Fine, I’ll be that guy. The Flash isn’t as bad as you’ve been led to believe. And I’ve gotta set the record straight. Read on for my thoughts…
Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is the fastest man alive. To the outside world, he’s an ordinary forensic scientist. But, secretly, he fights crime alongside an elite group of superheroes called The Justice League. Barry’s life is driven by one over-arching purpose: to exonerate his father for the murder of his mother. And he’s able to realize this goal when he discovers that he is fast enough to enter a mystical realm called “The Speed Force” and travel through time. Barry successfully saves his parents– but creates a more deadly future in the process.
Let’s address the Ezra Miller in the room: my thoughts on this movie or their acting ability will be taken separately from Miller’s many real-life crimes. I don’t believe it’s fair to disregard or bias myself against a film which HUNDREDS of people worked on, simply because the face of said film is a piece of work (to put it mildly).
Anyway– The Flash‘s cold open in Gotham city does a so-so job of preparing us for the film’s remainder. The tone is silly, the action is kinda cringey in execution (but has its moments), and the acting is flat– which isn’t true of most of the movie. I at least appreciated that the opening demonstrated a bright tone, good sense of humor, and an organic attempt to make The Flash part of a larger world.
I want to harp on that last point for a moment. Because The Flash succeeds where SO many superhero movies fail, in that it acknowledges and incorporates other heroes into its narrative. The Justice League aren’t ignored, or half-heartedly mentioned to remind people that this film is part of a universe. Various members of the team (Ben Affleck’s Batman especially) are actively used to comment on or support Barry Allen’s emotional journey. They’re his friends and colleagues and mentors.
Anyone who’s ever seen a time travel movie will tell you that trips to the past often have unintended consequences for the future. And Barry Allen is no fool. So why does he go back in the first place? Well, ’cause his life sucks. The film effectively showcases why Barry would rather risk the timeline than to go on living his life (with an incarcerated father– where he has no friends except for fellow superheroes and nobody else likes him). The problem is that Barry, in his hubris, was convinced that restoring his family unit would be the future’s only consequence if he was careful. Nope!
Though, interestingly enough, Barry doesn’t get to see the after-effects of his present day because he becomes trapped in time ten years early. Here he meets an 18 year-old version of himself who lived a distinctly different life to his own.
And here’s where I found the movie got interesting. Because The Flash pulled off a plotline I’ve never actually seen in a time travel movie, or a superhero film: the hero simultaneously received a compelling arc for their present AND an origin story in one go! This was a brilliant move on the writers’ part. ‘Cause audiences never got to see this Flash’s origin story, but we’re already half a decade into his journey. So here we get the best of both worlds.
Just don’t question the paradoxes of meeting your past self. Because Barry doesn’t understand them either. It’s a “turn your analytical brain off and go with it” type of deal. That’ll work more for some than others. It’s all fantasy anyway, so I didn’t really care.
Ezra Miller impressively creates two distinctive versions of Barry Allen. Neither of them is what I’d consider “comic accurate”, except maybe if you combined the two personalities… But I digress. These Barry Allens are compelling characters in their own right– the older one specifically. Barry maturely carries a great weight on his shoulders, and actively takes responsibility for his actions. He’s a genuine hero who wishes to help others. And his inquisitive mind constantly absorbs and analyzes information in the world around him like any good scientist.
My main issue with Barry is performative. Miller is great in the film’s serious/ emotional scenes, and imbues Barry with an earnest charm. But they’re too damn quirky the rest of the time. Miller’s portrayal of bumbling, social awkwardness became grating after a while. And the laugh which Miller gave young Barry was awful (even if it was for a joke). I also still hate the way Miller runs. They’ve got to keep it consistent by this point, but it never looked good to me.
That said, The Flash handles its titular hero’s powerset with aplomb! I love the way the film demonstrates the reality-warping nature of Barry’s speed, atom-by-atom interactions during his phasing, and his tornado-like cyclone powers. The team behind this film got creative in adapting these powers from the comics, and they’re visually magnificent.
