CRISIS ON EARTH X REVIEW
BY JUSTIN CARTER
2017 has been a year filled with crossovers, beginning with Iron Man hanging out with Spider-Man in Homecoming before giving Netflix watchers The Defenders.
Thor: Ragnarok held the crossover boat together with the help of the Hulk, and Justice League was…well, your mileage will vary on how well that shook out. The real king of crossovers, however, continues to be the Arrowverse’s yearly hangouts involving its four solo series — Supergirl, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Arrow. Each of the previous major crossovers (let’s pretend the Flash/Supergirl and Flash backdoor pilot inside of Arrow’s second season don’t count in this conversation) have had their ups and downs, but none of them have been outright bad. That’s an impressive streak for any superhero property, let alone one and ambitious as the annual Arrowverse crossovers, which generally wind up being among the top episodes of their shows’ respective seasons.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Crisis on Earth-X doesn’t break from that formula, delivering some of the most bonkers fun in superhero television today and proving yet again why these week long victory laps are well worth tuning into. Even though this is a four-part miniseries event and carries a ton of story and interpersonal baggage from its deluge of characters (along with not really having a character serve as the main focus), it’s frankly presented more as a film than anything else. And as such, the only way to review something that practically is a film is to treat it like one.
After spending the last three years fighting growing pains, immortal psychopaths, and evil aliens, one would wonder what the heroes of the Arrowverse could continue to truly be threatened by. The answer, rather unsurprisingly, turns out to be Nazis. Specifically, the Nazis of Earth-X, a 53rd Earth that no one in the multiverse has ever once wanted to bring up or travel to because it’s so awful. Having created the atomic bomb before the US, the Nazis won the war, eventually taking control of Europe and the Americas via politicians sympathetic to his cause. As a result, this means we have four distinct Nazi versions of some prime Arrowverse characters: Prometheus, but with Tommy Merlyn instead of Adrian Chase; Reverse Flash, having survived the whole “erased from existence” thing from Legends last season (and wearing Tom Cavanaugh’s face presumably because they already had him on hand); and Dark Arrow and Overgirl, ostensibly the leaders of the whole invasion to Earth-Prime and also dark versions of Oliver and Kara that are very much married.
Yes, they are married, and like our Kara, I am very grossed out at that idea.
Now, prior to Crisis’ release, there was a lot of concerns about the Earth-X Nazis and their portrayal. 2017 in general wound up more Nazi-heavy than anyone could’ve predicted, and superheroes in general don’t have the best track record with them, as Secret Empire has showed us. Concerns about making the Nazis sympathetic and relatable particularly in light of the recent New York Times piece, are definitely valid and legitimate. Crisis never really once tries to make the villainous Nazis that during its first two parts, with several characters flat out stating they hate Nazis, and upon imprisonment by the heroes, Prometheus tries to play the sympathy card on Oliver before calling him (and one has to imagine, the audience) stupid for buying that story. Even the revelation that the Nazis are invading because Dark Arrow wants to kidnap Kara and steal her heart to save Overgirl from dying doesn’t gain any sympathy from the characters, and the show itself doesn’t really try for a sympathetic angle. Nor does it try to undermine them via comedy or to make them seem harmless; any laughs involving them come pretty much only from how at each other’s throats Thawne and Dark Arrow are.
All this being said, it’s definitely understandable to not want to see some your favorite characters or actors dress up in SS uniforms and do the open handed salute. Benoist and Amell don’t really do anything with their Nazi selves beyond just using this as an opportunity to chew the scenery–during one moment, Overgirl tells Kara that she’s the perfect woman because she’s blonde and white, but the most unsettling Nazi turn comes during the beginning of part 3. Having been defeated by Dark Arrow, Overgirl, and Reverse Flash, the team –that is, Flash, Firestorm, Green Arrow, White Canary, and Alex — get sent to a concentration camp on Earth-X, naturally identifying prisoners by their sexual orientation or religion through their clothing. The Nazi version of Quentin Lance happens to be the warden of the camp, and there’s a tender moment in which he strokes Sara’s face while pointing out her “perfect” features. The reason she’s in the prison, she declares proudly, is because she’s bisexual, a fact that Nazi Quentin reveals his Sara was also …before he killed her. The concept of alt-universe versions of beloved characters is nothing new at this point, but seeing Paul Blackthorne’s Quentin so vehement, when his normal version has always been loving to Sara, sexuality be damned, was an uncomfortable moment nonetheless.
