The Flash, 2023.
Directed by Andy Muschietti.
Starring Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck, Ian Loh, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Rudy Mancuso, Luke Brandon Field, Gal Gadot, and Jeremy Irons.
Barry Allen uses his super speed to change the past, but his attempt to save his family creates a world without superheroes, forcing him to race for his life to save the future.
Warner Bros. canceled and destroyed Batgirl because the film’s quality supposedly wasn’t up to standards, but the executives have the nerve to finish off this version of the DCEU by releasing hot messes like Black Adam and now the slightly less terrible The Flash. To clarify, that doesn’t mean I feel that this film should have been shelved due to star Ezra Miller’s highly problematic real-life behavior, which they have sought mental help to correct. No, it should have been canned because it doesn’t add anything useful to a dead cinematic universe. This time-traveling, multi-verse hopping tale is meant to reset the DCEU, but the reset button is apparently broken beyond repair. Beyond that, its only purpose is to profit from anyone who will gobble up the embarrassing nostalgia-pandering.
There was no way a blockbuster featuring the return of Michael Keaton’s Batman was getting banished into nonexistence, regardless of how lousy the movie turned out. That part is understood. However, while watching The Flash, what little here that does work comes from Ezra Miller working overtime in dual roles to elicit an emotional response, playing polar opposite versions of Barry Allen/the titular time-manipulating superhero. He messes around with the Speed Force, rewinding time to his childhood in an attempt to prevent his mother from being murdered. Everything else is white noise fan service that doesn’t register as anything beyond pointless action devoid of character-driven stakes, filled with horrendous CGI (an early scene sees The Flash slowing down time and saving CGI babies falling from towering heights outside the windows of a collapsed building, and while it’s a clever idea, it is scarring in execution).
The story is right there for director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Christina Hodson (Joby Harold also receives a screen story credit): a piece about tormented boys who went on to become superheroes, juxtaposed and imparting wisdom on one another. Michael Keaton can’t do much fighting anymore, but he can still put on the suit and act. The filmmakers don’t care about that side of him; he is thrust into the chaotic CGI mess, sticking out like a sore thumb, entirely misused. Perhaps it would be less jarring if the screenplay actually gave a damn about doing something with Bruce Wayne/Batman as a character. Instead, he startlingly knows a wealth of knowledge about multiverse rules, coming across as a plot device for the two Barrys to accomplish their goals.
Each Barry is played by Ezra Miller, as the version we know from Justice League is not only still looking for a way to prove his father’s (Ron Livingston) innocence in a court of law. The man was found guilty of murdering Barry’s mom, and the evidence absolving him isn’t clear enough. Deeply missing his mother, Barry ignores his universe’s Batman’s (Ben Affleck) insistence upon not messing with timelines and alternate universes, traveling back under the impression that if he changes that fateful day without directly interacting with his mom, all will be fine. These early scenes are easily the strongest in the movie, with director Andy Muschietti smartly weaving Barry’s superspeed abilities into moving dialogue exchanges. Before his imprisoned father hangs up the phone, he warps outside his childhood home for thoughtful, emotional gravitas.
Naturally, there are now two of him, with Justice League Barry encountering a version of himself that still has his mom and didn’t become a superhero, but rather a dimwitted slacker who, at times, is dumber than both Beavis and Butthead, also equipped with a grating laugh. This Barry is meant to be annoying and clueless, but one can’t help feeling that the filmmakers occasionally take it too far, to a point where the character and movie themselves become irritating. There is a fascinating dynamic here, somewhat asking what would happen if the most irresponsible version of someone became a superhero (they end up swapping powers while trying to fix the universe), which turns out to be something else the narrative never finds a way to tap into meaningfully. However, their interactions are admittedly funny sometimes.
Meanwhile, there is the invasion of Man of Steel‘s General Zod (Michael Shannon, who clearly couldn’t give the tiniest shit about being here, and no one can blame him), now in a universe with no Superman or Justice League to defend them against the alien threat. But it does have Michael Keaton’s Batman, hence the teaming up. There also appears to be a Superman captured and locked away in Russia, of all places, that the two Barrys and Batman set off to rescue, desperately hoping she will protect the world. This turns out to be Supergirl, played by Sasha Calle, who owns the role and rises above the dodgy special effects during her flashy fight scenes. Unfortunately, she is another dull character outside of that.
Man of Steel has a thrilling, all-timer showdown, so the proposition of redoing that with Supergirl is tantalizing but doesn’t work here, considering the lame build-up. When Henry Cavill’s Superman destroyed Zod’s terraforming device, Michael Shannon acted, delivering a terrifying facial expression of a being with nothing left to lose, kickstarting the one-on-one carnage. The epicness of that fight was palpable. Here, the final battle is an assemblage of CGI carnage with no emotional stakes for anyone besides the two Barrys. But by then, The Flash has gone and tried to cram in and do so much, simultaneously not doing enough, that even that is not as impactful as it should be.
Then there is The Flash‘s central theme, which couldn’t have been rehashed at a worse time in the cinematic landscape. Whereas Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse tackles origin stories and trauma from refreshing angles, the narrative here goes along with genre clichés that have made these stories tiresome. Ezra Miller is the only decent aspect The Flash has going for it, and I shudder to think how awful the movie would be without them. They are stuck with the impossible task of finding and conveying substance within nostalgia bait that fails every other character and the bigger-picture narrative.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com