The Flash Can’t Outrun Its Baggage or Its Competition: Review

The post The Flash Can’t Outrun Its Baggage or Its Competition: Review appeared first on Consequence.

The Pitch: Time is just whizzing by for our ol’ pal Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), aka The Flash. For one thing, keeping up with his hyperactive metabolism, his responsibilities as a member of the Justice League, and his regular life is an awful lot for one young man to balance. Plus, he still hasn’t given up hope that he might be able to exonerate his father Henry (Ron Livingston), wrongfully accused of the murder of Barry’s mother (Maribel Verdú) for years now.

So when Barry discovers, after a late night run to get out his frustration, that if he runs fast enough he can actually step backwards in time… Well, he’s seen Back to the Future, what could possibly go wrong? Despite the warnings of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), Barry comes up with a plan to save his mother’s life, but believe it or not — things go wrong. Now trapped in a fractured alternate reality with his younger self, he’ll need the help of this universe’s Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) to untangle the cooked spaghetti he’s made out of the timeline, and hopefully find a way back to the reality he considers home.

Rote Is the Watchword: The Flash, as a production, has not had the easiest journey to the screen, in part thanks to the off-screen behavior of its star. (A good pro-tip for life: Try to avoid choices that will lead to publications writing a comprehensive timeline of your legal troubles.) Between Ezra Miller’s actions and DC in general undergoing a massive overhaul following the hiring of James Gunn and Peter Safran to spearhead a new creative direction for the franchise, there’s an immense amount of baggage weighing down what proves to be a vaguely competent superhero adventure, albeit one that fails to add anything significant to the genre by the end.

While capably directed by Andy Muschietti, the It director doesn’t get any real opportunity to incorporate his horror bonafides, leading to much of the superhero action feeling as rote as a B-tier MCU project. Which is a shame, because some of the superhero genre’s best films have come from horror directors utilizing a slightly sinister approach, as seen in James Wan’s Aquaman, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films (especially Spider-Man 2).

This is one of those movies where, from scene to scene, you can predict each beat coming a moment before it happens; the coherent script by Christina Hodson (story by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, and Joby Harold) manages a couple of surprises across the two hour and 24-minute runtime, but they’re few and far between. (And most of the “big” surprises have already been spoiled by “leaks” clearly designed to build up buzz for the more fan-service-y elements of the film).

Dancing with Yourself: Acting-wise, Miller doesn’t lack for nuance on a scene-by-scene basis. But there’s a funny moment midway through The Flash, after Barry’s gotten to spend a little time with his hyperactive 18-year-old self, where he scolds teen Barry for being too annoying and talkative… before realizing how often he’s heard people tell him the same thing. It’s amusing; however, it also highlights why, perhaps, it took so long for a solo Flash movie to happen, regardless of behind-the-scenes issues.

The Flash Review
The Flash Review

The Flash (Warner Bros.)

Miller’s performance as Barry was one of the reliable highlights from Zack Snyder’s deliberately grim reign over the DC universe, especially thanks to their ability to hit the right level of comedic lightness. And we know it’s possible for the Flash to sustain epic stories — The CW’s own take on Barry just concluded after nine seasons. Yet when the character gets the chance to anchor a film, it becomes clear that the role’s quippy nature can’t make up for flat development; the DC films at this point simply don’t have enough to say about Barry as a person to make a feature film starring him sustainable.

Which is probably why there are so many Batmen in this.

Michael Keaton Appreciation Society: It remains exceptionally difficult to look past Ben Affleck’s star persona and really get a grasp on his Batman, but his screen time is limited, making room for one of the best to ever play the part. To be clear about this: There is one reason to see The Flash, and it is to witness the return of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne.

Despite the passing of time, Keaton is not just a relatively nimble Caped Crusader, but a skilled enough actor to bring 30 years of emotional continuity to the role. There are plenty of direct references to his time in the Batsuit (including the invocation of Danny Elfman’s iconic theme music), but Keaton’s Bruce never feels like he’s coasting on the past; there’s a freshness to his take that goes a long way towards keeping the middle section of the film lively. (It’s not on the announced list of future DC projects, but if nothing else Keaton’s presence here once again offers up hope of a live-action Batman Beyond adaptation. Current fantasy casting for young Terry: Never Have I Ever star Darren Barnet.)


The Flash (Warner Bros.)

As for the supporting cast, Michael Shannon also returns as General Zod, with a flat performance that makes more sense once you read his comments about being “a little confused” about his return. More exciting is Sasha Calle, who gets an impressive amount of development as Kara in a short period of time, before leaping into battle as a pretty badass Supergirl. It’s unclear what Calle’s future with the franchise might look like, given that The Flash is one of the remaining “lame duck” DC films before the Gunn/Safran era officially commences, but her return would be welcome.

The Verdict: The cruelest twist of fate to face The Flash, ultimately, is that it comes after the premiere of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, a far richer take on alternate realities and what it means to be a superhero. Yes, there are some fun Easter eggs not-so-carefully hidden in the film’s climax (including a deeply obscure reference that made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of my seat). But it’s hard to get excited about two Batmen in one movie, just days after seeing this.

Even in a vacuum, or an alternate universe with no Spider-Verse or MCU, The Flash would just feel middling. Oh hey, is going back in time to fix the mistakes of the past a bad idea? What a bold narrative concept. There are also questions to be asked about that ending, which features one of the film’s bigger surprises — but then also leaves things on an unsettled note, one that may not ultimately matter, given the hard reset that’s coming soon to the whole DC Universe. Still, Keaton’s great, and it’s the second-best superhero movie about the multiverse to come out this month. (There may or may not be a third.)

Where to Watch: The Flash speed-walks into theaters on Friday, June 16th.


The Flash Can’t Outrun Its Baggage or Its Competition: Review
Liz Shannon Miller

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