Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews the Animated Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part One

Josh Reviews the Animated Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part One

Crisis on Infinite Earths remains one of the most seminal stories in DC Comics’ history.  Crisis was a twelve-issue mini-series, written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Perez, that was released in 1985-1986.  Crisis was an enormous crossover, featuring pretty much every single character, hero and villain, from throughout DC’s long and storied history.  Crisis rebooted the DC universe from the ground up (something DC has gone on and done multiple times since, in the intervening decades).  It was the ground floor for pretty much all of the DC comics storytelling that I grew up reading.  Crisis has proven to be a magnet for DC in ways positive and negative; DC seems to keep coming back to Crisis, telling multiple new Crisis stories (such as Infinite Crisis in 2005, Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis in 2008, and last year’s Dark Crisis), and Crisis has also been teased in various adaptations of the DC comics (such as the animated Crisis on Two Earths and the massive Arrowverse Crisis crossover five-part series).

I was intrigued to read that DC/Warner Brothers was planning a three-part animated adaptation of Crisis.  Three parts?  Wow!  There have been a few terrific two-part animated adaptations in recent years (such as the two-part adaptations of The Dark Knight Returns; the Death of Superman saga, and Batman: The Long Halloween), but a three-part animated film series hadn’t been done before.  I was impressed by the bold choice — Crisis is a huge story, and to see it play out over three animated films felt like an exciting idea.

I was hoping for a faithful adaptation of Crisis, but that’s not what they’ve made.  Here in part one we get a story inspired by Crisis, but really this is a Flash story that only gets into Crisis stuff about an hour in.  This movie seems to be designed to serve as an early end for the “Tomorrowverse” series of animated films.  This series of connected films started with Superman: Man of Tomorrow and the six films that followed it.  (This three-part Crisis series will take the saga to film #10.)  Are they ending this series because they don’t want to conflict with James Gunn’s new interconnected DC film and TV universe?  Will there be any additional animated films beyond this?  I don’t know, but I will say that if Crisis is the end of this new animated continuity, I think it’s a shame.  None of these “Tomorrowverse” films have been home runs, but I’ve enjoyed them all, and I’d have liked to have been able to see this version of these characters grow and develop.  To kill the series now makes the whole thing feel to me like a big waste of time to me.

Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part One focuses on the Flash.  We see that the Flash is unstuck in time; his consciousness appears to be jumping into his body at different points in his life, from his origin, to the present day of the “Tomorrowverse”, and to a future timeline in which he’s an old man living with the love of his life, Iris.  Putting aside my wishes for a more faithful adaptation of the original Crisis mini-series, this is an interesting Flash storyline, and I found the film’s climax — in which we learn the truth of what’s happened to Barry and Iris — to be quite moving (and it successfully surprised me).

That being said, I am bummed to report that I found this film to be a slog.  It’s a case study in a poorly edited film.  The central structure of the story, in which we follow Flash jumping back and forth through various timelines, had no momentum.  If done well, these stories should have come together as the story progressed, building to multiple exciting climaxes happening in multiple locations/timelines.  But as executed, the story is dull and confusing.  The timeline-jumping feels random, which makes it boring — as opposed to being assembled with the care needed to ensure these stories would work together and build momentum together.  (It’s also confusing.  I never understood when in Flash’s life his adventure with the Crime Syndicate — the evil versions of the Justice League — took place.  Was that adventure something that happened prior to the events of Crisis, or basically at the same time?  I also never understood what caused Flash’s time and universe jumping.  Was it Flash’s own actions, or was this caused by the mysterious old guy’s putting his hand on Flash’s head?  This feels like something important for the story to establish!!)  Even within individual scenes, I felt the editing was slack.  Take the mid-movie assembly of heroes from multiple universes in the Monitor’s lair.  It was cool to see all these different characters in one place; the animators did a good job populating the space with interesting versions of various DC characters.  And the script gave us several fun scenes of interactions between these characters.  But there was no energy to these scenes!  No sense of excitement, or confusion, or ticking-clock suspense!  These characters should have been agitated, trying to figure out what was going on; we should have seen multiple conversations happening at the same time.  But as seen in the film, it’s lugubrious — characters just all stand around, and we get one quiet, dull conversation after another.  It didn’t work for me at all; this is a good example of what I see as the film’s major failings.

I did enjoy the film’s callbacks to several moments in the previous animated films.  It’s fun to feel like these stories are connected.  I was particularly happy to see the film connect to Bruce Wayne’s visions of an elderly Flash in a bizarre moment in Justice League: Warworld, and also the end-credits tease at the end of Batman: The Long Halloween Part Two.

As is usually the case for these DC animated films, the voice cast is terrific and they all do their best.  Matt Bomer (The Nice Guys, The Boys in the Band) reprises his role as the Flash from Justice Society: World War II, and he is terrific!  He’s got the Flash’s good-natured spirit, his sense of awe and his sense of humor, and his innate goodness and honesty.  This is a terrific version of the Flash.  Ashleigh LaThrop is wonderful as Iris West, spirited and charismatic.  (I like that DC/Warner Brothers is continuing to depict Iris as a young woman of color these days.)  Stana Katic returns as Wonder Woman (from Justice Society: World War II and Justice League: Warworld) and she’s once again great.  I really like her take on Wonder Woman; her wonderful unique voice is very memorable.  Jensen Ackles returns as Batman (from Batman: The Long Halloween and Justice League: Warworld) and he’s also terrific.  While I think Ms. Katic is a very unique Wonder Woman, Mr. Ackles is just a perfectly iconic, classic version of Batman.  He’s great; I wish he had more to do in this film.  Darren Criss has been a great Superman in this continuity ever since Superman: Man of Tomorrow, and he’s again great here.  He’s got Superman’s honesty and kindness and all-American goodness.  Meg Donnelly was wonderful as Supergirl in Legion of Super-Heroes, it’s a fun surprise to have her back for this film.  I love her energetic, spirited take on Supergirl.  Jimmi Simpson (Westworld) returns from Green Lantern: Beware My Power as Green Arrow and, again, he’s absolutely terrific as Ollie — stubborn and independent.  Aldis Hodges also reprises his role from that Green Lantern film as Green Lantern John Stewart, and he too is terrific, with all of Jon’s fierce nobility.  Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) played Lex Luthor in the first film in this continuity, Superman: Man of Tomorrow, and it’s nice to see him back here at the end as Lex, though Lex is pretty one-dimensionally villainous here.  Alexandra Dadarrio (True Detective) is also back from Man of Tomorrow as Lois Lane, and she’s great, though she doesn’t have much to do here.  Jonathan Adams is new in this film as the Monitor, and he’s perfect; he’s got the proper amount of majesty to portray this powerful multiverse-striding character.  It’s fun to hear Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba) playing both the Spectre and the evil Batman counterpart the Owlman.  Matt Lanter (who voiced Anakin Skywalker on the animated Clone Wars show) is fun as Blue Beetle, and Nolan North is great as the android Amazo.  There are plenty more great voice actors in other small roles.  This ensemble is terrific.  I wish the film’s script gave all of these characters a little more depth.

I didn’t love part one of this animated adaptation of Crisis, but there’s potential here.  I am interested to see where this story goes.  I hope they hew more faithfully to the source material in parts two and three.  More importantly, I hope they give this strong ensemble cast more to do, and bring more depth and emotion to their characters’ stories.  (They achieved that in the culmination of the Flash and Iris’ story here, but every other character in the film felt flat to me.)  I hope for an improvement in parts two and three…!

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