- Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton
- Andy Muschietti
- Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Superhero
- Release date
- June 16, 2023
Making his first appearance in 1940’s The Flash no. 1., The Scarlet Speedster has been through many iterations and has been seen in a multitude of mediums. Yet, it has taken the better part of a century for the character to get his own film.
After a conceptually interesting yet horribly rendered and otherwise irrelevant opening action sequence, we find out that Barry’s (aka The Flash) dad, who years before was wrongfully convicted of his wife’s/Barry’s mother’s murder, is up for “another parole hearing.” Normally, The Flash wouldn’t hold much hope for his father’s release; however, thanks to some fortunate Wayne tech, the key piece of evidence that could clear his name, a heretofore scrambled video from a grocery store’s surveillance system, has been repaired. Unfortunately for him and our titular character, Barry’s dad is wearing a ball cap, and his face is never seen on film.
This revelation sends The Flash down memory lane, and we see the details of his mother’s murder. Then, in a burst of speed brought on by the unhappy memories, Barry finds that he can travel through time. So, after choosing to ignore advice on the matter given to him by Ben Affleck’s Batman, he launches himself, Delorean-style, backward through time, intent on saving his mother’s life and his father from a lifetime of incarceration.
This has the unfortunate yet predictable side effect of creating an alternate timeline/universe with a significantly different timeline than the one he remembers.
Largely relying on coincidence and magical MacGuffins to further the plot at key moments, The Flash is far from breaking any new ground in the emerging big-budget sci-fi multiverse subgenre. In fact, as a plot device, Barry’s new and nearly effortless ability to travel through time presents as many cinematic problems as it does opportunities.
The film lacks much emotional cohesion, as we’re not given enough time or enough of a reason to care about the characters that drive most of the plot. Further, thanks to the time/multiverse-traveling plot device, any feelings that are engendered by the events or characters in it are largely rendered meaningless by the film’s end.
While, as a matter of nostalgia porn, it was wonderful to see Michael Keaton suit up once again as Batman, younger viewers have no reason to connect with this specific iteration of the character emotionally. It’s clear that this left the filmmakers feeling pressured to manufacture an arc for him in the hopes of generating that connection. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work. Instead, it feels rushed and as artificial as most of the film’s CGI (and Keaton’s wig) looks.
Keaton’s Batman isn’t the only character that suffers from the rushed yet simultaneously bloated second act. Sasha Calle’s Supergirl is shoehorned in with a character arc that needed an entire film to be properly developed but was condensed into four minutes spread across two or three scenes.
These rushed character arcs had the unfortunate effect of forcing the audience to accept a slue of illogical actions and elements. For instance, if Supergirl has been locked up and hidden away from most human contact since her crash landing on Earth and has never been exposed to the English language, how is it that she speaks English (it’s made clear that it’s not thanks to her hearing)? Also, if scientists are studying her, why was her super suit left in the room with her instead of being in a laboratory somewhere? These are only a couple of seemingly minor yet numerous logical inconsistencies that add up to serve as distractions from the overall narrative.
In an almost 2.5-hour film, many of these issues could have been eliminated by simply swapping in Henry Cavill’s Superman and eliminating Keaton’s Batman having given up crimefighting. The character of Batman is well established enough on its own that younger audiences would have connected with him, even though Keaton’s inclusion would have been meaningless to them unto itself, and Cavill’s Superman wouldn’t have needed any forced backstory to have an emotional reason to fight Zod. It would have saved at least thirty minutes and made for a much tighter and better-paced film.
That being said, the performances are all serviceable. Ezra Miller plays two different Barry Allens simultaneously, one 18 and one 20-something. His seasoned 20-something is an often dour fellow who, even though he’s one of the most powerful and respected (if not by The Justice League) beings on the planet, continues to suffer from his inability to connect with people, often stuttering and fumbling like a befuddled 90’s Hugh Grant character without the charm or charisma. There are also a number of brief moments in which Miller seems disconnected from a particular scene’s emotional through-line, and one wonders if these aren’t the result of the numerous reshoots reported to have taken place as recently as January of this year.
