Please be aware that this review of The Flash contains spoilers.
A decade in the making, The Flash finally sees DC Comics’ speedy superhero take to the big screen in a movie with his name in the title. Opinions have been mixed on this Andy Muschietti-directed adventure but I was fully enthralled by the $220 million film, entertained by its wit, action and unexpected heart. Many of the film’s critics have taken shots at its star, Ezra Miller – frustrated at their onscreen acting choices or their much-publicised offscreen troubles with the law. For me, Miller is very good in the film, playing dual roles and delivering a charismatic turn as Barry Allen (aka The Flash). I frankly don’t care about Miller’s personal life, my only interest is in the work that I see onscreen. As an adult, I am fully able to understand that who an actor is offscreen is not who they are when they are on it. I can separate the art from the artist.
Now, The Flash might be the title character, but the red speedster isn’t the main selling point for this climatic entry into the DCEU – that would be Michael Keaton’s long-awaited return as Bruce Wayne/Batman – the actor’s first time in the role since 1992’s Batman Returns. Keaton doesn’t miss a beat slipping into back the cowl, delivering a fantastic performance as a grizzled version of The Dark Knight.
The film kicks off with a prolonged action sequence that sees The Flash saving babies from a collapsing hospital as Ben Affleck’s Batman chases bad guys through the streets of Gotham. It’s a way of tying up some of the loose ends leftover from ‘the Snyderverse’ and allowing fans to see Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman for one last time. After that Barry discovers that if he runs really (really) fast he can use Speed Force to travel back in time and save the life of his murdered mother. However, if movies have taught us anything – it’s that time travel never goes smoothly. Barry ends up in a parallel timeline in 2013, one where his mother is still alive, but also where he was never struck by lightning thus never getting his superpowers. That’s when he discovers that General Zod (Michael Shannon) has landed on earth, playing out the events of Man Of Steel – only without the presence of Henry Cavill’s Superman to stop him.
Realising that he’s messed things up, Barry goes in search of his friend and mentor, Bruce Wayne. However, instead of finding Ben Affleck’s incarnation of the character, this new timeline features Michael Keaton’s older, reclusive Bruce. Retired from the crime-fighting, Bruce reluctantly agrees to once again take up the mantle of the bat and help Barry rescue a Kryptonian from the clutches of the Russians. Thinking that they’re going to rescue Kal-El (aka Clark Kent), they discover his cousin Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle). This ragtag version of the Justice League then sets off to fight Zod and save the planet, with the hope of sending Barry back to his own timeline.
Many people have problems with the DECU that started with Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel in 2013. It gave us such highs as Wonder Woman and lows like Justice League, but for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the films much more than those in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, they’ve had their faults, but the films have been interesting adaptations of source material that goes back almost a century. The Flash is a closing chapter on that world, wrapping up the larger story and drawing a close to the shared universe that started under Snyder’s stewardship. Aquaman 2 is still to come, but there’s a sense that The Flash is the culmination of this incarnation of DC superheroes.
For some, two Ezra Millers would be two too many, but I enjoyed the actor’s geeky take on the character of The Flash. The fast-talking youthfulness was a good counterpoint to the more serious grown-up members of the Justice League and here the actor can create two very distinct versions of Barry Allen. Even though I know there was digital jiggery-pokery going on, I totally bought them as two different people. Keaton’s turn as Batman/Bruce Wayne was as great as the performances he gave over 30 years ago – he’s able to bring gravitas to the role, expanding on the character and adding a new layer to the work he did in the two Tim Burton Batman films. He might be 70 years old, but he still has what it takes to deliver the goods as Batman (albeit with the help of some CGI). If the character work in The Flash has a flaw, it’s that Sasha Calle’s Supergirl is underserved – she’s not given a tremendous amount to do and it’s a shame there wasn’t more of her in the film. It’s as if the filmmakers felt the need to shoehorn in an additional hero, but they didn’t want to sacrifice the father/son dynamic between Bruce and Barry. Sadly, The Flash’s lacklustre performance at the box office means that we’ll likely never get to see more of Calle in the role (or Miller and Keaton for that matter)
To watch a big-budget action film today means that you’re going to get bombarded by CGI – and The Flash is no different. Many have had their knives out for the effects work, citing instances of poor rendering and plastic-looking visuals. The reality is that the visual effects are no better or worse than in most other superhero movies. Does some of it look fake? Sure it does, but that’s par for the course these days and I’m fully aware of that when I throw down my money at the ticket counter.
Cameos abound in The Flash. We have the aforementioned Affleck and Gadot appearances and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman appears in a (unnecessary) post-credit sequence but the gold for DC Comics fans is in the multiverse – the world between worlds. There, Christopher Reeve’s Superman stands side by side with Helen Slater’s Supergirl, while Nicolas Cage’s aborted take on the Man Of Steel is able to fight giant spiders in space while a dozen other characters and actors whiz by in a…um…flash. The best cameo is saved for the end, when a suave George Clooney rocks-up as yet another variation of Bruce Wayne – and shows that Barry wasn’t fully able to reset everything back to normal.
The Flash is one of the most entertaining films to come out of Warner Bros’ run of DCEU movies. Embracing the character’s comic book origins, it ticks all the right genre tropes in a witty and engaging way. There’s plenty for fans to enjoy but the film doesn’t leave newbies out in the cold by ensuring that the film is focused on telling its own story – even if it is part of a larger, decade-old franchise. There’s plenty of fun to be had and the film’s 144-minute running time whizzes by. It’s not without flaws – but those are inherent in many films within the genre, like the over-stuffed CG-filled finale. However, for the most part, The Flash is an excellent superhero adventure that has plenty to offer its audience – and it’s a real shame that there likely won’t be any further adventures within this world or any of its adjoining multiverses.