The Flash – Review

The Flash as a character in the comic books has had quite a long and storied history.  First introduced in 1940, the character was an immediate hit with comic book readers thanks to his colorful appearance and affable personality.  During the Silver Age of comic books, DC elected to make The Flash one of the founding members of the elite Justice League, the super team made up of all of their top tier characters, putting Flash in the same company as Superman and Batman.  Over the years, the mantle of the Flash has carried over to a number of different people, from Jay Garrick, to Barry Allen, to Wally West and several more.  But it’s the Barry Allen years that defined the character the most, mainly because it’s with him that most of the iconic elements of the character’s story emerged, including the famous Red and Yellow suit.  Being a Speedster type super hero, Flash is defined by his ability to run super fast, to the point where he can even out run the speed of light.  This ability in particular has led to a certain set of problems for the character, as going faster than the speed of light has led him to be able to travel through time, and of course messing with time carries it’s own consequences.  This was the dilemma the character faced in what many consider to be the greatest Flash storyline, Flashpoint, published in 2011.  Though Flash has enjoyed consistent popularity on the comics page, his screen presence up to now has been minimal compared to other DC icons.  He has been the star of two television series, one short lived one from the 90’s and another in the 2010’s that was part of CW’s Arrowverse which just ended it’s run after 9 successful seasons.  Flash has also been featured a lot in DC animated projects.  But it wasn’t until Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) that we got our first true big screen debut for The Flash.  Played by Ezra Miller, Flash was to be a key player in DC’s Extended Universe plans, playing a part in the Justice League (2017) film as well as getting his own standalone film.  A bright future for the character indeed, or at least that’s what DC thought.

Problems began to rise almost immediately in the rollout of projects featuring The Flash.  Despite being announced at San Diego Comic Con as the director, Rick Famuyiwa left the project soon after citing creative differences, eventually leading him towards his eventual work on The Mandalorian series on Disney+.  Other directors came and went through the years and eventually the project was given over to horror film director Andy Muschietti, who was just coming off his successful duo of adaptations of Stephen King’s IT.  Several re-writes occurred as well, with DC making a lot of course correction in the wake of the disappointing returns for Justice League.    But, towards the end of 2019, it looked like the cameras would finally be rolling on the feature.  Then, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic happen, putting a freeze on The Flash yet again.  Eventually, production did resume, but it had been a long time ever since the film was first announced.  But, Muschietti and his team did get the production across the goal line, with the hope that it would be ready once the theatrical business was running smoothly again.  Unfortunately bad luck struck again, this time from the lead actor.  Ezra Miller had been something of a loose cannon before, but in 2022, without going too much into detail about what happened, they became what is referred to in the entertainment business as a PR nightmare.  The brushes with the law were also coming at a volatile time for DC’s parent company Warner Brothers, which was about to form a merger with Discovery Entertainment, leading towards a huge disruption in DC’s plans.  The newly formed company of Warner Brothers Discovery began to restructure heavily, with many projects getting outright cancelled while still in production.  With the cancellation of projects across all parts of the company, including DC, and Ezra Miller’s public meltdown, some were wondering if The Flash  would even be seen at all.  If Batgirl didn’t survive, what hope would Flash have?  Despite all this, Warner Brothers Discovery CEO David Zaslev still spared The Flash and let it remain on the release calendar.  That being said, they made it clear that Ezra Miller’s future involvement with the character was over and that this movie was not going to be one of the last of the old DCEU line-up of movies, with a re-boot in the works as the DCU, shepparded by new creative head James Gunn. So, that’s the atmosphere in which The Flash movie finally releases into theaters, and the only question remains is if it’s worth all that wait and can it stand out amidst all that off-screen drama.

Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is struggling to manage his new life as a member of the Justice League.  He remains on-call with the other members, basically being relegated to clean-up duty while Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) do the more exciting work.  The hectic schedule runs into conflict with his day job working in a forensics lab, where he ironically always ends up being late.  Part of his drive to work in forensics is because he is hoping to exonerate his father Henry (Ron Livingston), who has been in prison for the murder of his wife Nora (Maribel Verdu), though Barry is convinced of his innocence.  On a particularly difficult night dealing with his grief, Barry learns that if he runs fast enough, he can actually turn back the flow of time.  He shares the discovery with Batman/Bruce Wayne, but Bruce warns him that time travel carries dire consequences.  Barry still believes that if he’s careful enough, he might be able to save his mother.  He, travels back far enough in time to prevent the moment that would have left his mother vulnerable and begins to head back to his time, only to be knocked off his pace by a dark stranger in the realm between time.  He visits his home again to find his mother alive and well, and his father out of prison.  But, there is another problem; another Barry also lives in this timeline.  He intercepts his younger self, tries to fill him in on what happened, but soon learns that his altering of the flow of time had a dire significant consequence.  In this timeline, there is no Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Aquaman.  However, he does learn that there is indeed a Batman in this universe, and he takes the other Barry along with him to find this Batman.  At a dilapidated Wayne Manor, they run into a very different Batman than who Barry knows.  This Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) is much older and mostly retired.  Still, the older Bruce Wayne has all the gadget and gear stowed in his Batcave, and he agrees to help out Barry find who they believe to be this universe’s Superman.  Hidden in a secret Siberian prison, they discover that it’s not Kal-El that landed on Earth, but instead his cousin Kara (Sasha Calle).  Though Barry has the help he needs to return to his own time, another problem arises that could complicate things, the arrival of General Zod (Michael Shannon), with no Superman on Earth to fight against him.

To say that this movie is arriving into theaters with a lot of baggage is saying the least of it.  One thing that seemed to keep this movie afloat within the halls of DC and Warner Brothers was the strong word of mouth from all the executives at the company.  Even the ones who were going to be tasked with re-booting the DCU, James Gunn and Peter Safran, had high praise for what Andy Muschietti did with The Flash.  They felt so confident in the movie’s ability to perform even despite all of the controversy that they gave an exclusive first look screening to visitors at this year’s CinemaCon.  Many came out of the screening very happy by what they saw, and Warner Brothers Discovery CEO even began to feel confident in the film’s release.  The movie was even shown to an A-lister like Tom Cruise, who also sung it’s praises.  In a short amount of time, they were able to turn around the bad buzz surrounding this movie, helping to generate excitement around it that it otherwise would’ve not had.  But, what would the average audience think.  One thing that still loomed over this film even up to it’s release date was whether the Ezra Miller factor would make any difference.  It’s hard to sell a movie when your lead star isn’t even able to participate in it’s promotion.  Plus, the movie has to get over the cloud of controversy that they carry.  I’m one who in most cases can separate the art from the artist.  One of my favorite films is still Braveheart (1995) even with all the Mel Gibson baggage that that film carries.  So, is DC right to feel confident in this Flash movie.  For me, it’s complicated.  For one thing, the movie does manage to deal with the whole Ezra Miller situation pretty well, as I never was thinking much about their offscreen problems while watching the movie.  One the other hand, I do feel much of the hype that DC  and Warner Brothers were trying to drum up in the last few months weren’t warranted either.  It’s neither the worst things I’ve seen from the DCEU, nor is it in the league of their best either.  It’s a very average movie in the end.

There certainly is ambition behind this movie, much more so that quite a few other recent comic book movies, but the film doesn’t gel together as effectively as one would hope.  I think the issue boils down to there never being a grounded point to where we feel the gravity of the events in this movie.  It’s a lot of spectacle without the human factor to make it resonate.  The character of Barry Allen just haphazardly trips his way through a bunch of situations and that essentially is the story.  In some regards, it is refreshing to see a comic book film that doesn’t have to devote so much of it’s run time to backstory.  We are essentially picking up Barry’s story from where we left off after Justice League, and flashbacks are integrated sparingly with the context of them having meaning to Barry in his journey through time.  There isn’t even really an antagonist in this movie, with Barry proving to be his own worst enemy, and that’s an interesting way to go with a stand-alone super hero film.  Still, it seems that even with a run time of 2 hours and 20 minutes that a lot of stuff still ended up on the cutting room floor, so there are gaps in logic a plenty throughout the film.  Ironically, the thing that does manage to hold the film together from becoming an incoherent mess is Ezra Miller.  Muschietti wisely molded Miller’s performance closer to what Zack Snyder had the actor do in his Snyder Cut, which is far more full of depth than the obnoxious turn he had in the theatrical cut of Justice League.  Miller, particularly in the older Barry role, is giving a measured and compelling performance.  One moment toward the end of the film in particular, where Barry has to say one final goodbye to someone, is actually the best acting I’ve seen from them in all of the DCEU movies he’s appeared in.  Their performance as the younger Barry is more of a mixed bag, where they can deliver some of the movie’s biggest laughs but at other times can be a little grating.  But for all the movie’s faults, Ezra Miller is definitely not the one who drags the film down, and at some moments they are the one who actually delivers the best parts of the movie.

