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The Flash Review

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The Flash premieres in theaters on June 16, 2023.


Fresh, funny, and fast – The Flash is a good time at the movies. Director Andy Muschietti’s clear love of the character anchors the many refreshingly unique action scenes and twisty time-travel plot, never losing sight of Barry Allen’s powerful emotional journey. Though the story doesn’t necessarily justify its excessive fan service and the third act is a bit unwieldy, that doesn’t stop The Flash from being an earnest and entertaining superhero film – and one of the better efforts from DC in recent memory.

In a loose adaptation of the Flashpoint comic event that feels like a more focused version and worthy update to the 2011 source material, Barry rushes to use his newfound time-travel ability to undo the most traumatic event of his life: the murder of his mother when he was a child. Using Back to the Future-esque time travel rules, The Flash becomes a tale of two Barry Allens, two Batmans, and two versions of DC movie continuities colliding. What follows is a sincere and surprisingly humorous morality play where Barry must reconcile what his selfish, grief-stricken actions have wrought. It’s especially effective in telling a story that includes the Flash’s full origin without actually being a typical origin story movie.

It’s impressive that it still manages to get all of that across, because for a film called The Flash, there sure is a lot of Batman in it. Even though it indulges in unnecessarily long Batman action sequences and numerous overt references to the Tim Burton Batman films, they never overshadow Barry’s story. The two Batmans are contrasted to excellent effect to accent Barry’s plight, with Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight lamenting that scars shouldn’t be undone because they make us who we are, and Michael Keaton’s Caped Crusader admitting there is an allure to the idea of being able to undo all that pain. As men orphaned by violence as children they have a lot in common and thus provide Barry with juicy philosophical food for thought. For his part, Affleck seems more at home as Batman and Bruce Wayne than ever with a (very likely final) performance that’s all business and sadness with a perfectly measured dash of dry humor.

Affleck seems more at home as Batman and Bruce Wayne than ever.


Keaton, on the other hand, portrays an aged Bruce with an understated performance – too understated, at some points, almost as if he’s reluctant to rattle off his character’s most memorable lines (and some not-so-memorable ones seemingly just for the heck of it) for the nostalgia-hungry crowd. Keaton’s action scenes are the exact opposite, as we watch his Batman fight like never before thanks to modern special effects. On one hand, it’s cool to see him fling Batarangs and glide around like a bat out of Hell, but it’s also overly cartoonish when we all know that Keaton is in his 70s. It's enough to make you question why we'd ever need Batman Beyond when Senior Citizen Batman can kick that much ass. It feels like a missed opportunity to not acknowledge and explore how an older Bruce can still be Batman despite his age, especially because there's precious little substance to his character or motivation to begin with.

The Flash Trailer Images

Unfortunately, the Supergirl we meet in this mashed-up world feels more like a plot device than a fully fleshed-out character, and it’s sad to watch as her part in the story veers into cringey cliche territory. That said, actor Sasha Calle shines as much as she can given the thin nature of the role, and manages to make an impression with her disillusioned Kara Zor-El, who holds an understandable grudge against humanity.

All of those characters play major roles, but this is the first time we’ve seen Barry in a movie centered around him, and Muschietti takes care to showcase the hero’s signature powers in true blockbuster fashion. Whereas Zack Snyder rendered super speed in slow motion, Muschietti makes you feel the Gs from the the first time Flash strikes his admittedly dorky sprinting pose and takes off.

The Quicksilver sequence in X-Men: Days of Future Past remains the king of slow-motion speedster sequences.


At times, there’s an uncomfortable (yet silly) intimacy in how the Flash’s powers are depicted. We quickly see that having that kind of speed isn’t as easy as it looks, and learning how Barry navigates things like friction heat and what happens to your clothes when you phase through solid matter gives you an appreciation for how clever and resourceful he is. The Quicksilver sequence in X-Men: Days of Future Past remains the king of slow-motion speedster sequences, but The Flash offers up a new one that certainly gets credit for its inventiveness. It’s a frankly ridiculous situation, but that doesn’t stop it from having genuine moments of horror among the humorous ones.

While a majority of the visual effects are superb, one in particular is not. Time travel is portrayed using a concept unlike anything we’ve seen before – and credit where it’s due for that originality – but when this “chrono bowl” (yes, that’s what they call it) depicts people, they look like eerie wax dolls with plastic hair, as if the CGI render was shut off halfway through. Given that a handful of important scenes take place there, and they ask for a lot of emotional investment from us, the distracting look ends up robbing certain big moments of their intended impact. Let's just say it didn’t bowl me over.

Nothing can quite prepare you for the blast from the past that is returning to the era of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.


It’s obvious going in that The Flash deals with time travel, but nothing can quite prepare you for the blast from the past that is returning to the era of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel from 2013. It feels strange revisiting these events 10 years later, yet that ends up working to The Flash’s advantage as Barry begins to notice how things have changed in this timeline. In ways big and small, this story feels like a parting love letter to the Snyderverse, as it plays with the many toys the DCEU has introduced over the years and adds a new layer to that foundational film, and in doing so expands on Barry’s superhero journey in a profound way. Only James Gunn and Peter Safran know what’s in store for the future of the DC Universe, but if this is truly the last in-universe chapter of the Snyderverse as we know it then it’s a fitting swan song because it brings things full circle. (Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is technically part of the Snyderverse but comes after what Gunn described as a “reset” of the DC Universe in The Flash.)

All of this leads up to one of the most ambitious and unwieldy third acts we’ve seen in a superhero movie in quite some time. The amount of chaos – both in action and storytelling – that unfolds threatens to overwhelm and confuse, and at times it does, but it ultimately succeeds because it manages to keep Barry’s arc at the heart of it all.

It ultimately succeeds because it manages to keep Barry’s arc at the heart of it all.


That’s owed to the fact that Barry Allen is the most impressive part of The Flash, and why it all works so well. By having Barry meet his younger self, a version of him who was never traumatized the way he was, it helps us better understand what makes him tick and where his peculiar personality comes from. Barry doesn’t start off as the most likable character, but by the end it’s hard not to root for him. We see the ways in which grief affected his life, from his non-existent social life to the way he defies the system at his forensics job to ensure proper justice is carried out.

Actor Ezra Miller excels in this double role, offering two dramatically different looks at the same character. One of the most affecting scenes of the film is just Barry having a passionate argument with his younger self. Muschietti brings in a delightful, off-beat sense of humor and Miller proves they have the comedic chops to deliver it, taking all-too-familiar superhero story ideas and upending them into laugh-out-loud moments or creative action scenes. Yet the superhero theatrics are all in service of an intimate story about the pain of grief and the strength it takes to find acceptance, and in those moments of vulnerability Miller shines just as bright.

Verdict

The Flash is an ambitious superhero movie that largely pulls off its tale of two worlds, two Flashes, and two Batmans. The superhero fan service is strong with this one – perhaps too strong at times – but it never fully overshadows Barry Allen’s genuinely tragic and heartfelt story of grief. Though the visual effects aren’t always the best and the third act is a bit overwhelming, strong performances and a refreshing earnestness keep The Flash on track and running circles around many of the recent DC Universe movies. If this is the truly last stop on the Snyderverse express, then it’s a respectable way to go out.

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