‘The Flash‘ marks one of the final films in the Snyderverse era (the other two would be ‘Blue Beetle‘ and ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’) that has undergone a turbulent 10-year cinematic journey since ‘Man of Steel’ in 2013. That movie may have been controversial for its darker portrayal of the otherwise hopeful Superman. But I guess I’m one of the minorities who found Snyder’s gritty take on the iconic DC superhero to be one of the best Superman movies ever made since ‘Superman II.’
Fast-forward (no pun intended) to 2023, alongside a slew of behind-the-scenes setbacks (including multiple changes of directors who had come and gone due to creative differences) and release delays later, ‘The Flash’ is finally here… and it was, well, a mixed bag.
Like how Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) messed up the timeline that, brings both good, bad, and ugly results. Christina Hodson, who previously wrote ‘Birds of Prey’ in 2020, inspired her screenplay from the ‘Flashpoint’ comic-book series that was later adapted into an animated film ‘Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.’ But a word of warning: Don’t expect ‘The Flash’ to be a direct adaptation either from the comic-book series or the acclaimed animated film.
Instead, Hodson’s screenplay uses ‘Flashpoint’ mainly as a jumping-off point. We learn that Barry Allen still can’t get over his mom’s (Maribel Verdú) death while his father (Ron Livingston) is still in jail after being accused of murdering her. Then, one night, Barry finds himself running so fast that he’s unwittingly going back in time. Upon discovering his newfound ability, he begins to realize something: Why not use the time-travel power to save his mom from death in the past? However, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) warns him about the consequences of altering history if he insists on traveling back in time.
Well, there won’t be a movie if Barry listens to his advice, and so he ends up doing it anyway. But what happens next impacted the timeline in the past. He may have successfully saved his mom, but he has to face other problems. This includes interacting with his younger self (also Allen) and dealing with General Zod (Michael Shannon), who invaded Earth for the same reason as seen in ‘Man of Steel.’
‘The Flash’ gets off to an awkward start before the movie seems to be finding the right footing with an elaborate action-packed opening setpiece. ‘It’ duology director Andy Muschietti knows well how to stage an action scene with enough verve and creativity (the earlier part where Barry attempts a spectacular rescue). The action is thankfully crisply shot with visual clarity and, most of the time, feels like one of the comic-book pages jumps to life. It’s just that the CGI is wildly inconsistent as some of the effects-heavy scenes look cartoonish and even shoddy like they belong in the 1990s and 2000s era.
The movie also has a field day going meta with its alternate timeline/multiverse-themed storyline, including cheeky references related to two popular 1980s movies. As expected, there are plenty of fan services with one of them — you just have to see it for yourself — will probably send the DC fans into a frenzy (the press screening that I went to had many attendees clapping their hands and cheering with sheer joy).
But it was Michael Keaton who excelled the most. From the moment he enters the scene in his iconic Batsuit and utters one of his signature lines, ‘I’m Batman,’ it sure feels great re-living the nostalgia all over again. Having him reprise his role as the Caped Crusader since hanging up his cowl over 30 years ago is certainly a smart move. It was a strong nostalgia factor that worked well in its favor, and Keaton gives his all as a more cynical and grizzled Bruce Wayne/Batman.
He steals the show to the point his engaging screen presence reduced Ezra Miller into playing second fiddle. It was rather ironic, considering how Keaton used to endure the same fate when he appeared in ‘Batman’ and ‘Batman Returns,’ both of which were respectively upstaged by Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Danny DeVito’s The Penguin.
As for Ezra Miller, who finally got to lead his own movie after appearing in either a cameo or supporting role in the previous DC movies, his neurotic acting style can sometimes be annoying. But he does have his moments, particularly when he plays dual roles or interacts with his love interest, Iris West (Kiersey Clemons in a memorable small role). Michael Shannon, who previously did an excellent job as the ruthless General Zod in ‘Man of Steel,’ is mostly relegated to a standard-issue comic-book antagonist this time around. ‘The Flash’ also introduces Sasha Calle, who delivers a feisty supporting turn as Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Supergirl.
As much as I enjoy the multiverse-themed storytelling in ‘The Flash,’ Muschietti’s attempt to blend comedy, action, drama, and sci-fi tends to be erratic and sometimes feels awkwardly misplaced in some scenes. This is especially true with the comedy parts that either go too broad or juvenile.
‘The Flash’ is far from the best superhero movie that deals with the multiverse concept (that honor goes to ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse‘). But it remains a decent, watchable entry in the otherwise rough-around-the-edges DC’s Snyderverse. And considering this is Andy Muschietti’s first foray into the superhero-movie territory, he does show plenty of promise in handling a big-budget studio movie after taking a big leap from directing smaller-scale horror movies in the past.