Just as Barry Allen wants to run fast enough to escape his past trauma, Warner Bros. is hoping The Flash is good enough to run away from Ezra Miller’s bad headlines. While some are going to give this film the side-eye the whole way, judging it based on the studio’s decision rather than the craft of it, I’m not going to do that. The Flash, after years of false starts, rewrites, reshoots, one imploded Snyderverse, and a star who isn’t even available to do press, arrives with a lot of weight on its shoulders and even more hurdles to overcome. The result is predictably disjointed and messy coming out of such a problematic production, but it’s not enough to slow down a genuine love for the character, a ton of fun surprises, and just the right balance of humor and heart.
If you can believe it, Miller’s Barry Allen is even more neurotic than he was in Justice League when he was just a newbie alongside the veteran heroes. Barry has accepted his place as the “janitor” of the team, racing from city to city cleaning up their messes. A better job is done of putting us into Barry’s headspace. Living a life at superhuman speed means the world around you is painfully slow by comparison. Barry’s metabolism runs at superhuman levels, too, and waiting for his much-needed calorie rush sandwich is a funny kind of nightmare, pushing his patience to the breaking point.
The big opening sequence involves a collapsing hospital and a literal downpour of babies from the nursery. While the CGI is a bit dodgy here and in other places, as well, it’s also kind of funny in a Naked Gun sort of way to see Flash racing to pluck the falling newborns out of the sky, even putting one in a microwave. Frank Drebin would’ve been proud! It’s a scene that resembles the remarkable Quicksilver sequences from past X-Men flicks, while lacking in their slickness and style. What it does show is Flash’s quick thinking and quirky way of solving problems, which would become the catalyst for the adventure ahead.
Barry continues to be obsessed with the fate of his father (Ron Livingston), who he knows was wrongfully convicted in the murder of his mother (Maribel Verdú) years earlier. Working as a police forensic investigator, Barry keeps looking for evidence that will set his father free. But more than that, he becomes stuck on the idea of fixing things. And when he discovers he can literally race backwards in time, he ignores sage wisdom from Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, waving farewell to the Caped Crusader role) not to meddle with the past. It’s their traumas who make them who they are now. Barry doesn’t care, though, and an encounter with reporter/longtime crush Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) convinces Barry to fix his personal timeline and live the happy life he believes he should’ve always had.
The Flash draws heavily on Back to the Future tropes, even going so far as to use the film as a punchline mixing up Michael J. Fox and Eric Stoltz. It’s a crowd-pleasing combo, mixing the nostalgia for that film with superheroics, especially when Barry screws things up royally by encountering his younger, less responsible self, also portrayed by Miller. This version of Barry doesn’t have powers. Nobody in this reality seems to, which makes things difficult when General Zod (Michael Shannon) returns to Earth on the same day he attack during Man of Steel, the film that launched the now-defunct Snyderverse.
Of the many treats this film has to offer, one is the return of Michael Keaton as Batman, albeit a much older, somewhat eccentric version from the Tim Burton movie we all remember and love. The other is Sasha Calle as Kara Zor-el, aka Supergirl, who is the only Kryptonian on the planet until Zod and his minions show up. The two Flashes must team up with them to put an end to Zod before he terraforms the planet and destroys all of humanity.
Screenwriter Christina Hodson has a lot on her plate with this one. The Flash has to find a way to juggle a lot of time travel mumbo-jumbo while doing the one thing a movie about the Scarlet Speedster should never do, and that’s slow down. Unfortunately, the film does get bogged down in A LOT of exposition, especially in the first hour. Barry connects with the Speed Force while running, and for those who don’t know what it is, it can be confusing. There is also another being that seems to be standing in his way, a monstrous figure blocking his complete access to the Speed Force.
That said, when the action kicks into gear it’s damned impressive. Keaton is fantastic, reminding us why he is still considered by many to be the best Batman. He slips back into the role easily, impresses in the physical fights of which there are many, and even gives us the one-liners we nerds are eager to hear. Calle also makes a case for herself to stay as Supergirl for the long haul with her performance as the ambiguous Kryptonian. Questions swirl around whether Supergirl is actually a hero in this reality or not, and Calle plays the portrayal perfectly without giving too much away.
And of course, there’s Ezra Miller. They have been The Flash‘s biggest supporter right from the beginning, and Miller knows the character through and through. The awkward, nervous tics, the rough-around-the-edges social demeanor, Miller nails it. Those hoping his Flash will come to resemble what Grant Gustin brought in the Arrowverse series won’t find it here. Miller makes the role their own…actually, makes both roles their own. The two versions we get of Barry Allen are wildly different; one an experienced neurotic and the other who is more like a stoned refugee from a Seth Rogen movie.
This is the most colorful, vibrant DC movie yet by far. Muschietti and his team have never forgotten that this movie should be a roller coaster blast first, and not a sad, depressing hero journey. The effects when Flash is speeding through the city or into battle are an explosion for the senses, capturing the fun and freedom of moving faster than the speed of thought.
The Flash is imperfect. It packs in a ton of story, and I would argue that the final battle overpowers you with fan-service nonsense that many casual moviegoers won’t come close to understanding. For some, these surprises and shock appearances will elicit gasps of awe in the moment, but they don’t actually add anything to the story. In fact, if you’re like me they’ll make you think about the things that were deliberately excluded. But The Flash is undeniably a thrill and one of the best DC Comics movies out there, with a real love for the character obvious in every single frame. Will it make you forget everything going on behind the scenes? Probably not. But if that’s a concern for you then you probably weren’t going to see the movie, anyway.
The Flash opens in theaters on June 16th.