Wednesday, June 14, 2023


by Rob DiCristino
Run, Barrys, run.

As difficult as it’s been to get excited about the newest phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Remember when Wakanda Forever was supposed to fix everything?), it’s been harder still to feel any real enthusiasm for the DC Extended Universe, an endeavor hobbled since infancy by myriad cancellations, executive reshufflings, personnel management crises, and — perhaps most crucially — a catastrophic lack of creative consistency. No property has exemplified this more than The Flash, which began in earnest as a Phil Lord/Chris Miller joint back in 2015 before being kicked around by the likes of Seth Grahame-Smith, John Francis Daley/Jonathan Goldstein, and Rick Famuyiwa, with screenwriting and rewriting efforts from an entire stable of hired hands that included comics legend Grant Morrison and star Ezra Miller. For years, The Flash has been a punchline, a millstone of corporate incompetence that exemplified just how outpaced and outmatched DC has been by its sprightlier and more colorful rivals at Marvel.
But The Flash is finally here, helmed by It’s Andy Muschetti and heavily influenced by Geoff Johns’ 2011 Flashpoint comics event. Tired of playing second fiddle to Batman (Ben Affleck) and serving as the Justice League’s one-man cleanup crew, Barry Allen (Miller) decides to use his fledgling time travel abilities to go into the past and prevent the tragedy that tore his family apart. When a hostile entity expels him from the Speed Force prematurely, however, Allen finds himself powerless in an alternate timeline where only a younger — and considerably chattier — version of himself (also Miller) can help. But before the Barrys can take action, General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives to remake Earth in Krypton’s image — Yes, we’re revisiting Man of Steel again— forcing Allen to recruit any future Justice Leaguers populating this universe. Though Kal-El and Diana Prince are nowhere to be found, Kryptonian refugee Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle) and an older, more charmingly aloof Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) answer the call.

Barry’s inability to prevent the death of Nora Allen (Maribel VerdĂș) has long been the center of his superheroic journey, coloring everything from his comic adventures to the CW’s TV series, which just ended its nine-season run this past spring. Muschetti wisely sticks to this familiar territory, which helps keep a firm thematic foothold on what eventually spirals into an outlandish romp through various multiversal concerns. While this approach has been a death sentence for similar blockbusters that leaned on spectacle over character (see Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania), The Flash balances its pathos with far more precision and grace. This is due in no small part to a pair of brilliant performances from Ezra Miller, each of which shades its particular Barry with a distinct set of ticks, morals, and childlike fascinations. Helpful, too, is a clearer-than-usual explanation of time paradoxes and causal loops — which Keaton illuminates through tangled spaghetti — that keep any unnecessary plot from interfering with the story.
Michael Keaton returns to the cape and cowl in grand fashion, playing a more significant role than typically seen in these legacy appearances. Though Muschetti often lets his nostalgia get the best of him — indulging in one or two iconic callbacks too many — it’s a true joy to see the ‘89 Caped Crusader in a kinetically engaging adventure, kicking, punching, and Bataranging his way through goons with an energy and tenacity that was practically impossible — and perhaps stylistically inappropriate — in Tim Burton’s more staid and atmospheric episodes. Keaton and Miller have an easy chemistry, and the latter’s willingness to cede the spotlight in key narrative moments reminds us why two characters speaking in a room will always hold more dramatic heft than any world-ending disaster. Sasha Calle compliments the party nicely; trapped in a Siberian prison for years, her Supergirl is no savior of humanity. Her altruism must be learned — albeit abruptly — and is soon intensified by a thirst for revenge against Zod.
And while none of The Flash’s later set pieces feel as compelling or impressive as a bravura opening sequence that finds Barry saving a dozen skydiving infants from a collapsing hospital nursery, there’s something to be said for their relatively modest scale and conservative character roster. Muschetti can only hold out so long before things have to go full Spider-Man: No Way Home, of course — including a cameo so deep-cut that even the Comic Con crowd may be left scratching their heads — but The Flash does itself a wonderful turn by staging a simple emotional climax between two human beings in a grocery store aisle. Even the film’s goopier, more plasticine CGI effects have a stylistic charm that would take us out of other movies but feel right at home in this time-bending, shape-shifting extravaganza. Ultimately, The Flash should be celebrated for the mistakes it doesn’t make rather than the chances it doesn’t take; it’s a sure-handed and engaging adventure that opens the DCEU to the fresh possibilities it so desperately needs.

The Flash hits theaters on Friday.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a big fan of the comicc event, and the animation (DC doest a lot of cool animated movies), so i'm optimistic about this one, but not too much