The Flash is a funny and dramatically satisfying superhero romp

The Flash is a funny and dramatically satisfying superhero romp

Let’s get this out of the way before I review The Flash: I review movies on their own merits and tend not to dip into the personal lives, no matter how sordid, of the people who made them. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it’s just not my style (I’ll admit that I’ve done it in the past, but that was a long time ago. It’s really not my interest anymore, so if you’re the type to dig up an example just to own me, go screw). If strongly worded opinions on Ezra Miller as a person are what you seek, believe me when I say that there is no shortage of film critics who can provide you with exactly that and then some. But the way I see it, it took hundreds, maybe thousands of people to make this movie, and I’m unwilling to throw their work in the trash on account of the actions of just one of them. I’m also not in the business of judging people who I’ve never met. I hope Miller continues to address whatever issues they face as best as they can, and that law enforcement will dole out whatever repercussions our justice system determines are appropriate, if any. I can totally understand not wanting to see this movie, but what I can’t understand is being judgmental toward the people who do decide to check it out. 

Can we have some fun with the movie about the dude who runs fast now, please?

Ok good.

The Flash officially marks the end of the DC Extended Cinematic Universe as it existed up until now. James Gunn and the gang will be rebooting the whole shebang starting with Blue Beetle later this summer. As I understand it, some small aspects of the current universe will remain, while others will be jettisoned to the Phantom Zone, never to be seen again. The Flash doesn’t necessarily close the book on the current DCEU with any sort of plot-based finality, but it does invoke the multiverse (because that’s what we’re all doing now), which gives the next set of creators free rein to start fresh in an adjacent sandbox. But enough about that. Is The Flash any good in a vacuum?

Oh fuck yes it is.

The film picks up sometime after the events of Justice League (specifically the Snyder Cut, in which our hero discovered his ability to move through time). The Flash aka Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) spends his days being awkward, fighting crime, and shooting the shit with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who has taken Barry under his (bat)wing. When Barry tells Bruce of his newly discovered ability to run so fast that he can move through time, Bruce strongly advises against it. But Barry, frustrated with his inability to clear his father’s name (you’ll remember, or not, that his father is wrongfully in jail for the murder of his mother) decides to use his new ability to set everything right: he’ll go back in time and prevent her death from ever happening in the first place.

Since there’s no such thing as a time travel movie where the time travel doesn’t cause more problems than it solves, Barry’s adventure through time…causes more problems than it solves. First and foremost, he has to contend with an annoying new sidekick: his younger self. Secondly, by altering the timeline (which, in this case, has effects that run both forward and backward from the point of change — a concept that is quite elegantly explained via a stick of uncooked spaghetti), he’s accidentally created a world that is ill-equipped to defend itself from the appearance of Zod (which you may remember from Man of Steel/Batman v Superman). Since Barry and Barry can’t do it alone, they enlist the help of the only person who may be able to give Earth the edge it needs to defeat its cruel invader: Batman. Only in this timeline, Batman is not Ben Affleck Bruce Wayne, but rather Michael Keaton Bruce Wayne.

As I type this I realize how crazy it sounds, but I assure you it’s handled with plenty of clarity and tons of fun.

To delve too much further into the plot would be to spoil the many surprises that are in store for the unspoiled viewer. But it’s not the references, cameos, and subversions of familiar scenes that give The Flash its flavor, no matter how fun and well-integrated they may be. What makes The Flash better than just shiny brand recognition is the heart at its center. Plot acrobatics are always a good time, but they’re much more exciting when you care about the characters, which is quite easy to do here. The script, by Christina Hodson and Joby Harold, deftly manages the aforementioned wealth of plot with fresh, often hilarious humor, and an uncommonly moving dramatic arc. Both Miller and Keaton (and Miller again) show a command of the material, evoking strong emotion while also delivering killer comedy beats. One need only look at the tone of Keaton’s performance in Batman (‘89) to get a sense of this modality. Keaton has always been funny in a way that few can replicate, and while I wouldn’t say that Miller has succeeded in doing so, I will say that they’ve found a way to adapt it to suit their own energy as well as the energy of Barry Allen.

