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‘The Flash’ (review)

“Run, Barry!”

The audience cheered at the beginning of our showing of Ezra Miller’s solo The Flash movie.

Directed by It and It: Chapter Two’s Andy Muschietti, 2023’s The Flash has a lot of good, some bad, and as the concept of multiverses seem to be de rigueur in pop culture, does a fair job of visualizing and explaining the various cameos, divergent flashpoints, time travel in the Speed Force. We even get a version of The Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill.

Just as Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered, Barry’s mother Nora Allen was also murdered.

The Flash seeks to answer what happens if you can prevent someone’s death in the past.

This action creates an alternate Barry, without super powers, that grew up with both of his parents. Prime Barry’s father has been in prison for years accused of his wife’s murder, and Bruce tries to help Barry exonerate him.

This reviewer has been a fan of what is now prologue, the DCEU, dating back to favorable if controversial positive feelings for both Man of Steel and Justice League. Ezra Miller’s first on screen appearance as The Flash was in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

I used to video tape episodes of the 1990 The Flash TV series starring John Wesley Shipp, hot off of the Batman ’89 summer. In my head, Shipp’s Flash and Keaton’s Batman occupied the same world, cellophane taped together from Elfman’s score for both. It is fair to say I was obsessed with this show, especially when Barry would hyper clean his apartment when someone came over, he would speed eat 12 pizzas or eat boxes of corn flakes out of a gigantic bowl at Flash speed. Those are practical things you would do with powers, and also the calories you would need to replenish at super speed.

Thankfully, as Grant Gustin also did on the CW’s now completed The Flash TV show (a show that brought Shipp back to my delight), there were speed cleaning and eating moments in the movie!

Is that what the movie is about?

No. But I will say that though Ezra Miller’s Flash seems socially awkward and on the spectrum a bit, their version makes a bit of sense living in the world seemingly created by Zack Snyder ten years ago.

For me, a lifelong Marvel guy that has an unhealthy side addiction to both Batman and Superman, the world of The Flash has also always appealed to me. It could be my high school Cross Country Captainship or it could be my other fascination with the horny book Fermata by Nicholson Baker based on freezing time that grabs my attention.

As a young Marvel fan, I was a closet DC fan and inside that closet was another smaller closet, with a Flash costume ring in it.

Why am I taking about my childhood so much?

The therapist says it helps, but the main reason is Michael Keaton’s Batman. The first movie I was ever dropped off at. The first time I got to see Batman for real on the screen. Burton’s Batman was and still is as important to everything we get to experience today from the MCU and beyond.

I was very young when Superman came out but that movie, sequels, and behind the scenes were on TV most of most of my life. Keaton’s Batmania was my world.

Even then, I didn’t agree with all of Burton’s creative choices but I can’t imagine my life with without that movie. The reverse makeup on Joker to make him look normal. Smylex. All of it.

In 2023, I overheard in line, “How much Keaton are we gonna get anyway”? I hadn’t thought of it, mostly because I thought we were seeing The Flash movie. But there he was, on the poster, with Kara Zor-El, Supergirl in a split billing on the art. My attitude at this point is most certainly “Sure, why not have what is essentially a dark haired Snyderverse Supergirl sharing some screen time with The Flash and this Batman.”

Also, maybe my inner dialogue was a little more like “How much Affleck are we gonna get, anyway”?

But in general, my pre-viewing attitude is one of gratitude. “Sure, why not?” is my blanket attitude that allows me to open my world to movies like Black Adam and the upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. I don’t really need to see these movies, but it’s not a waste of my time if I do.

My expectations for The Flash movie were genuine enthusiasm. For Barry, for Nora, for Central City. Sidebar, they did incorporate some Art Deco fonts and design elements that can be traced back to the look of Central City in the 1990 Flash. Burton’s Art Deco is doom and gloom. Central City’s Art Deco is more copper and brass, more Brill Building shine versus years of smog accumulating grime on heavy stone.

