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Review: Crisis on Earth-X

Crisis on Earth-X is the four-part crossover concocted by the CW to boost ratings for its four DC shows – Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow – and hopefully lure some viewers to their new webseries Freedom Fighters: The Ray. It’s certainly the most ambitious project this year and only one studio on the film side even comes close to the amount of characters and the complexity of story that this mega-story attempts.

The CW’s crossovers began unassumingly in the second season of Arrow, way back in 2013, as a backdoor pilot to The Flash. In 2014 the network enjoyed cross-pollinating the sibling shows with guest appearances on each show, but none so clear as the Flash V Arrow and Captain Boomerang standalone episodes in episode eight of each season. After the runaway success of The Flash (pun intended) the CW ordered Legends of Tomorrow and the third crossover spent the bulk of time introducing their first season-long enemy and playing out the origin story of main characters Hawkgirl and Hawkman. Last year was the crossover’s potential most fully realised, with these three teams pulling in Supergirl to battle alien invaders the Dominators in a story more entertaining than the big-budget Justice League. How could they top it this year?

While the Dominators were pulled from space a la Supergirl this season’s Nazi villains were pulled from an alternate Earth, a major theme of The Flash with a splash of LoT. It also featured dopplegangers – a trademark of The Flash that has lapsed over to Arrow out of convenience for the writers. Most of the main characters and most of the audience has an idea of what’s going on due to smaller adventures on individual shows.

For the sake of brevity the crossover focuses on the main players from each show – Kara and Alex from Supergirl, Oliver and Felicity from Arrow, Barry, Iris and Caitlin from The Flash and Sara, Martin, Jax and Mick from Legends of Tomorrow. The narrative throughline focuses against these three against two(ish) Nazi leaders and without that determination the house of cards would have come crumbling down.

The plot itself is quite standard, even if retreads a little from last year’s crossover. The teams converge – this time for a wedding rather than a call to arms – and some key players are abducted, then these characters reunite with everyone else and a mega-battle ensues. That may be an oversimplification, but it adequately summarises both Invasion! and Crisis on Earth-X.

What separates the difference is the time afforded to romance this time around – Barry and Iris’ big moment, the question of a wedding looming large over Oliver and Felicity and the new fleeting romance between Sara and Alex. Supergirl’s sister is this crossover’s secret weapon, stepping up for her plate for her first journey to the multiverse to deliver a fun storyline about a one night stand that furthers her own character’s journey without dragging down the crossover.

In fact nobody really dragged down Crisis on Earth-X in any way, shape or form. The many supporting characters from all the shows flit through – Cisco and Wells have the best medium-level roles, Quinten and Winn’s dopplegangers were menacing supplementary antagonists, Team Arrow cruises in for a hot minute and all the Legends fill up the final battle accordingly. It was a shame to see Kid Flash shipped off-screen again but The Flash seems to be repositioning Barry at the centre of all things and focusing less on the ensemble of speedsters around him. The Atom was also severely underused, especially considering Brandan Routh’s star power and time spent on Arrow, but regrettably the cast was already looking mighty full.

A five minute appearance by actor Colin Donnel in the Arrow special as Earth X’s Tommy Merlyn/ Prometheus was a great shoutout to fans that believed he would be resurrected as the big bad for Arrow season five. It’s always nice to know the showrunners are reading the comments section.

Here’s something to consider: why did Eobard Thawne return and why was he wearing Harrison Wells face? While Kara and Oliver got Nazi dopplegangers The Flash tended to an old foe, the Earth-1 Reverse-Flash that should be dead despite resurrection and death in Legends of Tomorrow. The justification was sloppy and the payoff didn’t ring true, further pushed to the limits by Tom Cavanagh portraying the villain rather than Matt Letscher. Cavanagh is a brilliant actor already on the payroll for these episodes so his inclusion was economical, but from a storytelling point it was ultimately useless. If the Reverse-Flash were completely dropped in favour of another evil Speedster, for instance the one-off guest star the Rival, the story would be the same and a hallowed character could be saved for a better day.

The episodes all looked stunning. The opening montage where everybody RSVPs to the wedding is played for laughs and is a quick way of introducing all these teams to Crisis on Earth-X, especially as it featured fan favourite King Shark for the precious few seconds. Each episode consisted of a fight scene and while all were sufficient none could top the epicness of Nazis invading a wedding.

The penultimate mega-fight in the final episode gave a fatal blow long-foreshadowed both on Legends of Tomorrow and Crisis on Earth-X to Martin Stein, one half of the superhero Firestorm. It was a surprisingly heartfelt moment with lasting implications that is so rare in these spectacles. While a lot of the narrative focus deservedly went to Franz Drameh’s Jax the few lines afforded to Caity Loitz’s Sara broke my heart. If and when Legends of Tomorrow is discontinued in favour of Titans here’s hoping the CW finds a home for her, more than likely on Arrow.

While both Russel Tovey and Wentworth Miller brought LGBT superheroes to life in order to advertise a new animated series for the CW Seed their role within the story was minimal. It was an odd plotline that brought a bit of humanity to Earth-X but felt a little bit Thor-in-the-hottub at times.

Crisis on Earth-X separates the elaborate and impressive CW DC universe from its rivals and continues to be must-see television, even moreso than the individual show’s premieres. With Black Lightning and Titans added to the fold next year this space will become even more crowded, so expect something more minimal after two, arguably three, bombastic mega-crossovers.

Thank you CW & DC.

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