There was, at one point, a question over whether Ezra Miller, who is in practically every frame of this hilarious and frequently sublime DC super-hero-saga, would return to the franchise as The Flash, after a number of accusations. All I’m qualified to say is that 30 year-old Miller, in a double role, has never been more versatile, iconic or touching, and that their (Miller is non-binary) chemistry with Michael Keaton, making a much-hyped return as one of the multiverse’s Batmans, is cause for cartwheels.
Miller plays insecure forensic scientist Barry Allen, a man haunted by the murder of his mother Nora (Maribel Verdu). Our hero is equally frazzled when in super-speedy mode. As alter ego The Flash, he’s over-stretched and routinely carries the can for Batman (Ben Affleck, genuinely impressive as a dysfunctional mardy bum) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot; wearing her trademark luminous smirk).
But then Barry decides to put his own needs before those of the world, using his super speed –aka Speed Force – to tweak the past and, as a result, ensure that Nora doesn’t die. To his horror, in this alternate universe, he exists alongside his cosseted, long-haired, 18 year old self, who I’ll call Blithe Barry (Miller, again). Worse, as a result of Barry’s meddling, the world no longer contains superheroes and a lunatic Kryptonian, General Zod (Michael Shannon, reprising his role from Snyder’s Man of Steel, keep up), is able to run amok. Soon Barry and Blithe Barry are looking for this universe’s Batman, which is when Keaton happens.
Age 71, Keaton is more quirkily insouciant than ever, albeit in that disarmingly brittle way which suggests he understands what it means to feel broken. He and the filmmakers, It director Andy Muschietti and Christina Hodson, the British screenwriter behind Birds of Prey, seem determined to bridge the gap between the legendary Tim Burton films and Birdman, Alejandro Inarritu’s Oscar-winning, meta shake-down of all things heroic. What we witness here is nostalgia to the power of ten, plus nuance.
Throw in Superman’s cuz ie Sasha Calle’s Supergirl (earthy and unearthly in just the right way), an incredibly poignant performance from Verdu, and a string of visually scrumptious set-pieces (imperilled babies falling from the sky! Blithe Barry accidentally turning into a flasher! Shocking deaths! Batman looking seriously old!) and you have all the ingredients for an epic tragi-comedy.
Admittedly, sometimes things get cloggy. One sequence involving endless incarnations of Superman (as played by various actors, including Christopher Reeve and Nicolas Cage) feels like being trapped in the superhero wing of Madame Tussauds, with a swivel-eyed DC enthusiast.
Some viewers may be disappointed that here, Barry, who is proudly Jewish in Zack Snyder’s 2017 Justice League, never mentions his cultural identity. Others will be gutted by his heteronormative crush on Kiersey Clemons’ Iris West. Muschietti is famous for adding a gay sub-plot to It Chapter 2, while Hodson’s Birds of Prey was rightly praised for its queer representation. Sadly, “Fast & Bi-Curious” is not a tag-line anyone could to apply to The Flash.
As for the twist ending and post-credit scene that Warners have worked so hard to keep secret? Ach. They’re both a tad underwhelming. And, of course, viewers who’ve just seen Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse are likely to feel multiversed out.
But you know what, this is one of the best superhero movies of the 21st century so far. Just sit back and enjoy the flashes of greatness.
144mins, cert 12A
The Flash is in cinemas from June 14