Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths Part 1
Heroes from across the Multiverse unite to stop a cataclysm threatening all of existence in Jeff Wamester’s Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths Part 1.
The “Crisis on Infinite Earths” comic event is celebrated for its scale, scope and consequences that linger to this day. The event’s sheer size makes adapting it a seemingly insurmountable challenge as there are so many elements to consider. Its character roster alone makes tackling it daunting and the story is always at risk of collapsing in on itself. A live-action adaptation was attempted by the Arrowverse using all of the elements that had been built up in the various shows and some legacy DC properties to capitalise on the potential of a Multiverse-spanning event. Now the animation team are delivering their own version of the story using the recent series of films dubbed the “Tomorrowverse” that began with Superman: Man of Tomorrow to form the basis of the story. Prior films have been setting up the event in various ways and now it has arrived.
Events like this run the risk of being overwhelmed by fanservice as the temptation exists to bring in prior animated adaptations of different characters for cameos. There is an abundance of animated DC shows and movies to draw from and any one of them will be someone’s favourite version. This film avoids falling into that trap by focusing on returning characters from the “Tomorrowverse” and introducing new ones that service the story being told. Such a decision both rewards viewers invested in the “Tomorrowverse” and creates a sense of cohesion between this film and prior recent works.
Matt Bomer’s Barry Allen aka The Flash is the focal character anchoring this entire story. Crisis on Infinite Earths Part 1 is structured around Barry’s fractured perception of time and the Multiverse. Viewers will find it disconcerting at first but all becomes clear as the narrative progresses. The scale of the event is tempered by Barry’s perspective with the Multiverse ending stakes being secondary to his emotionally driven story. It’s actually about his relationship with Iris (Ashleigh LaThrop) and what makes him a hero. The film hinges on him making a specific decision and a significant chunk of the running time is devoted to exploring why he would make that decision. When the moment comes it’s earned, satisfying and emotionally impactful.
The character work on Barry is excellent. His relationship with Iris is depicted quickly and efficiently as the film cycles through various milestones. Despite the brevity, there is a great deal of heart with the emotional grounding always being there. It’s always clear how they feel about each other and how they support one another in the different aspects of their lives. Their relationship forms the emotional core of the film and it’s used as a case study of what the heroes are fighting to protect.
Matt Bomer’s vocal performance is excellent. A lot is asked of him as he has to depict Barry at different stages of his life as well as deliver a lot of weighty dialogue. He never fails to sell the emotional stakes of the situation and excellently portrays the different sides of Barry Allen whether that be loving partner or virtuous superhero. A significant portion of the running time is spent on dealing with the threat posed by a power-siphoning android named Amazo (Nolan North). This conflict is used to illustrate Barry’s value to the Justice League beyond his powers and shows how strong an asset compassion is to his heroics. His demonstration is powerful enough for Jensen Ackles’ Bruce Wayne aka Batman to recognise the power of alternate perceptions and teamwork. It solidifies Barry as the heart of the Justice League and his approach to dealing with Amazo seamlessly ties into the larger story.
The stakes of the titular story are unimaginable and the film details this through the collection of characters who can’t fathom the enormity of all of reality coming to an end. These stakes are kept as grounded as possible by focusing on what is being lost. Visualisations of the people being wiped out by the cataclysm exemplify what is being lost and a particular sequence shows the devastation on a very personal level that informs the response to it.
There are some storytelling issues. The second half of the film isn’t as strong as the first as the narrative shifts into progressing with much broader strokes. The formation of the Justice League has no time to settle before being overpowered by the Multiversal threat. As such, there is no sense of a team dynamic beyond the early reluctance -particularly from Batman- to recognise the value of working together which gives way to seeing the value in teaming up almost immediately before being drawn into the larger story.
Other issues exist such as the widening scope preventing characters from prior films having a major presence. For example, Meg Donnelly’s Kara Zor’El aka Supergirl is given some attention and there is the suggestion of something that would be worth exploring but the film doesn’t have time to do it. It should be noted that this is part one of a three-part story so there is time to give different characters the spotlight in subsequent entries but certain elements are noticeably underserved.
This isn’t always the case; there are some excellent examples of the potential of the Multiverse being exploited in meaningful ways. Darren Criss’ Clark Kent aka Superman getting a sense of his future with Lois (Alexandra Daddario) from an older Superman from another universe who has experienced losing his Lois to old age and how he dealt with it hits powerfully. It’s another example of what the heroes are fighting for and adds heft to the threat they are facing. It’s stated that this isn’t a problem they can punch their way out of so different ways to explore what the threat represents are required and the Superman example is just one.
Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths Part 1 isn’t a part one in the sense that it lacks an ending. The first part is distinctly Barry Allen’s story with the Crisis event being a secondary element. The Barry Allen story is concluded within the confines of this film as the event carries over into the upcoming sequels. As stated, some characters are underserved but the first part manages to be a satisfying viewing experience in its own right that isn’t relying on the follow-up entries to do the heavy lifting in providing a conclusion. It’s an excellent start that satisfies in its own right while whetting the appetite for what comes next.
An excellent opening to the trilogy that tells a powerful character-driven story that grounds the Crisis event with relatable emotional stakes.
- anchoring the film on Barry Allen
- tempering the film with Barry Allen’s perspective
- the unconventional structure that becomes clear as the narrative progresses
- strong characterisation for Barry
- Matt Bomer’s excellent vocal performance
- grounding the stakes by focusing on what various characters will lose
- the potential of the Multiverse being exploited in meaningful ways
- a satisfying character-driven story that doesn’t rely on follow-up entries doing the heavy lifting in providing a conclusion
- the second half of the film not measuring up to the first half due to storytelling progressing in broader strokes
- characters being noticeably underserved by the enormity of the story
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