The Flash Review – This is Not the Antidote to Superhero Fatigue that We Need

The saga of getting The Flash to screens is enough to be a movie in itself. Going through several writers and a couple of directors, the death of the Snyderverse, the new guard of the DCEU, James Gunn, and some extremely disturbing behaviour from the lead, Ezra Miller, in many ways WB had to get the pre-emptively tainted production on to screens just because of the money sink involved. What remains as a film feels like it has had too many hands on it to cohere. Andy Muschietti does his best to bring what was once meant to be an in-universe game changer to life, but with the exception of the upcoming Aquaman 2 is actually the end of the DCEU as it has existed since Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.

The story takes plot points from the comic run Flashpoint in which Barry Allen makes the decision to run back in time to stop the murder of his mother, Nora (Maribel Verdú) and prevent the imprisonment of his father, Henry (Ron Livingstone) for the crime. In doing so Barry creates a bunch of paradoxes which see other universes collide, and of course, threaten the fabric of reality itself.

Barry has been a member of the Justice League for a while although considered somewhat a low tier hero by them and himself. He’s perfected some of his speed skills such as phasing. And as the action-packed opening proves, he’s got quite balletic with his speed (he still runs in a comically weird way) and Flash time is a wonder to watch. Cleaning up Batman’s (Ben Affleck) mess by saving a Gotham City hospital is both funny and impressive and clearly shows the influence of original writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.

The problem for Barry is that Henry’s appeal is coming up and he’s going to lose. Barry is also still socially awkward and lonely and, well, annoying. When he encounters Iris West (Kiersey Clemons), a reporter and former friend from college, his heart goes pitter patter, but he’s mostly concerned with how he can save Henry. Having discovered he can run faster than the speed of light he considers going back in time to save Nora, a move that Batman discourages. Nonetheless, Barry, for whom his whole career as both a forensic scientist and a hero has been built on the trauma of loss, decides he can do it if he changes one small thing (ensuring a can of tomatoes gets into his mother’s shopping cart) and gets out quickly.

So, run, Barry, run is exactly what he does ending up in a mid-point speed force pit stop which has no specific name where he is punched by a mysterious presence into his past at a different point in time. It is pertinent to note that the chrono-arena or whatever it is called is one of the worst versions of uncanny valley CGI put to screen in a while. The whole thing looks like it was created in Midjourney, which might be deliberate to show how “off” the whole space is but is eye watering to view. Barry ends up in a timeline where he meets Barry 2, eighteen years old and at college. Nora is alive, Henry is free. Life is seemingly perfect for Barry 2 who takes it all for granted and is more irritating than Barry 1 ever was.

It takes a while for Barry 1 to click that he hasn’t ended up in his past at all, but instead in a different dimension where Eric Stoltz played Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox was in Footloose, and Kevin Bacon was in Top Gun. If this wasn’t enough to make one want to fix whatever temporal mistakes were made, Zod (Michael Shannon) is coming to Earth to terraform it into Krypton meaning the destruction of the planet and there is no Justice League. The only superhero is a now retired hermit, Batman – in this world the Tim Burton iteration played by Michael Keaton.

Keaton is genuinely great, acting as a cushion for the manic energy of the two Millers. He has no problem taking on board the reality of the multiverse and although he needs a little convincing to get involved (somehow he has become a reclusive hermit living in a rundown Wayne Manor) his wisdom and general calm give the film gravitas when it is running too fast. The first port of call is rescuing a Kryptonian from a back site in Serbia, presumed to be Kal-El, but instead in Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle) who has never seen daylight since landing on Earth.

The new version of the Justice League has its issues, mostly that they are outclassed by an army of vicious Kryptonians. Sacrifices are made, and made again, reversed and made again, until Barry 1 realises that some things are fixed in time and cannot be changed.

At the centre of Christina Hodson’s script is the idea that some things define us and cannot be altered. There is the chance for change and hope, but they have to exist within human emotional parameters. Barry 1 learns how to be more mature by simply interacting with Barry 2. His heroes’ journey is, as they often are, one of self-realisation and an understanding that there are consequences for everyone’s actions – especially his own. It isn’t a new concept and indeed was explored in a Christopher Reeve Superman film, it was the basis for Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the whole multiverse hopping was just given new life in the wonderful Spider-Verse films, with the second asking the same questions as The Flash does.

The Flash has its moments – there are some great comedic bits (but sometimes too many, the Barry banter gets tiring) and some truly effective emotional beats. The CGI varies wildly in quality and the cameos… well, some are excellent and others questionable to say the least. The level of fan service is off the charts and doesn’t inspire quite the awe that Muschietti and co. were hoping. However, I doubt few in the audience won’t be moved when Danny Elfman’s Batman 1989 theme kicks in.

Perhaps the main problem with The Flash is there is too much of everything packed into its not short runtime. By the time we get to the final crisis of universes colliding it seems so inevitable that it’s tiring. The fight with the Kryptonians goes on too long, which isn’t aided by the fact that Michael Shannon looks like he’d rather be doing anything else but appearing in the movie. Two Ezra Millers are a lot to take and it’s baffling that Barry Allen as a character has been made into a bit of an idiot – understandable for his newbie status in The Justice League film(s), but less charming years later. Thankfully, The Flash does address this, even if it means sitting through so much Barry nonsense to get there.

The Flash isn’t the antidote to superhero fatigue; in fact, it just might be the apex of what that means. However, when it goes for the heart it is surprisingly successful. The comedy and pathos never quite level out and there is a strong feeling that significant reshoots were done to wrap up the changes to the DCEU. It provides a springboard for Sasha Calle who elevates what little she is given, and it is a nostalgia hit for all the Burton Batman fans that actually digs deeper than just having Keaton appear by giving his Batman a significant reason to be there and don the Batsuit once again. The Flash is tired in some places with the third act running (pun unintended) far too long, but as we are calling it a wrap on that particular universe, there are worse ways for it to go.

Director: Andy Muschietti

Cast: Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle

Writer: Christina Hodson, (screen story by Joby Harold)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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