‘The Flash’ is Unwanted Savior of a Dead Universe
With the arrival of The Flash, The DC universe we knew is dead.
The Andy Muschietti-directed blockbuster is DC’s first dive into the multiverse following the recent trend of “multiverse” movies –Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2022), Spiderman: No Way Home (2021), Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022), and the Spiderverse franchise are key examples – ushering in a new era of DC films under the watchful eyes of Peter Safran and the capable hands of James Gunn.
Loosely inspired from the comic book Flashpoint, The Flash recounts the journey of the Scarlet Speedster, Barry Allen, as he travels to the past –10 years to be precise – to save his mother. His action sends shockwaves through time as he encounters an alternate reality without metahumans and with a second invasion of General Zod (Michael Shannon) imminent. To defeat Zod’s reappearance and restore this reality, he enlists the aid of his younger self from that period alongside it’s Batman (Michael Keaton), and Supergirl (Sasha Calle).
Right from when the first stills of The Flash dropped, it came with a mixed bag of feelings.
I must admit, I did not have particularly high expectations for The Flash. Up to this point, the DCEU was struggling to get even relatively simple origin stories right post-Snyder. It completely butchered WW84 (2021), messed up Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2019) and barely delivered on Black Adam (2022). In fact, judging from the last six movies, you would be forgiven for doubting their ability to get something as complex as multiverse exploration right.
But I was wrong.
The movie starts good with an opening Batbike sequence that would make Christopher Nolan proud. Barry gives his X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Quicksilver moment – although I must say, it is somewhat inferior – and Ben Affleck shows us once more why #MakeaBatfleckmovie still trends to this day with his sensational performance in his final appearance as the Caped Crusader. The VFX was quite sketchy at this point, but we’ll come back to that.
The performance of the cast was one of the movie’s strong points.
For all his faults –and there are many of them– Ezra Miller gives a sensational performance as two versions of himself. When not harassing married couples and causing mayhem, he is a capable actor who somehow manages to capture the essence of the character and two different personalities all the while infusing heart and on-point comedy into it. It’s as if he knew this would be his last chance for redemption; so, delivered. Sasha Calle’s Supergirl was not a substitute for the Man of Steel. She was her own character and she made sure to point that out with her stellar albeit underutilized appearance.
But by far the standout performance was none other than Michael Keaton’s Batman. If the announcement of his reprisal as Gotham’s finest more than a year ago took you by surprise, be ready to be blown away by authentic. His first appearance on screen as an alternate-universe Bruce Wayne is that of an old cranky man who is in his retirement phase after having cleaned up Gotham of its thugs and criminals like a dishwasher. It takes some convincing by Barry to get this Bruce Wayne back into the ol’ cape and cowl but when he does, it’s a spectacle to behold.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy his Batman this much. I thought it would be silly with cringe one-liners but boy was I wrong (again!). His flair in black brings back the juice of his performance in Tim Burton’s 1989 spectacle with some aspects –like the action choreography– even better than his original. Danny Elfman’s score, the magnificent production design of the Batcave –which by the way, remains the best iteration of the underground nest on screen– and the inevitable “I’m Batman” moment would leave your eyes begging for more.
But these great performances couldn’t mask the flaws of The Flash which become more evident past the one-hour mark.
For a movie all about speed, the pacing is grudgingly slow. Moreover, I’ve never quite subscribed to the way Barry throws around his arms and legs when doing his thing. I understand it’s meant to mirror a technique used by ice skaters, but nah! It feels painful to watch as it did in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021).
The CGI? Well. Boy, where do we start?
Firstly, I would like to disagree with those who found the CGI in the falling goo-goo gah-gah scene unpolished. Muschietti explained that it was “intentionally” done to mirror distorted time and space. I agree with him because it works, but for this part only. There’s certainly no excuse for Batfleck’s suit looking like plasticine. The poor CGI could be ignored in some places, but it becomes distracting in the third act. This was supposed to be a recreation of Zod’s 2013 invasion but I’m sorry, Snyder did it better. And that was 10 years ago! If you could just pause anywhere in the fight against Zod and take the stills it would age poorly in another’s retina. The red and blue streaks of lightning scampering up and down the battlespace resembles fireworks on New Year’s Day, but one planned by a 2-year-old. At times, it brought back memories of Sonic and Echidna, only that this has a $200 million price tag!
It seems much of the budget scheduled for VFX went to making the two Millers look actually like two Millers and not some CGI-lip-thingy that Justice League (2017) plastered on our faces and stopped for the day. Even the Kryptonian exosuits looked suspiciously fake, especially considering their first appearance in Man of Steel (2013), a time when CGI technology was less developed than present-day. And let’s not even begin with those cameos looking like plastic dolls with three minutes of battery life.
The incoherency in the multiverse and time travel laws adds salt to the injury. Understandably, the writers tried to distinguish the movie from its multiverse-y predecessors but explaining the strands of time through the fragile strands of spaghetti, while being ingenious, was as easy to comprehend as Math teachers when they go on their roll.
The “chronobowl” thing didn’t resonate with me either. Once again referencing Zack Snyder’s iteration of this very long-distance journey in Zack Snyder’s Justice League –let’s face it, no matter your issues with the director, he is visually talented– in which the slow-mo reversal of time was beautifully crafted. The chronobowl is not bad –I mean, it has comic origins– I just find it funny that it’s like he’s watching a TV and picking the options which shouldn’t be so.
Nevertheless, the messy VFX shouldn’t stop you from enjoying what is a beautifully flawed movie. I get the stakes are higher today but the quirky special effects of the late 90s and early 2000s didn’t stop us from enjoying those movies. Why should it now?
Containing his legacy from IT (2017), Andy Muschietti skillfully ties up loose ends from the DC world and weaves them into a fun story with intensive action, worldly and personal stakes and a satisfying conclusion. He manages –even if narrowly– to strike a good balance between nostalgia and quality, injecting a healthy dose of the two with a bit of fan service. The cameos abound would have the DCEU faithful reeling.
Although you should wisely take the “greatest superhero of all time” chit-chat by big Hollywood names with a truckload of sodium chloride, it is difficult to deny that The Flash is an entertaining movie. It is far from being the GOAT of comic book movies. Hell, it’s not even the best DCEU movie or the best in the past three years. But given the stakes (it’s essentially a mop-up tool for WB), it works where it should.
Was The Flash a masterpiece? Certainly not. Was it entertaining enough to jolt your pocket? Absolutely. And that’s what really matters. It is not the ideal Flash movie we waited for over a decade to get, but we’ll keep it.
Sadly, the box office returns paint a different picture. I believe strong word-of-mouth may eventually save it like it did Aquaman (2018), but with a lackluster $55 million opening and stiff competition like Oppenheimer coming up in weeks, the future looks bleak for the fastest man alive. But if this is the last we see of him it is more than a worthy bow.
Release date: June 16, 2023
Run-time: 2 hours, 24 minutes.
Platform: Theatrical release
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Ben Affleck, Michael Shannon, Kiersey Clemons, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdu, Rudy Manchuso and Jeremy Irons.