June 7, 2023
Review: 'The Flash' is Fun, Fast, Forgettable
JC Alvarez READ TIME: 4 MIN.
To suggest "The Flash" faced a series of speed bumps along the way to its big screen release would be putting it mildly. Warner Bros, the studio behind the big-budget superhero tentpole film based on the super-speedy DC Comics character, had announced the film as part of its "extended" cinematic lineup almost a decade ago.
After passing several hands (including an internal shift of positions within the studio), with several script reworks, and a star who was fast proving unpredictable, to say the least, filmmaker Andy Muschietti turned out to be a perfect fit to take over the project.
The feature-length film deals with our hero, Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), using his super speed to alter his past, resulting in a terribly altered future that ultimately results in a cataclysmic event throughout the multiverse. In the opening action sequence of "The Flash," Allen's Justice League teammate, Batman (Ben Affleck, reprising the role) is busy chasing down henchmen with a stolen chemical weapon through the streets of Gotham City, while The Flash is tasked with preventing the collapse of a hospital. It all seems a bit trite to the speedster, who thinks there might be a better use of someone with his particular skillset – until the hospital is compromised and the baby ward, nurses, and a service dog come crashing out a window. It's up to The Flash to save the day, but the heroic act is played as a joke and the gag quickly loses its momentum.
One gag leads to another in this movie, and the one-liners pile up – even when Barry makes the discovery that when he enters the speed force he can also have an effect on the flow of time. Barry is convinced he can return to a particular turning point in his past and prevent his mother's murder, which will set a series of events in motion and keep his father, Henry (Ron Livingston) from being convicted of the crime. Batman knows that there are risks involved, and warns Barry that it's the scars of their pasts that make them the heroes they are today, but The Flash decides he knows best, and does it anyway.
The film's main arc is adapted from the classic comic book "FlashPoint" by comic writer Geoff Johns, which ultimately dismantled DC's continuity; the result here is the same. Barry travels back in time and changes the fate of his parents, but unfortunately, he travels too far back and inevitably runs into his younger self. Now, in a playbook right out of "Back to the Future," future-Barry is confronted with younger-Barry as the timeline diverges. Barry has traveled back to a point in time when the maniacal Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon, reprising his role) arrives on Earth in search of Superman (as seen in "Man Of Steel"), but there is no Superman to be found.
To make matters worse, Future-Barry has inadvertently transferred his powers to his inexperienced younger self, leaving him feeling trapped and vulnerable in this revised timeline. With few alternatives, Barry turns to the one person that might be able to help them make it all right: Bruce Wayne. But in this revisionist history, Batman is dramatically different from the Caped Crusader Barry knows. In fact, it's Michael Keaton, the actor who first brought The Dark Knight to the big screen in the 1989 blockbuster – but, in this reality, he's long since given up his crusading and hung up his gear.
The film takes a turn here, as Barry, with the help of 1989 Batman, devises a plan to find this altered timeline's "Superman" and stop Zod from destroying the planet. The jokes continue from the younger-Barry, which brings in some levity, but it also cancels out any genuine emotional drama until the film's final act. What ensues has Keaton back in the Bat-suit, and it's extremely exciting to watch! This act of the film also introduces Sasha Calle, who is this altered timeline's surviving Kryptonian, Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin – also known as Supergirl.
Both Keaton and Calle raise the stakes. Their portrayals of this story's supporting team players bring out a vigor in Ezra's performance once he regains his powers and can rejoin the fight as The Flash. The final and consequential confrontation against General Zod doesn't play any more interesting than a video game, and the special effects are largely unspectacular. It's not very hard to spot the moments where digital doubles replace the actors and the cartoonish violence becomes overblown, but the sequence does nicely lead into the most dramatically gratifying part of the film.
"The Flash" finally lands the emotional moment that should have been relevant throughout the film (you only had to wait until the end), but it spends so much time with juvenile antics, as if deliberately differentiating itself from its predecessors in the darker Zack Snyder cinematic universe, that it feels like it's leaping out of the Sunday funnies.
"The Flash" isn't some seismic shift in the genre, and it isn't going to prompt the studio to make any landmark decisions that it probably hasn't already considered as to the future of these franchises. It does, however, capitalize on the presence of its lead and supporting cast, though it doesn't necessarily catapult Miller into the action-hero category. "The Flash" retreads many of the expected superhero tropes and, while tugging on our nostalgia, and also leaves you with a couple of head-scratching cameo appearances.
There's plenty of spectacle, but the heart is just not in there. Far from the earth-shattering epic that fans might have been hoping for, the film largely hits like a fancy toy commercial or a theme park ride. Once the fun is over, you're already thinking about what's next.
"The Flash" opens in theaters June 16, 2023.
Native New Yorker JC Alvarez is a pop-culture enthusiast and the nightlife chronicler of the club scene and its celebrity denizens from coast-to-coast. He is the on-air host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Out Loud & Live!" and is also on the panel of the local-access talk show "Talking About".