Warner Bros.’ long-delayed DCEU entry, The Flash, finally breaks through the Speed Force and heads into theaters. Multiple reshoots and controversies regarding star Ezra Miller have taken up oodles of space on social media but now, at long last, the actual film. WB has been holding many fan screenings this past month to drum up interest. While some may have wondered why the film wasn’t shelved after bad optics of the film’s star made headlines, the truth is, that was never going to happen. Will Miller return for a sequel? Who knows, but one thing is sure: The Flash is a good movie. Some might say, very good.
Part Back to the Future time travel tale, many parts cameos, and Easter eggs à la Spider-Man: No Way Home, there’s much to admire onscreen. Reportedly, the film snagged the best test screening scores ever for any DCEU. This is to say, as a crowd pleaser, like this year’s Super Mario Bros. Movie, The Flash is, for (the most part) an enjoyable ride. The script by Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey) is inventive, and the cast, which includes Michael Keaton and Sasha Calle, is terrific. If only the direction by Andy Muschietti (It Part 1 and 2) was more refined. Still, I doubt most casual moviegoers will care when being dazzled with plenty of “OMG, I can’t believe that star showed up” nostalgia throughout a fast-paced 120 minutes.
As the tagline suggests, “worlds collide” when Barry Allen (Miller) decides to use his speed to go back in time to save his mother, Nora (Maribel Verdú), from tragedy. Even though his mentor Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck), warns him of the dangers of changing history, Barry goes through with it. Eventually, Barry finds himself stuck in the past, so he’ll need Marty McFly himself back to the, well, you know. A clever use of a lightning storm near the bat cave is an inspired take on BTTF’s finale.
Like Robert Zemeckis’ trilogy, Barry winds up on his quest alongside a younger Barry. Teen Barry (also played by Miller) is the GenZ goofball to adult Barry’s neurotic Millennial. This pairing is the heart of the film. How do we contend not only with our past mistakes but learn from them? The wrong performance could sink such a heart on its spandex premise, but Miller shines. (I have no clue how anyone prefers Grant Gustin’s bland performance from CW’s Flash series to any moment Miller is onscreen.) Offscreen antics notwithstanding, Miller has always delivered a balance of manic energy and genuine pathos in films: We Need to Talk About Kevin and Perks of Being a Wallflower. Miller delivers a Barry akin to being the Peter Parker of the current DCEU.
Visually, every moment Flash uses his powers is dazzling. Whether he’s phasing through walls to sneak two beers from his neighbor, creating a spherical time loop, or just blasting through Gotham City, the FX work impresses. On the other hand, many of those rumored cameos are also CGI with face renderings worse than a PS3 character model. My guess would be the visual effects like Flash’s powers have been worked on for years while the uncanny valley moments were recent. Like Cavill’s terrible “erased” mustache in Joss Whedon’s Justice League, don’t blame the artists put on ridiculous deadlines. Blame the creatives who demanded so much in so little time.
Though my review is mostly spoiler-free, it should surprise no one that’s seen the trailers who the main cast comprises, namely, two Barrys, two Batmans (Affleck and Keaton), and a brand new Supergirl (Calle).
I’m happy to report that Keaton is in most of the film. His big entrance is wonderfully weird, almost a fun rehearsal for his upcoming Beetlejuice sequel. Several callbacks to the Burton era’s art direction are appreciated but not overdone. If we’re comparing Miller’s relationship with the Bat to Tom Holland in the Spidey flicks, both Keaton and Affleck are more Tony Stark than Stephen Strange.
Once Keaton dons the batsuit, you’ll be reminded why the iconic outfit has evolved to the more flexible Pattinson one in The Batman. Keaton in the suit is a showstopper, but that rubber torso looks cumbersome. It’s obvious Keaton liked his scenes out of the suit more. We get it, Bruce.
Newcomer Sasha Calle IS Kara Zora-El, aka Supergirl. From the moment she puts on the Kryptonian symbol for hope, there’s a weight to her performance, never seen for this character in live-action until now. I liked Melissa Benoist’s plucky energy on the CW’s Supergirl, but this version of Kara has more Cavill intensity. You’ll totally believe they’re cousins. It’s a testament to how good her performance is that even with the least screen time (compared to Barry and Bruce), I nearly teared up in one of her near-wordless scenes. She’s the breakout of the film—100%.
The score by Benjamin Wallifisch (Blade Runner 2049) is bombastic when needed, but it excels more in the quieter moments to accentuate Barry’s PTSD-level trauma. Trackwise, using 70s and 80s hits is an odd fit. I’m never going to not wanna hear Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” but I don’t feel any connection with any of the characters onscreen. Are they fun needle drops? Sure, but we’re not talking Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 1, 2, or 3-level greatness. Speaking of Star Lord’s MCU movies, cinematographer Henry Braham shot the last two Guardians of the Galaxy films as well as Gunn’s DCEU entry, The Suicide Squad. As mentioned before, along with the visual FX, the use of colors, particularly gold and red, are fantastic eye candy, yet too often gets blurred among the CGI slug.
The costumes by Oscar winner Alexandra Byrne are one of the film’s highlights. Supergirl’s outfit’s texture is based on James Acheson’s Man of Steel attire. Oscar winner Colleen Atwood’s work on CW’s Supergirl maybe also have informed the look as Benoist’s later seasons ditched the comic book skirt in favor of way more functional pants. (Fittingly, Atwood’s work on Burton’s Batman costumes is faithfully recreated.) There’s also a fun cobbled-together outfit for GenZ B, as a strange, fun hybrid of Flash and Batman.
Yet even with all this going for it, director Muschietti is still not a filmmaker who delivers A-range work. He makes sense on paper as the current pick from WB to helm such a tentpole release since he has a talent for dealing with heartfelt parent/child issues. But he also can’t say no to some silly broad humor. The big finale has great moments, yet again, a generic vibe comes through, similar to what happened in the IT films. Given what I’ve seen in this regard, I can only wonder what the Earth’s Flash movie from a different universe would be like were it directed by Back to the Future’s Bob Zemeckis (once rumored for this film). It may have worked out better. No doubt, alongside getting a BTTF with Eric Stolz. Ah, to dream…
Keeping the goofy humor as well as the strong lead performances in mind, The Flash is more of a “fun movie” than “great cinema,” but that’s okay, right? Now bring on Supergirl’s film!