The Flash has plenty of heart but loses its soul to cynical CGI

On paper, THE FLASH was not a movie that had a lot going for it. A lead actor mired in controversy and criminal legal difficulties, a lame duck cinematic universe marking time until it’s rebooted, and a broken and fragmented fanbase which, by now, seems more interested in internecine teardowns than embracing and uplifting the things they’re meant to be fans of in the first place. It’s something of a minor miracle, then, that Andy Muschietti and his cast manage to deliver a film that, while as flawed as any of DC’s turgid 2023 output has been so far, manages to be – on average – a pretty fun ride.

That being said, the initial opening action sequence, featuring an awkward and uncomfortable cameo from Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/ Batman and an almost cringe-inducing blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by Gal Gadot (ticking off another contracted appearance from her rapidly dwindling Wonder Woman contract), plays more like a parody of the character of The Flash than a demonstration of his powers. Every single fan who lashed out at Joss Whedon’s jocular JUSTICE LEAGUE while embracing this should hang their head in hypocritical shame. Then again, deep cognitive dissonance seems to be one of the defining characteristics of the most vocal minorities in the DC’s fractured fandom.

It’s also a shame that cinema still hasn’t managed to come up with a way of portraying super-speed powers that improves on 2014’s X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. Here some of the visuals of THE FLASH running at speed look terrible. Only Lee Major’s Six Million Dollar Man managed to pull off slow-motion running as its exact opposite and he just needed a kickin’ theme tune, not fancy yellow (or blue) lightning to finesse it.

Remember when I said this movie was a fun time? Doesn’t sound like it so far does it? Just a lot of grousing and taking pot-shots at mouthy social media Snyderistas. Well, here’s where this review – like THE FLASH movie – hits its stride, right about the time Barry discovers he can travel through time and abruptly decides to right the wrong that’s come to define his life – the murder of his mother. With events changed, Barry finds himself hurled out of the “time sphere” and in an altered timeline where his mother’s alive, and there’s another Barry Allen.

Whatever they’re responsible for in the real world and whatever you might think of them because (or in spite of it), Ezra Miller’s twin performances in this movie are astonishing. He gives us two distinct and yet authentically similar versions of the same character, nailing the conceit of being the same person at different points in their life in a natural and often charming way. It’s their double performance that powers the movie from that point forward, easing it over the array of CGI-heavy slogs and even making up for the baffling narrative choice of choosing to revisit the arrival of Zod from MAN OF STEEL as the movie’s big-bad set-piece finale.

Miller’s supported in this, of course, by Michael Keaton who manages to effortlessly roll back the years and give us our long-awaited third outing for his incarnation of Batman. Despite playing the character in a far more metahuman universe than before he manages to deliver the gravitas and worldliness that the character needs to be able to mix it up with demi-gods without seeming silly or contrived. It could be argued that the film is having so much fun with Flash 1, Flash 2 and Batman 89 that it short-changes Sasha Calle’s Supergirl although in the moments she’s allowed to, she certainly shines in the role, a bittersweet thing given how near to the collapse of this whole cinematic multiverse she’s been allowed to make her debut.

Despite some cack-handed execution (recasting the role of Barry’s father in a film which explicitly states that everyone you’ve ever seen is canon and if someone is played by a different actor it unequivocally means the timeline has changed suggests this isn’t even the real DCEU) and odd story choices (Zod as your primary antagonist? Really?), the potential is there in THE FLASH to have delivered the much-needed clean slate reboot that DC’s woefully misfiring Extended Universe needed, so it’s equal parts saddening and frustrating that the entire potential of the movie arrives stillborn, killed off by James Gunn and Peter Safran’s appointment and imperious clean sweeping. It’s hard to ignore the idea that they may have been better served by pausing and reshooting this film and using it as the proper launch pad for their new vision, rather than dumping it here, ripping away its primary function and leaving it as a curate’s egg of wasted possibilities. It’s biggest moment, of course, is the collapsing of the walls between worlds (for the record, I adore Batman’s explanation of timelines as spaghetti) where the cavalcade of call-backs and cameos are fun if occasionally necromantic, and in one instance spectacularly bonkers, but they all amount to very little. There’s no payoff to their appearance apart from the various icons of the past (or potential past) standing and staring. Weaponised nostalgia has never been so inert.

It’s a real pity because Miller, Keaton and Calle have really put in the work to prime the adventure for an emotionally resonant denouement, but the sloppy CGI excesses just drown out what’s been building up. Long after the uncanny valley reanimations have faded from your nightmares, though, you’ll still recall with fondness the performances of the three leads and maybe that’s the best outcome THE FLASH could have hoped for in trying to reshape the benighted timeline of DC movies we have in our world.

The Flash movie poster
score 7

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