Can The Flash outpace its problems? After long delays, the Scarlet Speedster arrives laden with off-screen controversies at a time when the DCEU, multiverses (Spidey aside), and superhero movies seem to be losing some traction. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Barry Allen’s fitfully fun, fan-service-freighted headline act sometimes looks like an expanded universe imploding to ambitious but often messy effect.
True, much of It director Andy Muschietti’s superhero debut entertains and surprises (less so perhaps in the latter case, thanks to those pre-release reveals). The story has emotional stakes, honed by Christina Hodson’s multi-stacked script. But The Flash also suffers from too many under-integrated elements in the mix, often caving to excess.
Consider Ezra Miller, doubled up as Barry and an alt-timeline ‘bro Barry’-ish variant. When prime Barry discovers he can travel through time by running really fast, he visits a time before his mum’s murder and attempts to save both her and his imprisoned dad. In the event, Barry changes much more - the gags about altered '80s movies are nicely nerdy - and ropes slob-Barry into helping rectify matters.
Even without Miller’s off-screen troubles, The Flash would be Miller-heavy. A little of their mannered delivery goes a long way, and there’s a lot of it here. Nor are they strong on expressing vulnerability, which is a problem in a narrative that demands it.
The other supes fare better. Michael Keaton serves his comeback with an old pro’s measure, ensuring his pasta-based ‘Batsplanation’ of branching timelines lands nimbly (although he’s perhaps a bit too agile for a 70-year-old). Ben Affleck looks comfy in the Bat-boxers for once. The Batwing sees some action, lifted by pleasingly familiar soundtrack cues in a vigorous combat set piece. And as Supergirl, Sasha Calle dishes out bracing, if underused hits of Kryptonian aggro against (similarly underused) franchise foes.
Muschietti directs confidently, notably in an opening sequence that betters both Justice Leagues for fun. What’s less persuasive is the CGI, an eyesore that’s particularly gaudy when the finale’s ‘secrets’ drop. The tone is similarly choppy, especially in a climactic punchline that clashes with the film’s emotive developments. With just Aquaman’s return incoming, the result is a movie that suggests this DCEU had promise, even if its directors couldn’t quite focus it. Time to pass the baton…