Well, it only took ten years for the DC Extended Universe to release a film about folks’ favorite speedster. Wait, planned development dates back almost twenty years for this solo race? Also, the DCEU is being rebranded to another DC version for the following slate of films with James Gunn/Peter Safran, and it might not guarantee Ezra Miller to continue wearing the mantle?
Anyway, in its bread-and-butter form, The Flash is another cautionary tale reminding folks not to mess with the past (or the worst abominations will open up in the multiverse!). Still, it is also a story rooted in nostalgia as DC tries to one-up Marvel in their latest strings of multiverse chaos and fun theories (a la Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness). While this tactic might be very fond of ever since recent noise about “superhero fatigue” reared its head due to abnormal box office results, it also remains enticingly controversial and subjectively an aggressive mediocrity to try to pull audiences in for the “hey, this may be something new in the ever-expanding superhero genre!” Big disclaimer: Since it’s the elephant of the room, we will not be discussing the publicized scandals of Mr. Miller to promote a desperation tactic of cancel culture or the convergence of public profile toxicity because, in this film, he does a solid job of anchoring its 144-minute runtime. So, we shall focus on his performance in this feature and end the publicity talks here and now (Mr. Miller has also apologized and cited mental health issues).
The plot remains relatively simple but builds up more wildly over time: Barry Allen (Miller), known as Flash, deals with his forensic scientist work as he tries to get his father, Henry (Ron Livingston), cleared his name of a horrible moment where Barry’s mother, Nora (Maribel Verdu) died after an intruder broke into his home as a kid. Barry juggles his food appetite (he needs those calories for all that running, folks) and time management while twitching and turning for answers. His goofball status makes him one of the most interesting cornerstones of the DCEU, stepping away from the hot tempers, massive egos, and former villain-shticks. Even after listening to Bruce Wayne’s advice (supposedly the last performance for Ben Affleck as the caped crusader), Barry decides to go back in time to prevent his mother’s death from happening but gets knocked out from the Speed Force to an alternate time in 2013 where he meets his younger self and the reappearance of General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his army that was defeated in Man of Steel. Barry and his “cousin” seek out Batman, except it’s an alternate version played by Michael Keaton (our crusader from the 1989 and 1992 films).
And we also have Superman’s cousin, Supergirl (Sasha Calle), jumping in on the alternate-timeline action because director Andy Muschietti thinks that repeating history from ten years ago makes it a must-watch. The first chapter of the DCEU was interesting, albeit dreary under Zack Snyder’s direction (someone out there will make a case in point it’s the best Superman movie in existence).
The movie is an epitaph, a self-contained tale with some audience-pleasing gimmickry and a deeper insight into The Flash’s story (after playing cameos in several other DC projects and a fun role in Justice League). You have the opening act of a mission in progress shedding light on Flash’s temporal frisson, then the inciting moment to propel the multiverse shenanigans in, and then an entertaining but overloaded second and third acts of trying to repair the damage while saving the world. Miller playing the dual role allows him to showcase all of his talents, from his comedy bits to his severe learning moments, to recognize the damage evolving. It’s almost an improv session of damage control. Keaton is undoubtedly one of the film’s biggest highlights, leaning into a sly, reverberant role that showcases he’s willing to get back into the fight, and the engagement is an old-school fan’s fondest dream. While noble for her limited nature and potential prospects down the line, Calle’s superheroine is grossly underwritten when the screenwriters could’ve easily tried to propel her character in for a few more minutes instead of sticking her in a CGI-overloaded atmosphere.
Oh, we didn’t forget to talk about the CGI here. It can be summed up in one word: egregious. The psychedelic visuals and overabundance of effects make this appear as a video game simulation more than a depth-oriented movie. It’s that dodgy-looking that the third act almost becomes a gag of itself, lacking any urgency and dragging on for the sake of one’s superpowers. Also, those little cameos stuffed in at the end are whimsical, breeding an intuition in which the film desperately needed to pace itself well to make these moments earned. The creative gains of nostalgia are illusive when it’s another film predisposed for fan service in the history of DC Entertainment.
The Flash is enjoyable but not memorable enough in the extended, tedious canon of the DC hierarchy. Sorry, but it’s not that masterpiece Warner Brothers might coax you into believing online.
It careens its way to a bouncy time in the second half, which might be enough for the viewer to stay invested through the credits. But in a year where folks were showing apathy towards mediocre showcases like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania or Shazam! Fury of the Gods, this one is passable.