Film Review: The Flash
Director: Andy Muschietti
In Theaters: 06.16
The superhero genre was already wearing thin, and the recent overmilking of the “multiverse” concept gives added tedium. The Flash is DC’s attempt to jump aboard that trend. While for my money it’s not the worst multiverse movie so far, The Flash is still not even the best one to come out this summer.
Central City forensic investigator Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is working to clear his father Henry’s (Ron Livingston, Office Space) name, who was falsely imprisoned for the murder of Barry’s mother Nora (Maribel Verdú, Pan’s Labyrinth). Barry juggles this with his duties as a member of the Justice League, dropping everything whenever Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) snaps his fingers. When Barry discovers the hyperspeed powers of The Flash can give him the ability to travel back in time, he decides to use this to save both of his parents.
From this excursion, Barry finds that he has hopelessly muddled timelines and realities and is trapped in a reality in which Kryptonian villain General Zod (Michael Shannon) is hell-bent on destroying Earth, and there’s no Superman to stop him. Barry teams up with a slightly younger version of himself from this timeline to find Bruce Wayne and get his help, only to discover that the Bruce of this reality (Michael Keaton) is in his 70s, retired and reluctant to get back into the game. It’s going to take a bit of coaxing and a lot of teamwork to set things right and save the world.
The chief selling point in The Flash’s advertising has been the long-awaited return of Keaton in the cape and cowl, especially because Miller is so mired in controversy and allegations that it nearly stopped the movie from getting released. Anyone who is geared up to see Keaton’s Batman get his own Top Gun: Maverick moment are setting themselves up for disappointment. While Batman gets some great action and fun moments, the title is still The Flash, and Miller takes center stage all the way.
The action is enjoyable, though most of it is pretty routine at this point, and the movie is mired in convoluted storytelling and self-indulgent, DC fan service, including a sequence that throws so many reverential references at us that it plays like a lengthened pre-movie DC or Marvel Studios logo fanfare tossed into the third act by accident.
The Flash also features some of the worst visual effects in recent memory, and while the overuse of CGI doesn’t inherently stand out these days, the presence of the rubbery-looking humans we saw in 2010’s Tron: Legacy is just embarrassing 13 years later. Director Muschietti (Mama, It) takes a big step away from his horror roots here, and at times it feels like he doesn’t have a firm handle on things.
The cast seems to be having a lot of fun—Miller is having perhaps too much fun. While they are strong as the protagonist Barry, the 18-year-old, comic-relief version of the character is frequently just too hammy and shrill. Keaton and Affleck are both terrific, though Affleck gets even less screen time and amounts to an extended cameo. Sasha Calle as Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl, rounds out the team and becomes one of the strongest elements of the film. Calle brings a lot of heft to the role, and seeing the character in a real superhero costume instead of a ridiculous miniskirt is enough reason to support this movie.
The Flash is likely to be one of the most polarizing contemporary superhero movies. As someone who grew up on DC, the Justice League and Keaton’s Batman, I had fun with it, though I was making frequent allowances for moments that were overplayed or simply didn’t work. You’ll still want to see The Flash if you’re a DC fan, though you’re fine to walk rather than run. –Patrick Gibbs