Directed by Andy Muschietti, The Flash is far from DC’s worst, but its blur of a hero never manages to find their footing.
If anything, The Flash finally making it to movie theaters is a testament to Warner Bros’ commitment to making whatever money they can off the most iconic superheroes of all time. The troubled production spent years discarding attached directors like candy wrappers, which blew the film past its original 2018 release date and gave star Ezra Miller time to accumulate a laundry list of deeply troubling controversies. Most studios would have cut their losses ages ago. And with a rebooted DC lineup announced earlier this year, these last few films in the DC Extended Universe face a sense of futility in addition to a weaker box office (see Shazam: Fury of the Gods) and general superhero fatigue (see, well, most superhero movies in the last few years).
After directing the two It films, Andy Muschietti returns to Warner Bros as director of The Flash, working off of a screenplay by Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey). The film finds its titular speedster (Ezra Miller, reprising their role from Justice League) struggling to balance the superhero life as Flash and his civilian life as Barry Allen. As a member of the Justice League, he feels inadequate alongside his more popular and experienced peers. As a forensic investigator, he struggles to exonerate his father (Ron Livingston) for the murder of his mother (Maribel Verdú). After accidentally discovering the ability to time travel, he ignores the advice of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and travels to the past to prevent his mother’s death. It works, but Flash ends up in a parallel timeline with only a passing resemblance to his own.
Most superheroes don’t exist in this new world thanks to a series of contrivances (Aquaman’s dad bought several dogs instead of having a son, for example). But Flash is able to reunite with an older Batman (Michael Keaton) and free Superman’s imprisoned cousin Kara (Sasha Calle) in order to create a sort of make-shift Justice League. Most significantly, he meets up with a slightly younger version of himself (Miller again) who hasn’t yet received powers. Together, they confront General Zod (Michael Shannon) in an alternate-timeline waltz through 2013’s Man of Steel.
A tease for a sequel that will likely never come.
Comic readers will instantly recognize the premise as that of Flashpoint, the 2011 comic by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert that quickly became the preeminent Flash storyline. Flashpoint was even the film’s title for a time. But beyond the basic premise, there isn’t all that much resemblance. The comic focused on exploring potential new avenues for the DC universe. The film instead aims for the one-two punch of nostalgia and a sequel hook. Maybe even a spin-off.
Keaton’s presence is a barely-veiled attempt to capitalize on nostalgia for Tim Burton’s Batman films and is little more than a reaction to No Way Home pulling off the same trick with Spider-Man in 2021. And Calle’s character receives a only base-level treatment clearly meant to be expanded upon in future installments. In fact the Calle-led Supergirl film and the Batgirl film Keaton was supposed to reappear in were both canceled by Warner Bros a long time ago, which is an awkward reminder of how troubled DC’s cinematic journey has been over the last decade.
Gene Siskel once said, “The sight of a baby in peril is one of the sleaziest gimmicks a film can employ to gain our attention.” I don’t know if that’s true, mainly because murdering women to create sympathy for a male protagonist is still a pervasive cliche. But it’s the sort of narrative shortcut The Flash aims for with its comedy. The opening scene has the superhero faced with a “baby shower” (literally a shower of babies falling from the sky) and his efforts to rescue said infants includes sticking one of them inside a microwave.
Such a scene should serve as a litmus test for the film’s humor, but even viewers who have no problem with that sort of lowbrow gag will likely grow bored with how repetitive the bits get by the end. Even the film’s characters seem to become annoyed by one another, as Miller’s Flash eventually lectures Miller’s other Flash on his lame jokes. Nevertheless, the cheap gags speed along, undeterred.
A visual disappointment.
The Flash also suffers from some of the worst visual effects put forward by a major blockbuster of its scale in some time. Scenes that should offer major spectacle are wildly inconsistent. But the biggest struggle is in scenes where there’s no clear reason why there’s any CGI at all. It’s not uncommon for a character to switch to a shoddy 3D model in the middle of a scene, or for Miller’s facial features to shift independently of his face even in scenes where he isn’t acting opposite a double. And in what is sure to generate controversy, deceased actors from past superhero movies are digitally resurrected but end up looking like soulless deepfakes.
All that said, the film knocks it out of the park when it properly leans into the drama implied by a man’s desperate attempt to prevent the death of a parent. Verdú offers some of the film’s strongest moments, though most of the leads find an opportunity or two to shine. Whether it’s Batmans Affleck and Keaton discussing their relationship with loss, Livingston comparing wrongful incarceration to a life without his wife, or the tender moments when Calle as Supergirl debates with Flash over whether humanity is worth saving, The Flash offers a number of genuinely impactful emotional beats. But there’s always a rote quip or two waiting in the wings to reset the status quo a moment later.
Had The Flash had faith in its more serious moments, it could have been a remarkable success and a worthy finish line for the DCEU as we know it. Instead, its biggest strengths are treated as a relative afterthought, stuck in a time when movies like this could get away with the bare minimum.
The Flash opens in theaters on June 16th. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Read more articles by Brogan Luke Bouwhuis here.
THE FLASH - 4/10