Warning: this review contains spoilers for all five episodes of Crisis on Infinite Earths. If you want to see our in-depth thoughts on each individual episode, you can check out our Part 1 Review here, Part 2 review here, Part 3 review here and Part 4 & 5 review here. Also, be sure to read our interview with Marc Guggenheim for more about how Crisis will affect the Arrowverse going forward.
2019 was a year of big endings in pop culture. Avengers: Infinity War wrapped up the 11-year Infinity Saga in the MCU. Game of Thrones and the Star Wars Skywalker Saga both reached their grand finales. But for DC fans, 2019 was the year the Arrowverse finally delivered a crossover it had been teasing for five years. Crisis on Infinite Earths has come and gone. And unlike some of 2019’s other huge finales, it actually lived up to the hype.
Arrowverse fans have known a Crisis was coming since the debut of The Flash in 2014, but only in the months leading up to the crossover did the scope and ambition of this crossover become apparent. Not only does Crisis bring together all the prime movers of the Arrowverse – Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow, Grant Gustin’s Flash, Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl, Ruby Rose’s Batwoman, Caity Lotz’s White Canary and Brandon Routh’s Atom – but it also forges direct links to numerous other live-action DC shows and movies. Everyone from Tom Welling and Brandon Routh’s Supermans to Cress Williams’ Black lightning has a part to play in Crisis.
It’s a testament to the crossover’s execution (and the guiding hand of Arrowverse veteran Marc Guggenheim) that Crisis manages to tell a coherent, stirring tale of death and rebirth even as it juggles a frankly ridiculous number of moving pieces. Conceptually, Crisis is very similar to the 1985 comic that inspired it. Both revolve around the heroes of many parallel universes banding together to help the Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) stop his polar opposite the Anti-Monitor (also Garrett) from wiping out the entire multiverse. Where past Arrowverse crossovers have dealt with the fate of one world, Crisis ups the ante exponentially by putting all worlds on the chopping block.
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At the same time, the TV version isn’t afraid to make significant alterations or jettison major characters from the comic who don’t further the overall narrative. Hardcore comic fans may be disappointed at the absence of characters like Psycho Pirate and Alexander Luthor, but cuts had to be made somewhere. This take on the Crisis formula wisely tailors itself to those characters who matter most, rather than worrying about being strictly faithful to the source material. It also manages to be reasonably accessible and self-contained despite the months of buildup that took place in shows like Arrow and The Flash. Tone management is key here, as all five episodes are able to balance out the cosmic spectacle and tragedy with ample doses of banter and humor.
With that in mind, Crisis’ greatest success comes in wrapping up the story of the Arrowverse’s first hero and namesake. Fans knew coming into Crisis that Arrow was on the verge of wrapping up its eight-season run and Oliver Queen himself was fated to die. The only questions were how that death would be handled and whether it would do justice to a character defined by self-sacrifice and the struggle to become “something else.” Crisis wastes surprisingly little time in giving Ollie a heroic death, with Part 1 culminating in the character sacrificing himself to save the fleeing refugees of Earth-38.
Part 2 threatens to muddy those waters a bit, pivoting to a story where Ollie’s daughter Mia (Katherine McNamara) tries to resurrect him. With Crisis already finding a loophole allowing Barry Allen to escape his seemingly inevitable death, the prospect of Ollie also getting a reprieve was an unwelcome one.
Thankfully, Crisis eventually justifies this narrative swerve in its back half, as Ollie temporarily takes on the mantle of the Spectre and is given the chance to be a hero on a far grander and more tragic stage than ever before. Ollie’s second heroic sacrifice is even more fitting than the first, ensuring his long, painful journey does indeed wrap up in the manner it deserves. At this point, Arrow doesn’t even necessarily need a series finale.
While Ollie is in many ways the most important and most fully realized figure in Crisis, several other characters enjoy meaty, compelling arcs. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the crossover is Jon Cryer’s Lex Luthor. Cryer already impressed in his limited but pivotal role in Supergirl: Season 4, but his new status as the lone self-serving villain among a gaggle of noble heroes gives Cryer even more room to make the character his own. Whether it’s his quest to kill all Supermen in Part 2 or his sneaky way of inserting himself even more directly into the narrative in Part 4, Cryer’s Lex is a fascinating and entertaining antagonist. Best of all, Crisis paves the way for Lex to be an even bigger and badder villain in the future.
Likewise, Crisis makes strong use of many of its “Paragon” characters. Supergirl and Flash both find their resilience tested like never before. Barry is annoyingly MIA in the first two episodes, but he increasingly moves to the forefront after that. Batwoman really shines in her second crossover adventure, with Part 2 delivering a terrific reunion between Kate and her cousin (a version of him, anyway) and forcing Kate to grapple with a larger world and decide what kind of hero she wants to be.
Half the fun of watching Crisis is in seeing so many iconic DC characters and worlds drawn into the fray. Many of these cameos are fleeting moments of fan-service – Burt Ward’s Dick Grayson, Robert Wuhl’s Alexander Knox, etc. But other multiversal guest stars play very satisfying and meaningful parts in the crossover. Part 2 delivers a perfect Smallville epilogue, allowing both fans and Welling himself to bid farewell to that character. Kevin Conroy proves he’s great Bruce Wayne in live-action, too, even as the character makes an unexpected heel turn and plays a critical role in Kate Kane’s development. Tom Ellis’ brief but memorable appearance as Lucifer practically demands that character find second life as a recurring player on Legends of Tomorrow.
Looking back across all five episodes, some characters are certainly under-served. As great as it is to see Black Lightning officially inducted into the Arrowverse, Cress Williams has limited screen time in the crossover. It’s also a shame we don’t see more of Brandon Routh’s Superman after Part 2, given how well he fills that role even a decade and a half after Superman Returns. The Anti-Monitor himself is also frustratingly underdeveloped, barely appearing at all until the final moments of Part 3 and generally being depicted as a generic cosmic mustache-twirler. Though to be fair, the source material is really no better on that front, and concessions have to be made in a story of this scope.
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Crisis’ reach also exceeds its grasp at times. On a technical level, the special effects aren’t always quite up to the task of depicting this larger-than-life conflict. Part 2 is probably the biggest offender in that regard, as the brawl between Routh and Tyler Hoechlin’s Supermans is less epic than it is awkward and, frankly, unnecessary. Thankfully, the effects stand out more in other key battles, such as Spectre Ollie’s battle with the Anti-Monitor in Part 4 and the final showdown in Part 5.
On a storytelling level, the crossover does begin to buckle under its own weight in Part 3, as the sheer number of characters jockeying for attention starts to become overwhelming. Crisis wisely gives viewers a bit of a reset after the holiday break, as Part 4 significantly trims the cast and re-centers the plot, restoring a sense of narrative momentum that Crisis never again loses. The individual pieces are strong, but taken as a whole, Crisis works that much better.