Surviving the turnover of multiple directors, literal years of delays and reshoots, endless public troubles centered around its star, and even the wholesale scrapping of the current run of DC comics movies, The Flash has finally arrived to an audience that might not even care anymore. Whether or not that’s too bad doesn’t really matter, just as nothing that happens in this movie will matter to any future films, but ultimately that’s to The Flash’s benefit — the low bar of expectations and shrug of a release mean that the film actually has the space to feel breezy and amusing in its very okayness.
Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is the titular Flash, the fastest man alive after an accident with some chemicals and a lightning storm. He’s fidgety and awkward and an annoying motormouth, but those are the least of his problems. More important is that his dad, Henry (Ron Livingston), is rotting in prison for the murder of Barry’s mom, a crime Barry is certain dad didn’t commit, and of course also the life-changing traumatic event that motivates Barry’s crime-fighting ambitions. He even talks about it with his good buddy Batman (Ben Affleck, very clearly hoping that it’s for the last time). Batman tells him not to dwell on the past, the scars that don’t heal instead define us, blah blah, etc. etc. Forget about all that, says Barry, who reasons that if he can run fast enough, he can travel back in time to save his mother, and do so without any additional unexpected consequences.
Predictably, after his time-traveling shenanigans, Barry winds up in an alternate present, slightly before he was gifted his powers, which is important because this new timeline’s Barry still needs to get them too. Other Barry (also Miller) is an even more obnoxious moron than Regular Barry, probably because he still lives at home with his very nice, very alive, very not in-prison parents. Anyway, when Other Barry gets his powers, Regular Barry loses his, just in time for General Zod (Michael Shannon), the villain from Zack Snyder’s now decade-old Man of Steel, to show up and demand that humanity turn over Superman, who seems to be MIA in this universe. Who, then, is going to help the Flashes stop this alien menace? A reasonable move is to turn to Batman for help, except here Batman is Michael Keaton again, and he doesn’t have a clue who The Flash is.
It’s genuinely shocking that The Flash is just charming and lively enough to make that mountain of franchise bullshit actually taste alright. (Both) Miller(s) is clever and twitchy in the role, and once the stakes are raised to actual jeopardy, all of that fluff suitably settles down. And even though the return of Keaton absolutely reeks of a gimmick, he gives a sincere, bona fide performance that reminds viewers why his is probably still the most beloved movie iteration of the Caped Crusader. The tonal and narrative whiplash of this conceit teeters on exhausting throughout, but it stays mostly on the right side of grating by being so consistently good-natured.
That is, until it all collapses in an absolutely dire third act, which mostly takes place in a bland CGI desert with a lot of bland CGI bad guys shooting laser beams at each other. Complaining that huge digitally created conflagrations are indistinguishable from video game cutscenes has long been a cliche, but this stretch of The Flash absolutely lives up to the legendary critique. It’s even possible that Michael Shannon didn’t do a single day of greenscreen work here, so obvious and omnipresent is his digital double. But the embarrassment doesn’t end there: the grand finale is an insipid sop to fan service that goes so far as to include inside-baseball cameos from actors and movies that never even got made. This clunker of an ending isn’t quite enough to undo The Flash’s easy early pleasures and brick the whole film, but viewers looking to avoid a headache would be wise to cut and run roughly 45 minutes before the film’s end.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 24
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