The mirror image of the dour Barry, 18-year-old Barry is a drug-addled borderline moron who takes nothing seriously… until the movie needs him to. Then he suddenly switches gears after a single conversation. Generally speaking, young Barry’s character is exactly and conveniently what the film needs it to be to further things along at any given time.
Sasha Calle does her best with very little. She’s neither distractingly bad nor explosively engaging, and she’s not given enough screen time to develop in order for us to tell if she is better than the weak material she’d been given.
That brings us to Michael Keaton. Even though his character is given a weak and unnecessary arc, Keaton slips into Batman/Bruce Wayne like Michelle Pfeiffer into a catsuit. At 41 years Ezra Miller’s senior, Keaton’s performance is easily the most effortless, natural, and energetic in the film.
Keaton’s performance notwithstanding, in a film with a production budget in the neighborhood of $220 million, one would expect this superhero summer tent pole film to be a special effects feast for the eyes. It is not. While the designs are excellent, so much so that they often make up for the dismal execution, the digital effects are among the worst in recent film history. It’s as though the technical expertise and limits of 2003 traveled backward in time with The Flash to give us effects that the uncanny valley’s drunk uncle puked up. Whether it’s nightmarish-looking babies falling through the sky or time-traveling pocket universes, the team responsible for The Flash’s CGI has set the new benchmark for ineptitude in their field.
No help to the film’s overall aesthetic, the cinematography is adequate if uninspired. No stranger to big-budget special effects-laden films, cinematographer Henry Braham, most recently known for his work on Guardians of The Galaxy 3, spends much of the film doing little more than pointing and shooting. One notable exception is the titular speedster’s first exhibition of speed. Still, this scene being virtually entirely CGI, one is left to wonder if the sequence’s interesting look and feel was one of the art department instead of Braham’s input.
As a side note, there’s a not insignificant amount of cursing in this PG-13 film, including but not limited to a single f-bomb. Virtually every curse seemed out of place and was an unnecessary distraction from an already busy film.
A key criticism, one that best embodies the inherent issues with The Flash’s narrative, is that its main antagonist, with the exception of a blink-and-you-miss-it moment early on, is only truly introduced in the closing minutes of the film and is on screen for fewer than five minutes before he is dealt with, and then mostly via exposition dump.
None of this is to say that The Flash doesn’t offer up a couple of fun or emotionally impactful moments. Barry’s interactions with his mother come across as sincere and tug the intended heartstrings for anyone who has lost someone close to them. Furthermore, there’s a brief cameo that will almost certainly choke up fans of the genre who are of a certain age and others that can’t help but make you smile.
When the credits roll and the third-rate after-credit scene blessedly comes to an end, most of The Flash just sort of exists and will take you from A to B without necessarily boring you, but it won’t move you either. It’s worth renting once, but little more.
Disclaimer: If the news stories are to be believed, it’s pretty clear that Ezra Miller is a deeply troubled man and likely a dangerous criminal. That being said, this film’s principal photography was wrapped before accusations of Miller’s alleged conduct were known. Furthermore, we rate movies on their own merits independently of what is going on in the background.
- For some reason, Barry’s mom is now Spanish, even though Ezra Miller is of Ashkenazi Jewish, Dutch, and German descent.
- I thought that it was verboten/racist for a person (especially a white person) to play an ethnicity of which they were not in real life. How exactly does Miller get a pass?
- Everything about Supergirl’s inclusion in place of Superman.
- Her ethnicity checked off one DEI box while her gender did another.
- Barry Allen is a whiny beta male when it serves the narrative or sets up a joke.
- Barry Allen, in the comics (at least in the comics from years past) was assertive and brilliant. This Barry Allen is inexplicably mealy-mouthed.
James Carrick is a passionate film enthusiast with a degree in theater and philosophy. James approaches dramatic criticism from a philosophic foundation grounded in aesthetics and ethics, offering insight and analysis that reveals layers of cinematic narrative with a touch of irreverence and a dash of snark.