But, even though this is The Flash’s movie, the best part of the film is unequivocally the return of Michael Keaton to the role of Batman.  For many people, particularly those of my age who grew up with the Tim Burton directed films, Keaton is the reason why we are excited for this movie, and boy he did not disappoint.  Despite being 71 years old at the time of this release, Keaton slips effortlessly back into the cape and cowl like he never left, and it’s been a whopping 30 years on now.  Even with my misgivings about the movie in most of the first half, I indeed got a chill up my spine when we see him appear on screen again in the Batsuit and saying the line, “Yeah, I’m Batman.”  This was definitely the big applause moment in the movie for the audience that I saw the film with.  And while a lot of the Batman moves are enhanced this time around with CGI, there are a couple moments where you do see Keaton’s Batman do some hand to hand fighting.  Just the fact that he still looks good in that big rubber batsuit, and was willing to put it back on in the first place is really impressive, but Keaton also gives a nuanced performance as well, showing the years that have passed him by as he’s put Batman aside while still maintaining some of the spark.  Though she has less to do in the movie, Sasha Calle does make the most of her screen time as Kara, or Supergirl.  It’s a performance that allows her to say a lot purely through her expressions.  It’s a shame that with the upcoming reboot of the DCU that we are likely not going to get any more of her version of Supergirl on the big screen.  So, given that this is a one and done performance, it’s good to see her make the most of it.  Some of the returning faces are also welcome here, particularly Ben Affleck as the Batman from the DCEU timeline.  It’s definitely apparent that Affleck is having a better time playing the character here than he did during his difficult experience on Justice League.

One thing that I think most people are going to pick apart about this movie are the visual effects.  I do have to agree that most of the effects in this film look rushed and incomplete.  And in some moments of the movie, this actually undermines the film.  Not every effect looks bad, but there are definitely some moments where the characters suddenly lack detail and depth and instead feel like Polar Express quality digital puppets.  The subpar CGI especially sabotages a moment late in the movie that should have been one of the most epic moments in comic book movie history; an Easter egg filled extravaganza that sadly comes across as looking fake and filled with a bunch of unnecessary visual noise.  I don’t know what led to the visual effects looking so mediocre here, but it honestly becomes a distraction the heavier they are relied upon deep into the movie.  That being said, I do give Muschietti credit for at least attempting some interesting visual moments in this movie.  The man definitely had a vision, and I bet the pre-visualization of these effects scenes showed a lot of promise.  Some of the highlights include the visualization of the hyper-speed cross country trip that Barry makes in the film’s opening scene to get to Gotham City across hundreds of miles.  The design behind Barry’s perception of time travel is also unique and creative, and you really wish that with better executed CGI that it would have looked even better.  I don’t know if the post-production budget got slashed midway due to the upheaval at Warner Brothers, but I feel like Muschietti is not the one to blame for the visual effects looking as bad as they do.  He had some good visual ideas that you can see on screen in the bare bones of the image, and unfortunately to get them up to the standard he wanted was too much for a studio uncertain about the film’s future to risk ballooning the budget even further.

I can’t in the end say that the movie failed to live up to the hype.  The movie was always going to be a problem for DC.  The fact that it got released at all in theaters is in itself a triumph of perseverance.  I do like quite a bit about the movie; especially Michael Keaton’s return to the Dark Knight which absolutely lived up to my expectations.  Ezra Miller, for all their off-screen issues, successfully managed to make me forget about all that while watching this movie and allowed me to appreciate his character work as The Flash in this film.  But, after seeing this movie, I don’t exactly care any more about the Flash than I did before going into this movie.  The film is just another super hero movie, adding little but at the same time not insulting the genre either.  I don’t know what the future holds for the Flash in the DCU reboot.  Thankfully, James Gunn recognizes the strong contribution that Andy Muschietti brought to the film with his direction, and he’s already offered him the assignment of directing the next Batman movie; The Brave and the Bold.  Ezra Miller has certainly burned any chance of returning as the Flash, and though it’s hard to excuse the things that they did, one hopes that they’ll get the help they need in order to set their life back in order and make things right with the ones they wronged.  It’s likely that the DCEU is going to go out with a whimper, with not much hype being felt around it’s closer, the Aquaman sequel releasing this holiday season.  And hopefully something worthwhile comes out of those ashes as Gunn and Safran launch the DCU in the years ahead; maybe with an even better take on the Flash character.  I really wanted to like this movie more, and there are indeed things to like, but in the end, it’s just a confused mess.  I enjoyed the pair of Shazam movies much more, mainly because they had a consistency of tone to them that helped to make them work.  Flash, much like the character in the film, is trying to do too much in a short amount of time, and ultimately just runs out of energy as a result.  Despite “flashes” of greatness, this Flash is stuck in the middle of the pack.

Rating: 7/10