- Directed by: Andy Muschietti
- Starring: Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Ben Affleck
- Action/Adventure | PG-13 | 2 hr 24 min
By Reed Ripley
The Flash is a film that’s obsessed with nostalgia for characters that have nothing to do with its own lead hero. Surprisingly, that doesn’t tank the film, which has plenty of fun moments and engaging action to carry a night out to the movies. Yet, the decision to focus so heavily on DC’s cinematic past puts a hard cap on the end result’s quality.
The film hops on the multiverse bandwagon, this time on the back of Barry Allen, a.k.a. the Flash (Ezra Miller), who runs fast enough to breach space-time and decides to use that power to go back in time and save his mom from an ill-fated home invasion. Simple enough on its own, and if the story stayed focused on Barry, it probably would’ve worked much better.
Frustratingly, the script is good, and there’s a real, heartwarming, funny, and epic film desperately trying to break through. Right from the beginning, the action sequences are clearly some of the best we’ve seen from the modern DC films (non-The Batman edition). Particularly, there’s a thrilling early sequence featuring Ben Affleck’s Batfleck in a motorcycle chase, inventive scenes using the Flash’s Speed Force, and a couple exciting butt-kicking exhibitions from Supergirl (Sasha Calle).
Yet, especially in the third act, the film devolved into a longing remembrance of past cinematic Supermen and Batmen, which felt extremely desperate and misplaced in a movie titled The Flash. The decision isn’t a complete misfire. Aside from a couple super fan-servicey moments (capped off with an egregious “You wanna get nuts, c’mon, let’s get nuts”), Michael Keaton’s Batman worked well, especially because he had a major role. If the film had simply left its nostalgia bait alone after that, it would’ve been additive, but it couldn’t help itself, and its hand got caught in the callback cookie jar.
It’s really frustrating that the studio felt the need to dive so deeply into the multiverse. It’s understandable given the massive success of Spider-Man: No Way Home and Across the Spider-Verse, but there’s a glaring difference between those films and Spider-Man. Spider-Man is a character with whom audiences have decades of a cinematic relationship at this point, and it’s no wonder that relationship pays dividends to invoke. The Flash, on the other hand, has barely made a dent in the Hollywood superhero zeitgeist aside from a few bit parts in maligned Justice League movies.
Miller, too, is a questionable pick to lead a movie, and not only thanks to the off-screen issues. Miller served fine as a complementary player, but put them in the spotlight to carry a film, and your mileage may vary. Double them up like in this film (where there are two Barrys for much of its runtime), and you’ve got a major problem that some of the audience won’t be able to look past.
The Flash’s place in the current DC cinematic picture makes it even more complicated to evaluate. DC is in the midst of a total rebrand with James Gunn at the helm, and it’s unclear which characters are staying, which are going, and which movies even matter until the new Gunn-branded material starts hitting theaters. For those who know the background, it’s hard not to watch without constantly thinking does any of this even matter. For those who don’t, it’s a fun-enough movie that’ll probably pass out of mind not long after exiting the theater. Either way, it’s hard not to see The Flash coming and going without even sniffing the DC classics it so desperately invoked.