Though it’s a double-edged sword because, for every great effect, there’s a mediocre one. And I don’t blame any of the crew, because their ideas were cool on paper. It’s just that the VFX team clearly wasn’t given the necessary time or budget to make its CGI clean across the board. There’s a lot more uncanny valley moments in The Flash than most superhero films (of late)– and it gets distracting.
NOTE: The worst offending moments for this were in “The Speed Force”, but those are actually the scenes I cared about the least. ‘Cause The Speed Force probably looks unnatural and off-putting to Barry Allen in-universe as well.
The highlight of this film is none other than Michael freaking Keaton as Batman! He effortlessly slips back into the role, and dominates every one of his scenes. Keaton’s Bruce Wayne perfectly rides the line between sane and unhinged, and his performance is a delight. It’s a DC fan’s dream to watch Keaton’s Batman do some of the things he did here.
Come to think of it, The Flash is a dream for DC fans in general! It’s a love letter to the franchise’s decades on film and television, with easter eggs galore. Some of these made me want to stand up and cheer, while others made me uneasy…
You’ve probably heard reports by now that The Flash features multiple cameos from long-deceased actors. This is one more example of Hollywood’s worrisome trend to revive the dead for nostalgia-points. And you might see it as a harmless-but-cool incorporation into this film, or a harbinger for a scarier and more insidious shift in our future entertainment. Hollywood ha proven it can visually and auditorily create cameos from the deceased, and they’re not gonna stop now. Prepare to see this a whole lot more.
NOTE: I’m firmly on the side of “Cut it out and let the dead rest in peace!”
The Flash contains some real shocks and awe! I couldn’t see where the plot would go, and I’m a fan of both the character AND the story on which this film was based. One of the more surprising elements to me was its lack of a big badguy. There were a few antagonists, but not who I was expecting. The director’s choices for these villains were bold though (I was sold on one more than the other).
I’m pleased to report that The Flash adequately resolves both Barry’s character arcs in satisfying ways. Some of those final moments are emotional and might even affect you (more for the main timeline version)!
I can’t say the supporting cast’s arcs were bad because they didn’t have any of note. Batman, Supergirl, Iris West, and Barry’s parents are all decent ideas for characters (well portrayed) but are only given the barest semblance of a story. They exist to move the plot forward and give us some action scenes. And I’m not especially upset by that in context, though they are a missed opportunity.
The Flash contains a solid narrative about the dangers and consequences of obsession. What do we become when we force round pegs into square holes? The film’s themes relate to me as a control freak (LINK) who desires to tailor his life more thoroughly than I can control. There are things we can change, and things with which we must learn to live.
The crew for this film did an outstanding job with their tasks! Andy Muschietti directed this thing incredibly, the costumers made some gorgeous outfits (Batman with long ears FTW), set designers crafted some great practical locations, and Benjamin Wallfisch composed a stand-out score.
The Flash‘s plot is packed to be sure. But it did not require 2.5 hours to tell its story adequately. At least 15 minutes could have been shaved off this run-time. The pacing is generally good, however, except for a few action sequences which dragged.
I also liked the generally upbeat tone, with some self-seriousness thrown in for good measure. The film-makers found a balance which other DC movies lack. Though I wish the jokes made me laugh more often. They ranged from cute to cringey but rarely prompted me to respond.
The Flash tackles a lot for the character’s first solo outing. And it accomplishes its task well, all things considered. This film is deeply flawed but also does a lot well. I had a good time with it.
You don’t have to race out to theatres, but The Flash is Worth a Watch.
IN-DEPTH ANALYSES OF THE ABOVE, AND MORE, ON THIS EPISODE OF CLOSE UP:
Should The Flash reboot with a new Barry Allen, or adapt Wally West? What did you think of The Flash? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,