It is tough to be in the movie reviewing game in a blackout. I’ll even keep my discussions after the movie to myself to airlock my brain, but it is 2023 and some things are unavoidable. There were critics touting this as “The Best Superhero Movie EVER!” and the like. And I did see a clip previewing a version of Keaton’s Bruce Wayne that I didn’t appreciate at the time, but mostly, I kept my powder dry and my giant bowl of corn flakes not too soggy.

I will say, this is a good superhero movie, and better than most!

Best ever? Hold on there cowboy! I’ve just rewatched the Nolan trilogy (a multiverse not referenced, to my knowledge, in any other media). The Flash is good. The Flash may even be great, but this movie is not without its flaws. The flaws don’t kill it for me, because the flaws are buoyed by being true to Barry Allen and The Flash. The flaws are buoyed by the controversial leading actor playing two distinct versions of themselves, and the last time I thought that was done well was by Bane actor Tom Hardy in Legend, playing the infamous gangster Kray twins.

Let’s get some non-spoilers role call going here, as we are dealing with a multiverse story.

Some actors returned. Some didn’t. Some got paid and didn’t make the final film.

Starting with the Justice League, Ben Affleck’s Batman dons the Blue and Gray. His Batpod looked cool, but not realistic, not like the one in the Nolan movies certainly! The CGI on the cape, just bad and not good. Gal Gadot returns briefly, Cavill’s scene got cut, and Ray Fisher is still waiting for a big apology from Warner itself, even after returning for Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Man of Steel villain Michael Shannon returns as General Zod and his number one Antje Traue as Faora-Ul bring The World Engines back to destroy alternate Barry’s Earth.

Mutiverses are easy to explain, not easy to pull off. Exposition can get you there, and people aren’t that dumb. We geeks have read the classics and neo-classic tales of DC multiverse crises from Marv Wolfman to Geoff Johns to Grant Morrison.

DC fans have put up with Rebirths and Convergences and Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity. We may be too tainted by these things actually. The CW Flash dug right into this from the jump and for a good many seasons, it all made sense, and there were multiple Barry’s, Harrison Wells, 52 multiverses, Reverse Flashs’, etc. Even John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen and Jay Garrick.

What I am getting at is, you don’t need that stuff, and if you want it, go watch the show (most of the TV show). And that is a sincere recommendation!

Now we are getting into some spoiler territory here, but The Flash movie version of The Cosmic Treadmill is the Chronobowl. This 3D representation of inside the Speed Force after Flash travels faster than the speed of light is at both a great representation of the concept, but, I hated it. I hated how it looked. Sure, I am watching a fantasy movie about superheroes but this was disappointing to see video game renderings of our favorite scenes in the movie, spread out in a bowl of unending possibilities.

Billy Crudup had a scheduling conflict to return as Henry Allen, and maybe Ron Livingston is a better fit anyway, but I viscerally had uncanny valley reactions to 360 degrees of many Ron Livingston’s in the Chronobowl. Rehashing memories of Barry’s birthdays throughout the years as though you told an AI to generate them is just not a good look. The Chronobowl peak scenes, at the end of the movie with some unbelievable cameos from actors that are no longer with us, sure they looked good and decent and that was right. But hands down, The Flash as a movie needed to sink more money into the CGI because it made a good movie suffer and for no good reason.

This movie’s plot is loosely based on 2011’s Flashpoint series, but has been in development and even production hell for a long time. Morrison and star Ezra Miller were even working on versions of the script, and Andy Muschietti was not even close to being the first pick for director. I do enjoy the IT movies, and I do agree with most of the choices here in the film. It’s good! As with so many time travel movies, this alternate Earth has some quirks, like Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty McFly in their Back To The Future. And I did appreciate all of the Hollywood callouts that they meta-made in the movie to other movies and plot lines. Were I reading this as a comic, I might have chucked a few times out loud.

I was even faked out a bit, expecting to see a Red Son Superman, so clever when we find out that Russia was actually securing Kara Zor-El in a secure facility. This is the same cousin of Kal-El that we know and love. Except in this world, Zod declares “The Infant..Did Not Survive”.