For those who are willing to stick around for the four-part crossover, it is one hell of a ride. As far as ways to get the Arrowverse teams in to punch Nazis, Barry and Iris’ wedding is as good a setup as any to bring all of these people together. Just like last year, the crossover begins with Supergirl, but continues by having Arrow follow immediately after, with Flash and Legends rounding things out over the course of the second night. Pairing off the four shows over two nights makes for a welcome step up from last year’s Invasion! four-night spectacle. The pacing and momentum are significantly increased as a result, making for a welcome trade off. After the requisite establishing sequence on Earth-X of the Nazis looking for a way to cross into other universes, the episode gives us a brief rundown of Arrow, Supergirl, and Legends characters, checking to make sure they RSVP’d for the happy couple. It’s a great sequence that highlights the fun these characters can have when they’re on the verge of all crossing over. For them, casually discussing RSVPs to weddings while fighting ninjas, aliens, or giant sharks is just part of the lives they live.
Instead of spending the majority of an episode on their Earth padding things out like last time, Kara and Alex make a multiversal trip at the start to get away from the latter’s engagement being recently called off and the former learning her boyfriend has spent the last seven months married to another woman after being transported to the 31st Century. They’ve been through a lot in their current season, and for Alex in particular, that baggage leads to one of the best moments of the crossover, when she finally crosses paths with Legends’ Sara Lance.
Since its inception, Legends has shone best when Caity Lotz is just allowed to be her badass bisexual self, and the show’s gotten a lot of mileage out of letting Sara hookup with various characters during the team’s time travel escapades. Along with the characters themselves, the energy that’s benefitted Legends character dynamics this past season and a half makes itself known in this crossover. The moment Sara and Alex start doing shots, you know that it’s going to end with the two of them drunkenly hooking up. Their initial meeting alone would be worth the price of admission, but it’s the morning after that’s the highlight, as Alex tries to keep her hookup discreet from her sister, but Sara immediately makes it known with the smirk she’s always wearing.
Speaking of, just coming from a representation perspective, it’s so fucking cool to see a variety of queer characters kick ass and be at the forefront during the whole of Crisis. Sara and Alex’s relationship post-one night stand takes center stage, but things thankfully don’t end there. Mr. Terrific naturally shows up, and joining Leo Snart is his boyfriend The Ray, a metahuman from Earth-1 who somehow ended up on X. Ray is very much confirmed gay, not unlike his comic counterpart. Snart’s queerness has always been something desired by fans, largely because Wentworth Miller is gay, and it’s nice to have that finally confirmed with many, many, many kisses between him and Ray. The LGBT spectrum here is just one letter inclusion short from pure greatness, but the representation is still very welcome here.
It’s in moments like those, where Kara doesn’t hide her smugness at her sister’s hookup casually outing her, that really make the crossover worth watching. Make no mistake, it’s a delight seeing all these costumed adults kick ass and take action poses, but the true fun is in watching everyone hang around and just be near each other. The powers that be for the Arrowverse have thankfully realized that after a combined 16 years worth of television, we would all watch these various casts do literally anything at all times. If nothing else, that’s certainly the main reason Crisis exists at all.
And, perhaps importantly, give a send-off to Martin Stein after Victor Garber has spent years playing the character. It’s been known for weeks that he would be leaving Legends this season, so it wasn’t too surprising, but that still doesn’t mean watching him die doesn’t hurt like hell. His and Jax’s relationship has been one of the most compelling parts of Legends, and the show has made a lot of effort to show that the two of them don’t need each other to be heroes. Since Martin’s daughter Lily had her baby earlier in the season, he and Jax have been trying to find a way to break Firestorm so Martin can retire with his family in peace.
By the opening of the crossover, it seems like they finally can separate in full with a serum that’ll also render both of them powerless. The schism that develops between the two over losing their powers is real and heartfelt, compounded by the fact that Martin has served as a surrogate father for Jax, Sara, and in some ways, Mick. Separating for Jax isn’t just losing his power, he’s literally losing his dad a second time. But, we know how this story has to end, and that comes when Martin’s shot making a heroic run to open the breach between Earth-1 and X. Their bond is keeping Martin barely alive while Jax is still able to feel his pain. But, ever the rational one, Martin begs to It’s a legitimately affecting death, one that the Arrowverse hopefully doesn’t walk back on through visions or alternate universes. At least, not right away. The quiet moments where everyone takes in his death highlight the strength of these crossovers when everyone is on the same wavelength able to process events like this together.
Everyone’s settled into their roles quite nicely since they first arrived, and you can tell that the showrunners are trying incredibly hard to give each cast member a “WOW” moment. Fortunately, they deliver on that front, and it all hangs together because we like these people so much and these annual meet ups are the only way to get them all in one area. And yes, as trailers have shown, one of those characters is the Captain Cold of Earth-X, though here known as Citizen Cold (or “Leo,” as a great distinction).
