‘The Flash’ Review: “DC Extravaganza Stops Just Short of Perfection”
What can be said about the troubled development of The Flash that hasn’t already been beaten to death? From an unprecedented outpouring of celebrities, including Tom Cruise no less, praising the film as one of the best of the genre and an odd number of free fan screenings that previewed an unfinished version of the movie, everything around The Flash sounded like a scandal. All pales in comparison to the behavior of its star Ezra Miller. The actor has faced a litany of allegations around their behavior, including, but not limited to, grooming and assault. This understandably has made a lot of folks ambivalent about supporting the film. Therefore, it’s important to note that this review is in no way an endorsement of Miller’s behavior.
Outside of the real-life factors that have made The Flash such a hotbed of controversy, narratively it sits in quite a precarious position. It serves as the bridge between the original DC Extended Universe and the forthcoming DC Studios slate spearheaded by James Gunn. On top of that, director Andrés Muschietti has made the decision to use this film to peer into the DC Multiverse. Most notably, The Flash features the return of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman for the first time in over 30 years. All the pieces are in place for a chaotic superhero disaster. And make no mistake, The Flash is chaotic. However, it harnesses that energy for a rousing adventure that comes close to nailing precisely what a DC Comics movie should be.
After the events of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Barry Allen (Miller) still struggles with the overwhelming power that moonlighting as super fast vigilante “The Flash” brings. An exhilarating opening sequence where Barry must assist Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) with evacuating a collapsing hospital sets the scene entirely for what The Flash has to offer. As Barry slows down time to think of a way to save a hospital full of babies plummeting towards the Earth, a madcap sensibility arises courtesy of Muschietti. The filmmaker aims to instill each scene with the neuroses of Barry himself. And how he handles it is often in totally hilarious, often visually stunning, splash page-esque ways.
Whether it’s true to comic book Barry Allen is debatable, the film’s sharply defined mess of a hero makes a hell of a first impression. Mourning the loss of his mother (Maribel Verdú) and his father’s wrongful incarceration for his death, Barry makes a bold play. He taps into the “Speed Force”, the source of his powers, to travel back in time to prevent his mother’s death. His antics leave him stranded in 2013, where he encounters an inexperienced younger version of himself (Miller). The initial concern is getting back to his own time. However, a ghost from the past – General Zod (Michael Shannon) – arrives to conquer Earth. No Superman in sight, the Barrys must turn to this universe’s very different Batman (Keaton) and Kryptonian prisoner Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle).
The script by Christina Hodson, combined with Muschietti’s snappy direction, zips along. The first act where we get to know Barry’s struggles in his universe as a forensic investigator plays well, with all the comedic beats landing because of Miller and company’s commitment. Although the visual effects fall into that cartoony/rubbery uncanny valley, Barry’s first traversal into the Speed Force is full of inspired design. When Barry time travels, the world around him resembles a sphere where people, objects, and moments in time are all infinitely multiplied. Words can’t do it justice.
Furthermore, when Barry finally arrives in 2013, The Flash kicks up another notch. The young, spacey stoner Barry is endearingly annoying, and he and the more anxiety-ridden current Barry have chemistry out the wazoo. It also provides Barry a chance to glimpse at his past, as we’re essentially seeing his origin for the first time on screen. Barry’s need to return “back to the future” (reference absolutely intended) gets many a wrench thrown into it; him losing his powers, him having to make sure his younger self gets powers, and Zod’s arrival all happen before there’s even a whisper of this Earth’s Batman.
Fear not, Batman shows up in glorious fashion. Keaton plays the role like he never left, with a strong sense of continuity from his earlier appearances. He’s evolved into a master tactician, the seasoned gearhead who can throw down fisticuffs that rival Batfleck and Battinson. As a critic, I must disclose I had a grin from ear-to-ear as Henry Braham’s roving camerawork and Benjamin Wallfisch’s grand score captured the smoothest dispatching of goons by a man dressed as a Bat we’ve possibly yet seen on film. Despite all my gushing, it’s important to note that this is less of a nostalgia play than it is another tool for Muschietti, and by proxy Barry, to further The Flash‘s insane journey.
The same goes for Calle’s excellent take on Kara Zor-El. She’s just as godlike and iconic as Henry Cavill’s caped crusader, with an additional dose of edgy brutality that works perfectly. DC Studios should no doubt consider her to lead Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow. Nevertheless, she and Keaton’s Bats are not the focus. The Flash is about putting Barry through the wringer in a funky journey that refuses to stop spiraling into trippy madness. “Fun and games” for audiences is the mission, and it’s mostly a direct bullseye. The gleeful spirit of DC events comics finally reaches the screen. So much so that for the better part of the film, I was certain this would be the best adaptation of DC Comics in live-action form.
It brings me no pleasure to report that the third act of The Flash‘s ambition exceeds what the film itself can catch up to. A battle with Zod’s men gets the job done, with plenty of fun action moments that can’t hide how visually unimpressive the airfield battle is compared to Man of Steel‘s own interpretation of events. Moreover, just as the battle is getting going the film lobs a way too late in the game twist at audiences that the filmmakers do not flesh out adequately. Before the crowd can catch their breath, a lot of (admittedly, very cool to see) finish-line cameos occur through extremely dodgy CGI techniques that, in some cases, resurrect dead actors in ghoulish ways.
And then, the film’s resolution happens. Another big twist. And it’s over. Now on paper, there’s nothing wrong with any of these developments. The issue is proper time is not given to really make them hit home, resulting in a scattershot finale and confusing post-credits sequence that ends things on a note far less confident than what came before. Regardless, none of it is outright terrible (well, the effects on some of those cameos maybe) and it definitely does not sour the preceding events.
Like its titular character, The Flash charges up its energy and explodes into a brilliant streak that goes by way too fast. It may also faceplant on itself at moments in the third act, much like Barry once again, but when it does so it does so spectacularly. Muschietti and Hodson are certainly voices that DC Studios would do well to keep around. The Flash is a rush unhampered by third-act tribulations due to an astounding energy and spirit of discovery. It’s a celebration of DC Comics as much as it is a show of what these movies can do when personality leads the way. After the myriad controversies the movie has, and will continue to endure, I can wholeheartedly recommend entering the Speed Force. – James Preston Poole
The Flash arrives in theaters on June 16th.
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