Prime Barry has assembled a “Justice League of Their Own” (there’s plenty of crying in Justice) on this Earth, with Supergirl, a retired Bruce Wayne and has recreated the accident to give the other younger Barry powers.

In doing so, he loses his.

My latest appreciation for good comic book adaptations is being able to reverse engineer whatever crazy thing is going onscreen and think “If this was a comic, would I be entertained? How would they deal with this in the comics,” imagining this movie was a four or five issue story arc where Barry loses his powers, has to train and alternate version of himself how to use his, and his costume ring, and I am all about it.

The imagination of a comic writer and artist has no bounds so that is what makes these stories interesting and how they might need to churn out more product month after month.

Sure, send Barry to the moon this month. Now he’s back. Have him be late for work though!

This movie more than passes my comic book test. I’m satisfied with the story it told. Plus it has some added benefits. It starts to close the door on the DCEU. James Gunn gets to say, “OK that was all fun, but let me try something else here”. Much like Rebirth. Much like New 52. I do appreciate, perhaps, that Ezra Miller could possibly get an Elseworlds sequel, but it’s unnecessary.

There is a gigantic blowout fight at the end with Supergirl taking on Zod, Batman in his cool Batwing, and two Flashes taking out a Kryptonian army.

In the Chronobubble, a version of what I think of as Future Flash ‘Savitar’ (Flash TV Villian) also takes on the two Flash heroes. This is when all of the inevitability of fixed points in time really comes to a head. Storywise, I really have no complaints about how this movie was written. My complaints more lie with the CGI that I had mentioned before.

For the record and the person in line, we did get plenty of Keaton. I didn’t love his stunt double fight scenes, but I didn’t expect the 71 year old Mr. Mom to be dropkicked into a produce table in Wayne Manor’s kitchen. He’s great. He’s the same Bruce Wayne he was 34 years ago, just older. Gotham’s streets are clean. His ‘wonderful toys’ are hi-tech but have old red LED light countdown meters, like old alarm clocks. His utility belt has not only batarangs, but one of the funniest visual gags in any DC movie ever. It is so funny and self-referential that I refuse to spoil it, but It will be a constant talking point for me.

Ezra Miller’s performances as both Prime Barry and Barry Allen are flawless. Excited to get new powers Allen does a bunch of rookie mistakes, and Prime Barry, powerless, uses his genius to show real leadership and prove he is a member of the Justice League. In fact, he is the leader of the Justice League in this film. They carry the emotion of losing a parent and giving up everything to go back in time to make it right. Key things Ben Affleck’s Batman say to Prime Barry carry over as a theme to the end of the film. And the end of the film, as Gunn prepares to shut the door, drops some nice surprises. Wait until you see who is coming out of Central City’s lowest rated dive bar, Grayson’s.

I’m not much of a rater, but I think the enthusiasm (even mine for Man of Steel and the first Justice League taken into consideration) would land this at around a B+. It’s a good Flash movie. Miller is really great. Keaton. Affleck. Shannon. What more can I say, these actors all performed. The story, likely worked to death in the pandemic, was a good story. It passes my comic book reverse engineer test.

To my harsh criticism of the CGI, I actually do mind that Batman’s cape doesn’t look great. But I am happy about how the Batcave and the Batwing look. I wish that the Chronobubble was visualized differently, because as a story element it was solid. I just didn’t like looking at some of the movie. To modify a quote from Succession, as James Gunn takes over, “I just find it visually aggravating right now.”

But that doesn’t mean The Flash isn’t invited to Christmas dinner, or my inevitable re-watch of the ’89 Batman movie and sequels, which now is up to a five-movie weekend binge.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Barbara Muschietti, Michael Disco
Screenplay by Christina Hodson
Story by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, Joby Harold
Based on Characters from DC
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Starring Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston,
Maribel Verdú, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Ben Affleck. Michael Keaton

 

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