Despite his appearances as a special guest star in the last seasons of both Flash and Legends, the Arrowverse is very clearly poorer for Wentworth Miller’s absence. But when he shows up during the Flash episode, he’s back in the saddle and it feels like he’s never lost a step. Seeing a Cold who’s a full blown hero adds a great layer of freshness that makes his interactions with the Earth-1 cast great. Hearing that he would soon be retiring his parka and Cold Gun, I was greatly worried that he would die during Crisis, but since he’s back on the Waverider during the conclusion, I can’t wait to see how Leo gets on with Mick.
Various characters are sidelined during the crossover, or were in episodes prior to this, but the ways in which they are feel less to save money and more for logical, character-based reasons, usually so other cast members can spend time together. So if that means that Wally and Joe West ditch town while Mick Rory will get to spend more than a handful of minutes with Team Flash and half-remember kidnapping Caitlin before getting excited at her going Killer Frost, then we get that. And if that also means we get the big team shot of (most of) the heroes walking together before the final battle at the cost of Cisco not getting to really go Vibe during yet another crossover, then we get as well, and it’s a (mostly) fair trade off.
Incidentally, the fight scenes are the other part that make this crossover well worth watching. For an episode light on any action to speak of for most of it, Supergirl’s portion really ramps it up at the end with an extended fight sequence wherein the various heroes take on the Nazis in the middle of Barry and Iris’ wedding. For such a packed space with over a dozen or so superpowered characters going at it, it’s much more coherent than one would expect, and things don’t slow down. In fact, it only gets better from there, concluding with an all out war between the Arrowverse heroes and the Nazi forces on Earth-1. This has to be a very expensive endeavor for the CW–seriously, the ambition and scale is large enough that it may as well be a straight up theatrical release–and even though you can see the cracks, they’re immediately smoothed over by the fact that it’s just so damn fun. There’s a sense of scale and wonder that just reminds you why you love this universe in the first place, and the number of money shots sprinkled throughout this whole thing is just so absurd, but so cool.
The character work and pacing for Crisis are so pitch perfect that it makes the ending feel so weirdly out of place and isolated after having spent so much time on these characters together. By the end, everyone has separated and gone back to their respective corners in the universe, which is natural. But then, having gone through so much just to get married, Barry and Iris decide to get married at the park while Oliver and Felicity watch and Diggle officiates. And then, that’s when things get weird, because Felicity literally stops the middle of their wedding so she can propose to Oliver and the four of them can get married at once. (In pairs, not a square, something that’d admittedly be interesting to see play out.)
It isn’t so much that it comes out of left field so much as it is just wildly inappropriate for such a thing occur. The whole crossover has divided its time between subtly assuring us that Barry and Iris would get married, come hell or high water, while also throwing Oliver and Felicity’s relationship into question because she doesn’t want to get married after her last proposal ended with her bleeding in her boyfriend’s arms. Coming into contact with alt-universe versions of each other makes Felicity realize how much she really wants to cement that she’s with Oliver, which tracks. But doing it in the middle of what is technically someone else’s wedding is just a dick move, and the lack of anyone else in the scene robs it of the real weight the scene wants to have.
Still, that is overall a very minor thing to give Crisis flak over. The cast is at the top of their game, the action is great, and it’s fun to watch this crew celebrate their own existence for a few days. In a year full of crossovers that have ranged from decent to underwhelming, Crisis stands out by just being balls out fun, and as always, I can’t wait for what they do for year 5.
- Of the many “WOW” scenes that are in this crossover: Ray showing his embiggen powers for the first time, Wally catching bullets during the wedding in slow motion, and Zari and Vixen riding on Killer Frost’s ice slide.
- I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see more of The Ray in the near future, particularly on Legends or maybe even Flash.
- I have no clue just how in the hell Thawne survived being wiped from existence twice, but at this point, I’m starting to not care.
- The woman being overly excited about Barry and Iris’ wedding definitely is their kid (or grandkid), and I would be totally surprised if that didn’t pay off by season’s end.
- The only thing better than Alex drunk on wine is Alex nursing a hangover and making terrible excuses.
- Sara’s “How’s your butt?” line to Alex was apparently improvised on the fly, yet again showing why Caity Lotz is one of the best actors of this whole enterprise.
- Two other Supergirl characters show up on Earth-X: Mechad Brooks gets some time in as their Guardian before Dark Arrow kills him, and Jeremy Jordan gets to a be a hardass Winn who insists on being called General Schott. Both are welcome and do what they need to do, though I won’t lie at wanting them to integrate Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant somehow.
- Zari’s costume is awesome, and it was just great watching her and Vixen stand side by side, totems glowing.
- I can’t stress enough how impressive it was for all this superhero carnage to look dynamic and real. It makes the action in Justice League look more mediocre than it already does.