but we don’t get to understand if she’s the same person we just saw in Justice League: Warworld. And, for that measure, where’s the Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever. of Earth-1? There’s so much that has to happen here, with all of it focused on Barry, that other characters fall through the cracks.

Could this all get ironed out and detailed in the next two films? Maybe, but they stand out now as flaws, issues with the rushed nature of the plot as the film has to balance both Barry’s whole life and the crisis that’s coming (and, in part, happening in the film). At only 93 minutes, the film has very little time to settle in and focus on anything other than Barry. It just can’t, and while that does make sense in grounding the story around his character, it makes me wish some of these other characters could have been held for the next film instead so we didn’t even have to question their inclusion to begin with.

Overall, though, this is a far better film than just about anything else in the Tomorrowverse so far. The series of films has been uneven, with more misses than hits, and I’ve been waiting for the series to finally gel together and become something far greater. Finally, with Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths, Part 1 we get the kind of film we needed all along. It’s the Flash’s story, and the creator’s make the most of it, giving him a fitting exploration of his life and, if this really is the end for Barry, a finale to send him off in style. Now we just have to see if this really is the end for him or not…

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