'The Flash' review: DC multiverse adventure runs around in circles
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Discovery
Tough break for DC’s summer tentpole, and soft reboot of their beleaguered cinematic universe, “The Flash,” as it opens in the shadow of “Spider Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” an animated film that dealt with many of the same multiverse story beats though executed them in far more creative methods and had a stunning visual palette. “The Flash” has none of those things, it's a CGI muck fest built on force nostalgia and revisionist history (seriously, some of the cameos represent the worst type of fan service). It didn’t have to be this way. For the first 45-minutes, the Andy Muschietti directed film offers a refreshing change of pace from the usual live action superhero slog by interweaving a soothing “Back to the Future” formula by way of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” storyline while also doubling as a heartfelt origin tale about a kid struggling with his past, present, and future. After that, it becomes just another monotonous DC world building adventure that quickly retcons past events and turns what was an endearing story into a complicated, head scratching one.
Had “The Flash” not been loaded with some of the ugliest VFX sequences I’ve ever seen, it would be easier to shove aside the subtle rehashes to the DC canon as new film chiefs, James Gunn and Peter Safran, try molding the franchise in their image. Ironic considering all “The Flash” really does is tap the reset button over and over, hoping for a different result and maybe tricking audiences into thinking the catalog of DC movies were good. Some of them, maybe, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
“The Flash” deals with everything from parallel universes, dual Barry Allen’s, to the return of Micheal Keaton’s Batman, the latter of which saw my theater erupt in applause. There is a warm and fuzzy sensation watching Keaton reprise the iconic cape crusader with a down-to-earth and ruffled demeanor, yet it only extends the movie so far when there’s several other moving parts steering this ship into wild and sometimes bonkers directions. Of course, it’s difficult to discuss those elements without the spoiler police issuing citations.
Ezra Miller, who’s off-screen antics have certainly dampened overall enthusiasm, plays forensic scientists turned lightning-quick hero Barry Allen, the problem child within the Justice League still dealing with the trauma of his mother’s murder and dad’s wrongful imprisonment. In one anxious fueled evening, Barry rehashes the day his mother died and discovers his superhuman capabilities can send him back in time. Perhaps he can slightly tweak the past and change his future? Anyone who has seen time traveling movies understands it’s never that easy and despite a dire warning from Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne that he “could destroy everything,” Barry charges back to that tragic day and ends up sending multiple universes into a major tailspin.
Here, he encounters a younger version of himself, a dorky 19-year-old college freshman Barry Allen who has minimal aspirations and talks a-lot. This presents the most interesting dynamic in the whole movie: by seeing this lens of himself, Barry can act as a mentor, offering tips and tricks on what it means to have Flash powers while trying to mend the timelines in a way that keeps his mom alive. Seeing dual Barry’s team-up and work together, not to mention how they received their powers in the first place, offers a nice upbeat and breezy tempo. That is until Micheal Shannon’s Zod (from “Man of Steel”) shows up threatening to dismantle the world. In “The Flash,” this plot is an irreversible event that happens in every timeline and has influenced many of the DC films, especially “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
Thanks to Barry’s impulsive time-altering decision, there’s no Justice League to stop him, thus forcing them to track down Bruce Wayne (Keaton) in the hopes of saving humanity. They believe their best bet is finding Superman, who is supposedly trapped in some Siberian prison, except he isn’t. It’s his distant cousin Kara Zor-El (also known as Supergirl who is played by Sasha Calle). Thankfully, she shares many of her cousin’s attributes, including laser eye destruction and impenetrable skin, helping lead a final assault against Zod and his army of dispensable baddies. However, the graphics in this climatic battle look plucked from an early 2000s video game and makes deep fake and AI generated imagery seem normal. At least Benjamin Wallfisch’s score compensates for these poor renderings.
There’s also one final sequence of words colliding that tastelessly repurposes old DC archive footage in a way that’s discerning and, quite frankly, terrifying. It’s presented as though the digital artists sent an unfinished product into the final edit bay and makes you wonder who was quality control on this movie? CGI and digital recreation/de-aging never works nor is convincing (see Peter Cushing in “Rogue One,” or a younger Mark Hamill on “The Mandalorian.”) and here, in the way it's utilized, is borderline insulting and demonic.
What a waste! You can obviously see there’s a much better movie within “The Flash” with an emotional undercurrent that could’ve elevated it beyond the recent trend of lackluster live-action superhero flicks. Screenwriters Christina Hodson and Joby Harold have plenty to say, but they contradict themselves at nearly every turn, producing more confusion than clarity. And for DC, their cinematic re-calibration continues in the hopes the most ardent supporters indulge in the universe “The Flash” is teeing up. They might walk away thrilled, everyone else will be left with a movie that slowly loses momentum and never recovers.
THE FLASH opens in theaters Friday, June 16th.