Controversies aside, this will mark the second attempt by Warner Bros. Pictures to posture hard in hopes to convince audiences to overlook one bad decision after another. It’s one thing to market and advertise your film with the natural exaggeration with which most films are promoted. It’s quite another to once again taut it as the end all be all of genre films, something they let Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson do for “Black Adam” only for it to backfire so badly the end result was to try to bury it in a vault underground and put all the blame on the power hungry actor. “The Flash,” mired in off screen antics of its lead paired with its abundant hyperbole and promotion that mirrors past mistakes seems poised to be next in line of a big shrug, a sigh, and a “mistakes were made” quote a few months down the road.
“The Flash” is not, to quote James Gunn, “the greatest superhero film ever.” Though an improvement over many of the other DCEU outings, it is largely serviceable at best and not good enough to overcome its glaring Ezra Miller problem.
I’m not one to tell anyone how to feel about the film or how to separate art from the artist. That moral compass is purely subjective, and even as I make my own stance known I am not blind to my own hypocrisy in plenty of other facets. Drawing lines in the sand is rarely black and white no matter what side you stand on. But “The Flash” seems bent on forcing us to overlook the very real, egregious crimes committed by the film’s star, pitting its entire franchise and success on the idea that the film is so good it doesn’t matter that the actor was convicted of abuse, assault, and kidnapping of a minor. Looking the other way is nothing new in Hollywood, and Miller is sadly just another individual able to escape consequences because the machine he’s a part of needs to make money, law and justice and consequences be damned. The point is, if you’re someone who can dismiss all of that, I won’t fault you. And if you’re someone like myself who simply can’t let those things go and have only seen “The Flash” because my chosen career requires it, then that’s fine too.
What I think should not happen is we pretend it doesn’t exist the way the marketing would like us to. So yes, I am not going hold my head down and pretend that Ezra Miller (who should be in jail and not on the red carpet of the premiere) isn’t the star of “The Flash,” and that we don’t need to talk about them together. We do, and frankly the film isn’t good enough to warrant such ignorance and cognitive dissonance. It’s good, but not “I will defend a convicted felon with my last breath” good as the director Andy Muschietti has grotesquely stated in his comments about how great Miller’s Flash is. It is important to take them both as they are, and address both the poor decisions made by the studio and the hills they’ve chosen to die on with the overall effectiveness and critique of the film itself. For me, Miller’s felonies are not separate from the film they’re being allowed to promote, and while you don’t have to hold that against “The Flash,” I am going to by at the very least acknowledging that it exists and shouldn’t be divided.
So with that all out of the way, you’re probably saying yeah, sure I don’t care about any of that. Is “The Flash” any good? The answer is, well, sort of?
Boiled down to brass tacks, the film is not a genre defining game changer, and certainly doesn’t come close to the cultural impacts of things like “Across the Spider-Verse” or the very earned emotional punches of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” However, “The Flash” is significantly better than most entries in the DCEU, and serves as a fitting goodbye to the whole failed experiment and primes things for a much needed reset. It is the best blend of heart, humor, and nostalgia that the DCEU has to offer in a long time, and while it is another retelling of the seemingly only story “The Flash” has to tell, it tells it better than it doesn’t. That’s not to say the film is great, because it’s pretty messy and packed with some shoddy CGI that just seems unacceptable with the budget and technology at their disposal. You would think we would be past the rubber band body effects for superheroes, but “The Flash” has a bit too many for my tastes and for a film of this size.
Directed by Muschietti from a script by Christina Hodson (“Bumblebee,” “Birds of Prey“), “The Flash” is another Flashpoint Paradox story, one where we see Barry Allen discover that he can run so fast he can travel back in time and decides to change the past to save his parents. Of course, this leads to a collision of timelines and multiverse mumbo jumbo that sees Barry stuck in his own past with his own past self in a different timeline where Batman is Micheal Keaton and there is no Superman, only Supergirl. The rag tag team of misfits will have to work together to try to save their own world while trying to get other Barry back to his own timeline. “The Flash” stars Miller as both Flash versions, Michael Keaton as Batman, and Sasha Calle as Supergirl. It also features some DCEU returning characters like Ben Affleck as Batman (present timeline), Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (again, present timeline), and Michael Shannon as Zod (in the 2013 “Man of Steel” timeline).
Miller is fine as The Flash, though two Barrys in one film becomes increasingly exhausting. I’ve never really thought too highly of their performances, and they ARE likable enough onscreen to not bring the whole thing down.
Really it’s Keaton and Calle that ooze the charisma, with Keaton easily slipping back into his iconic role and being pretty aware of what kind of film he’s in. Calle is also a charmer, though she’s not given nearly as much to do in “The Flash” to really grasp what she can bring to the table. Here’s hoping Gunn will use her as Supergirl, because she’s someone I will gladly watch fly through the air and punch bad guys in the face for 2 hours.
Narratively speaking, “The Flash” is kind of all over the place, turning in a messier version of the same story we’ve seen time and time again. It’s never dull, but never really feels complete enough to warrant its tonal imbalances from heart to action to humor. Like I said, “The Flash” blends these elements significantly better than other attempts, and it’s pretty easy to get swept up in the excitement in a large crowd. But it’s all pretty hollow at the end, never leaving enough to be remembered and the impact of “The Flash’s” events waning almost immediately after leaving the theater.
The overstuffed nostalgia hyperdrive in the third act can be thrilling for some, inappropriate and silly for others. “The Flash” left me somewhere in the middle, kind of excited to see it but also let down by how bad its CGI (purposeful or not) is and how unearned it all ends up being. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t swept up the hype of it all, experiencing it with a packed crowd that whooped and hollered seeing some poorly rendered but never before seen otherworldly versions of beloved DC characters. But again, it never entirely feels as earned as “The Flash” thinks it does, and certainly doesn’t solidify itself as the best superhero movie ever. Hell, it’s not even the best superhero movie of its own story. Also, this may be nitpicking, but I absolutely cannot stand the way Miller runs in “The Flash.” They gear up to tap into the speed force like a bowling stance, and then swings their arms the way Steven Segal’s legs move any time he runs. It’s probably just me, but it looks really stupid and I never got over it.
“The Flash” is a lot of fun, and does do some things right that help keep it from being a total disaster. Though impossible to dismiss Miller at its center, it is still possible to enjoy “The Flash” on the surface level platter that it’s served on. It certainly won’t have the longevity or novelty of some significantly better DC outings, but it also won’t be talked about in the same worst ever breath as “Black Adam” and “Batman V Superman.”
“The Flash” is a somewhat painless death/send off to the DCEU, and hopefully from its ashes leaves it all behind. Yes, that includes Miller, who should NOT follow this franchise into the future. Here’s hoping WB learns from their mistakes and lay this to rest once and for all.
Probably best to leave Miller and the DCEU in the destroyed timelines of “The Flash” instead of trying to rewrite history and bring it into our world. That’s some spaghetti noodles I’m not too interested being a fixed paradox event, or whatever it is Keaton’s Batman says.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
“The Flash” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.