The Flash review: Spectacular multiverse mayhem is tonally uneven

Ezra Miller's superhero movie finally speeds into cinemas, but was it worth the wait?

EZRA MILLER as Barry Allen/The Flash, SASHA CALLE as Kara Zor-El/Supergirl and EZRA MILLER as Barry Allen/The Flash in The Flash. (Warner Bros.)
Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash, Sasha Calle as Kara Zor-El/Supergirl and Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash in The Flash. (Warner Bros.)
  • 🎞️ When is it out: In cinemas and IMAX from 16 June, 2023

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 3/5

  • 🎭 Who's in it? Ezra Miller (x2), Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ben Affleck

  • 👍 What we liked: The film’s eccentricity; Michael Keaton; the opening action sequence; the multiverse, baby!

  • 👎 What we didn't: The lack of room given to building pathos for the mom story arc; the yawn-inducing Zod retread; the incohesive mix of tones; treatment of women characters.

  • 📖 What's it about? Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) uses his superpowers to travel back in time to save his family, but accidentally alters the future. He recruits a team of superheroes to help save the world and return home.

  • ⏱️ How long is it? 2 hour 24 minutes

The Flash hasn’t exactly sped to the screen. Its stilted plod to theatrical release has seen numerous directors attached to helm it, but since director Andy Muschietti (IT) and screenwriter Christina Hodson (Bumblebee, Birds of Prey) jumped on board, it’s been all systems go. Covid delays and post-production setbacks — including the controversy surrounding star Ezra Miller — notwithstanding.

The Flash borrows from the seismic comic-book Flashpoint arc, ushering the multiverse into the DC Universe. How precisely it figures into the James Gunn-Peter Safran piloted reset for this beleaguered movie universe is yet to be seen.

More pertinently, though, is the film in question that’s come out the other side of all this any good?

Watch a trailer for The Flash

Muschietti’s film ties the main thrust of its action to what went on in Superman solo flick, Man of Steel, bringing back Michael Shannon’s menacing Zod. Barry Allen’s (Miller) experiments with time travel compel him to go back and change his mum’s fate, stopping her murder.

Soon enough, he’s trapped in an alternate reality around the time of Zod’s invasion – with a Batman he’s never met before and no metahumans to help him.

He enlists the help of that universe’s grizzled Bruce Wayne – a crowd-pleasing reprisal of the Tim Burton role by Michael Keaton – and an Earth-bound Supergirl to help him stop Zod and get back to the future.

EZRA MILLER as The Flash, MICHAEL KEATON as Batman and EZRA MILLER as The Flash in The Flash. (Warner Bros.)
Ezra Miller with Michael Keaton's Batman in The Flash. (Warner Bros.)

Back to the Future (the movie) gets a handful of nods in The Flash directly. But Keaton’s Bruce Wayne also adopts a Doc Brown-type role in scenarios that echo the Robert Zemeckis film. It’s fun – to a degree. Because this mirroring serves to further muddle the film’s anarchic assembly.

It’s the tomato sauce tossed into a spaghetti of dark Snyderverse elements with the slapstick and puerility of Joss Whedon’s Justice League and the zaniness of James Wan’s Aquaman. Tonally, aesthetically, and narratively, it’s all a little haywire.

Read more: The troubled timeline of The Flash

Some of it works; some of it’s jarring. Some of it just feels eccentric. On top of all this, the film tries to stir us by leaning into the emotion of Barry’s familial situation – his father behind bars for the murder of his mother and Barry’s attempts to put it right. There’s not really enough room to deal with this adequately given everything else that’s going on here, which lessens the pathos. A shame, because this is the stuff that sets the movie apart.

EZRA MILLER as Barry Allen/The Flash and EZRA MILLER as Barry Allen/The Flash in The Flash. (Warner Bros.)
Ezra Miller plays two Barry Allens in The Flash. (Warner Bros.)

So what about action? On the whole, it’s engaging – save for most of the Zod stuff, which the film could do without – and, crucially, discernible: we can see what’s going on! Highest praise is reserved for the opening action sequence, with The Flash doing his superhero thing. It’s spectacular, funny, tense, and inventive.

When you compare the slow-motion effects employed by DC stablemate Black Adam in action sequences which felt tedious, gratuitous, and, well, flashy, in The Flash they add so much – because they’re intended to showcase The Flash’s rapid movements and quick thinking, consequently making a marvel of his actions.

What other critics thought of The Flash

Supergirl, meanwhile, is given disappointingly short shrift with a personality bypass, existing mainly to glower at Zod. The crux of it is that her story is tied too much to Superman: Bechdel Test failed.

DC fans will welcome juicy cameos and Easter eggs, but this film feels more like a goodbye than a gateway to the next chapter. What’s next? We shall see.

The Flash is in cinemas and IMAX from 16 June with previews from 14 June.