DC Comics' super-speedy superhero gets his own silver-screen adventure, which goes big on time travel and fan service.
June 14, 2023
If DC Studios could live life like it's a Cher song, would it turn back time to erase the DC Extended Universe, setting itself on an entirely different path instead? With new co-head honchos James Gunn and Peter Safran wrapping up the underwhelming franchise — after 2023's films, The Suicide Squad director and producer are replacing the DC Comics on-screen realm with a new movie saga just called the DC Universe — the answer is likely yes. Does DC Studios regret having to release The Flash, which gives the character played by Ezra Miller since 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice his own feature, arrives after their past few years of controversies and legal troubles, and comes with a jumping-backwards focus? It must've been better for the bottom line to let the picture flicker before audiences, rather than ditching it after it was finished as happened with Batgirl; however, the response there about lamenting Barry Allen's latest big-screen stint might also be in the affirmative.
As was the case with Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and could also be with the DCEU's upcoming Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, a feeling of futility buzzes through The Flash. Plenty happens, featuring an array of caped crusaders and more than one version of Barry, and yet all that tights-wearing sound and fury might signify nothing in the scheme of all things DC. Movies have never needed sequels or franchises to gift their existence a spark. Increasingly, the opposite occurs. Instalment after instalment in ever-sprawling cinema universes are dragged down by being exactly that: a series instalment, rather than their own films. And The Flash does frequently try to be its own feature, but it's also firmly tied to being part of a pop-culture behemoth while eagerly worshipping superhero history. The blatant and overdone nostalgia, the already-announced returns and still-surprise cameos, and the now-overused multiverse setup that assists in linking its narrative together — it all rings empty when it proves so disposable, as the dying DCEU is.
Living with your choices, and facing the fact that you can't always take back mistakes and fix traumas, does fittingly sit at the heart of The Flash's narrative, though. While the Barry (Miller, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore) that audiences have also seen in Suicide Squad, Justice League and Shazam! enters The Flash calling himself "the janitor of the Justice League", answering Alfred's (Jeremy Irons, House of Gucci) calls to clean up Batman's (Ben Affleck, Air) chaos offers a handy distraction from his family situation. Understandably, he's still grief-stricken over his mother's (Maribel Verdú, Raymond & Ray) murder. He's also struggling to prove that his incarcerated father (Ron Livingston, A Million Little Things) wasn't the killer. Cue messing with the space-time continuum, using his super speed to dash backwards to stop his mum from dying — and, as Bruce Wayne warns, cuing the butterfly effect.
Back to the Future devotees know what follows when someone tinkers with the past. The Flash director Andy Muschietti (IT, IT: Chapter Two) and screenwriter Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)) count on viewers being familiar with the consequences, and with the Michael J Fox-starring 80s classic. Amid navigating various iterations of its protagonist and, as revealed in its trailers, getting Michael Keaton (Morbius) back in the cape and cowl as the Dark Knight three decades after the last Tim Burton-helmed Batman flick — plus finding time for Supergirl (Sasha Calle, The Young and the Restless) — this DCEU entry splashes around its broader pop-culture nods with gusto. Given that was Gunn's tactic in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy movies, right down to also mentioning Kevin Bacon and Footloose, perhaps Barry might have a DCU future after all? Whatever happens, The Flash's riffing on and namechecking other beloved films isn't its best trait. There are multiples of much in this movie, which includes multiple ways to slather on fan service.
Virtually retracing Marty McFly's footsteps involves that extra Barry, the younger and more OTT of the two — the one aiding the OG Barry in seeing why people can find him a bit much, in fact. It also inspires the comeback of Superman's Kryptonian foe General Zod (Michael Shannon, George & Tammy), as the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ripple through an alternate timeline. Yes, every superhero saga has become a multiverse saga, everywhere and all at once. The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps leaning in, while the Spider-Verse films embrace the idea in every gorgeously animated frame. Reuniting with a past Batman was always going to play like a Spider-Man: No Way Home wannabe, but The Flash isn't helped by hitting cinemas so soon after Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, aka the current gold standard in multiple everything, spandex-clad saviours in general and franchise fare.
It was true when Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland were all webslinging in the one film, and it's true now with Affleck and Keaton being oh-so-serious here: teaming up past and present takes on the same figure in the same feature can smack of refusing to cut ties with history. That's what nostalgia is all about, of course, and it clashes glaringly with what The Flash endeavours to teach its red-suited namesake. As Barry attempts to protect, nurture and heal his inner child — rather literally — the movie advocates for ultimately accepting life's hardships and moving on. Then it has more and more recognisable faces pop up, including some grave-robbing choices using woeful special effects. With its routine fan-baiting multiverse antics, the picture keeps finding additional ways to ring empty.
A film that adores all that's gone before, but exists in the waning days of a dissipating saga. A feature with little future path and too much fondness for the past. A reminder that life goes on that epitomises that very fact within the movie business, yet can't live and breathe it within its frames even as its narrative sings that notion's praises. That's The Flash — and it's also a picture made better by Miller's convincing dual turns, especially when they're at their most vulnerable and melancholy, and particularly when they're on-screen twice in the same scene. It benefits from Keaton's subtlety in an appearance that's anything but within the story, and from Muschietti's eagerness to amuse through the flick's strongest action scenes, as seen in quite the baby shower. Pondering playing god and its repercussions, it also owes a debt to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, as almost everything does. Feeling like disparate pieces that don't stitch together to make the best whole isn't what The Flash was aiming for, however, but it's what's been zapped into cinemas.
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