Warning: this review contains full spoilers for Part 2 of Crisis on Infinite Earths! If you need a refresher on where we left off, here's our review for "Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part 1." Plus, check out our spoiler-filled Lazarus Pit breakdown.
The first chapter of Crisis on Infinite Earths set a strong example for the rest of the crossover to follow. It established the incredibly high stakes of this conflict, even while anchoring this cosmic catastrophe around the trials and tribulations of our favorite Arrowverse icons. That trend continues in Crisis Part 2, an episode that doubles down on the emotional character drama and manages to deliver some of the best live-action Superman moments in a very long time.Part 2 is somewhat less plot-driven than its predecessor. Having laid out the basics of the Crisis conflict in Part 1, the crossover now sets about exploring the emotional fallout of huge developments like the destruction of Earth-38 and the death of Oliver Queen, as well as gathering new players for the bigger fight to come. There is a slight concern that Crisis is moving too slowly for its own good. By the end of this episode we only just meet the Anti-Monitor, suggesting Part 3 will have a lot of ground to cover in order to set up the dramatic cliffhanger until the Crisis crossover resumes in January. But given the quality of these first two episodes, there's plenty of reason to be optimistic.And to be frank, if Crisis is going to err on one side or the other, I'd rather it be in prioritizing the character moments over the plot and spectacle. This crossover is sticking close enough to the framework of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths comic that it seems safe to assume a similar outcome. This is clearly a case where the journey is more important than the ride, and where the real importance of Crisis is in how it reshapes the journeys of familiar characters like Supergirl and Batwoman. Part 2 has plenty to offer in that regard.While Part 2 casts as wide a net as Part 1 in terms of DC multiverse characters, those characters tend to play a much more significant role in the plot this time around. And it's those guest stars who fuel most of the most emotionally stirring and enjoyable moments. If Crisis accomplishes nothing else, it'll have been a worthwhile endeavor solely because it delivers the Smallville epilogue fans deserve.I can see some fans being disappointed in how Tom Welling and Erica Durance's return to the Smallville universe is handled here. The reveal that Welling's Clark Kent is de-powered and enjoying a quiet retirement on the family farm definitely subverts expectations. Then there's the absence of Michael Rosenbaum's Lex Luthor, who's only mentioned in passing (he's the president, natch). Any hope of seeing Welling, Brandon Routh, and Tyler Hoechlin all wearing the red and blue tights together is now dashed. But despite all that, this extended Smallville scene really works. It speaks perfectly to the complicated and often unhappy relationship Welling has had with the series. He's long wanted to move on from that phase of his career, and this scene allows him to do so in a poignant way.Plus, this scene actually plays better with Jon Cryer's Lex filling in for Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum apparently wasn't happy with the lowball offer The CW made to take part in the crossover, but the fact is, there isn't really a need for that character in this story. What the Smallville scene does need is a more arrogant, vindictive version of Lex of the sort Cryer plays so well. Their brief showdown perfectly embodies Lex's uneasy status quo since being resurrected by the Monitor. He finally has the power to destroy his most hated enemy. He's even done exactly that on several worlds already. But here, faced with a version of Superman who's so content and peaceful he willingly gave up his godlike power, Lex can only realize how unfulfilling this multiversal murder spree really is. You also have to love his reaction to learning Clark Kent is this world's Superman. Lex is so arrogant he can only assume the same isn't true on his own world. If it was, wouldn't he have figured out the truth?Part 2 is also where we meet Brandon Routh's Superman. Or perhaps "meet" isn't the right word, as this episode strongly suggests this Kingdom Come-inspired world is actually the future of the Superman Returns universe. That twist brings an extra weight and gravitas to Earth-96, as we see Routh balancing both the innate charm and decency of that Superman with the tragedy of a hero who's outlived nearly everyone he loved. The moment that iconic John Williams music keys in as Routh's Clark sees Elizabeth Tulloch's Lois, this scene becomes pure superhero magic.Watching this episode actually makes me sad we never got a Returns sequel. However flat that movie falls in terms of plot, Routh is a solid Superman and a downright terrific Clark Kent. And if anything, his Superman side has gotten better with age. Routh seems more confident and assured as the elder statesman hero, and he even looks the part more thanks to a far better costume design. This Earth-96 sequence does struggle a little during the big brawl between Supermen. Part 2 attempts a Man of Steel-style battle of Kryptonian titans, but that sort of scale is beyond the reach of a broadcast TV budget. But emotionally, this material hits all the right notes, and Routh is simply excellent in his dual roles.Part 2's most significant "cameo" comes as Kara and Kate travel to Earth-99 and meet that world's aging, embittered Bruce Wayne (and his surprisingly buff manservant, Luke Fox). This "cameo" subverts expectations even more than Welling's Clark. This version of Bruce pulls bits of inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come and Batman Beyond, but ultimately it's a very different take on the character. This is Bruce Wayne: Cautionary Tale, a man who lacked the strong parental figures he needed early in life and eventually became as dark and deranged as the criminals he hunted.Again, this unexpected shift in direction works. We already have Routh's Superman as the kindly, aging hero of the group, so there's no need for a similar take on Bruce. And it's a take that plays specifically to Kevin Conroy's iconic voice and steely presence. There's a brief moment where it's incredibly surreal hearing that voice in a live-action context, but it isn't long before Conroy draws us in and owns this unusual take on Bruce. The episode is also pretty vague as to whether this Bruce is meant to look like the one Kate knows, so hopefully the door is still open for Conroy to play the Earth-1 version when he eventually appears on Batwoman.This lengthy detour into Earth-99 serves other purposes. In terms of the ongoing Crisis narrative, it establishes Kate as the Paragon of Courage (a fitting choice given her back-story). It also sets up what could be a more long-term struggle for the character as she questions whether she's capable of going down the same road as her cousin. To date, Batwoman hasn't dealt much with the larger Arrowverse, and this seems like a way of opening a wider door. Part 2 may be setting up a JLA: Tower of Babel-inspired conflict where Kate goes down a dark road by building contingency plans against her fellow heroes. That could fuel the conflict in Part 3, or (ideally) it could pay off farther down the line in a future crossover.With all these welcome multiverse guest stars in the mix this week, Crisis actually struggles more with its familiar cast of characters. One subplot combines the casts of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow as Mia and Sara set about trying to resurrect Ollie in a Lazarus Pit. I appreciate how much this material is aimed at mirroring Sara’s own resurrection in Arrow: Season 4, but it comes across as an unnecessary addition to an already crowded crossover. If Ollie is intended to return, surely there’s a more efficient way of going about it. And more to the point, given how well the most recent chapters of Arrow and Supergirl have served to send Ollie into the sunset, is there anything to be gained by undoing his death now? Hopefully Part 3 can justify this unexpected turn of events.
After the dramatic events of the opening chapter, Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part 2 slows down a bit to examine how various new and old heroes are responding to the end times. That shift in focus largely works, though the Lazarus Pit subplot raises some concerns. But between giving Smallville fans the closure they deserve with Tom Welling’s return, celebrating Kevin Conroy’s live-action Batman debut, and giving Brandon Routh another shot as the Man of Steel, this episode is a superhero nerd’s dream come true.