As for bringing Keaton’s Batman into the modern era, director Andy Muschietti does a fantastic job. With tools afforded to him that simply didn’t exist back in ‘89, Batman is able to “perform” a wealth of action beats that could easily feel like a mismatch to the established character, as well as looking rather silly “performed” by a man in his seventies. Yet somehow this isn’t the case at all. I had no problem believing what I was seeing. It also wasn’t an issue to see Batman doing his thing in broad daylight — which is extremely against his standard MO. Perhaps it’s the quality of the effects; perhaps it’s Keaton’s performance; perhaps it’s just a matter of knowing how to stage the action; whatever it is, it works, and boy is it a rousing good time to watch Batman square off against a gigantic Kryptonian.

Pre-release images don’t do the visuals justice (nor do screenshots taken by assholes who think it’s okay to snap photos with their phone during a movie just so long as it’s a movie they deem problematic enough to validate behaving like a child). Not by a long shot. Yes, things are more cartoonish looking than they were when Zack Snyder was handling the material, but make no mistake: it’s a choice, and seen on the big screen, it’s a choice that works. This cartoonish look matches the overall attitude of the film, and allows for the humorous streak to penetrate the action in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in Man of Steel. An opening sequence in which Barry rescues an entire NICU’s worth of babies as they fall from a skyscraper is absolutely hilarious, and if the babies looked photoreal it would just be garish.

The cartoonish visuals also suit the imagery employed to depict the act of time travel itself. We join Barry on his speed runs through the timeline, and whoever conceptualized the imagery did a bang-up job of making it not just beautiful, but self-explanatory. By the time there is a dramatically resonant action sequence happening within the act of time traveling, it becomes clear how beautifully form has met function. Huge kudos to Muschietti for getting as big and weird with aspects of The Flash that he was unable to manifest in the finales of either It movie (read the book and/or the original Fukunaga script and you’ll see what I mean).

The Flash is, in a lot of ways, the DC answer to Spider-Man: No Way Home, meaning that the multiverse/multi-timeline is used to mainline nostalgia into an audience that laps it all up. But like No Way Home, the integration of additional IP (I won’t spoil who or how) is much more natural than one would expect from a giant media corporation. The cynic in me is always ready to roll my eyes at such things, but much like when Tobey, Andrew, and Tom teamed up to battle some baddies, I found myself too excited to care. It’s just so much fun. At my packed screening of The Flash, more than a few raucous cheers flared up in response to the excitement. At the end of the day, that’s why we’re all here.

Unfortunately, the jam-packed (alllllmost over-stuffed) nature of the plot doesn’t leave a lot of room for one of the film’s coolest characters: Sasha Calle’s Supergirl. Her inclusion is essential to the plot, and her action scenes are UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME, but beyond that she is given little to do, and it’s a shame because Calle is fantastic in the role. She gives a killer performance that makes a strong case for her to return in the future as this beloved hero. Fingers crossed that DCEU Part 2 will find a place for her.

Again, if you don’t know any more than I’ve said here about the plot, the cameos, or any of the many surprises that await you, it’s best not to be spoiled. The Flash is a blast with a game crowd and on the biggest screen you can get your ass in front of. It’s a lot better than any snarky tweet with a tiny little gif of footage would have you believe. It’s not perfect, and maybe a bit too long, but it looks and feels much more like a creative vision than a lot of recent superhero output. I trust that Gunn’s DCEU, even if it breaks away from this timeline, will keep a little of its spark.

But if we’re doomed never to get Man of Steel 2 (Man of 2teel?) perhaps we can have The Flash 2 (The Fla2h?) as a treat.

Directed by Andy Muschietti

Written by Christina Hodson, Joby Harold

Starring Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck

Rated PG-13, 144 minutes



I don’t have a firm opinion on the use of a certain actor’s digital image late in the movie, but in context I think it works and is done with respect. It’s a murky moral area to be sure, but declaring that you know the desires and intentions of a dead man who you’ve never met (‘he would’ve hated this’ is the passionate refrain) is far from the moral high ground so many Film Twitterers think it is. And it should be noted that at the time of publication of this review, all reactions to this cameo are based on a piece of pirated material taken by someone who used their phone in the theater. So shut up.

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