Stream It Or Skip It
Faster than, I dunno, something really fast, The Flash (now streaming on VOD services like Amazon Prime Video) crashed and burned theatrically, and only entering the Speed Force might alter that fact. That’s because the Speed Force is the “extradimensional energy force” that allows the Flash to travel through time, see. And you’d have to go back pretty far, considering the film was in development for roughly two decades before finally settling on director Andy Muschietti (the It movies). And then it endured Covid-related delays. And then it endured significant upheaval at DC Studios and Warner Bros. And then it endured star Ezra Miller’s multiple arrests stemming from a bunch of troublingly erratic and violent public incidents. And then it tried to right the ship by announcing that it would feature Michael Keaton as Batman, donning the cape and cowl for the first time in 30 years. And then as the theatrical movie biz struggles and faces ballooning Superhero Fatigue, it flopped. All that stuff needs to be mentioned for the reportage portion of this review, but from here on out, we’re going to decontextualize The Flash from all its sour context and see if it somehow manages to function as a movie.
THE FLASH: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: THE FLASH NEEDS CARBS. He burns oodles of energy being incredibly stupidly dangerously fast, you know. That’s why his alter ego Barry Allen’s (Miller) go-to sandwich has peanut butter, honey and raisins on it. And if he doesn’t get his macros situated, he might not be able to run so fast that lightning shoots out his ass, all the way to Gotham City at the request of his pal Batman, and rescue a bevy of newborns from a hospital that’s rapidly being devoured by a massive sinkhole. Just how fast is the Flash? As the babies plummet out a window to the hard, hard ground below, he has plenty of time to burgle a vending machine for more fuel-snacks before saving them. He’s also so fast, he can travel through time, not by reversing the Earth’s rotation like Superman, but by entering the Speed Force, which manifests on the screen in a wretched smear of godawful CGI. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It must be noted that the Batman that Barry/Flash pals around with here is played by Ben Affleck; the Keaton Batman won’t turn up until after the Flash enters the Speed Force and finds himself in an alternate reality. This is something the Affleck Batman warns him against doing, because he could apocalyptically alter the space-time continuum and shit like that. But Barry is hellbent on going back in time to save his mother (Maribel Verdu) from being murdered, and his father (Ron Livingston) from being wrongly accused of the homicide, a scene we see in – hold onto your hats my friends – a FLASHback. He realizes if he pops into the timeline and does one tiny little inconsequential thing and pops back out, his parents’ lives won’t be ruined. It’s foolproof! The perfect plan! What. Could possibly. Go wrong?
And the answer to that is, oh jeez, so many things. First, a mysterious figure hanging out in the Speed Force jams up Barry’s plans, and then he meets his 18-year-old self (also Miller exclamation point!), and then he loses his powers as his 18-year-old self acquires his powers, and then General Zod (Michael Shannon) appears to destroy the planet like he tried to do in Man of Steel, and then the two Barrys try to track down the Justice League for help but Wonder Woman and Cyborg and Aquaman aren’t around because they don’t exist in this timeline and the budget of the movie is already too damn big, and then they learn that this timeline’s Batman is played by Keaton, and then they convince the Keaton Batman to help them find Superman, and then Keaton delivers a line cribbed from The Lego Batman Movie. Like I said, so many things.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Multiverse shenanigans? Haven’t seen that before in any other movies recently, have we? Most are better than The Flash: Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Everything Everywhere All at Once, the two Spider-Verses. But what The Flash most resembles is, of course, Spider-Man: No Way Home, since both films resurrect stars from past films to BLOW our MINDS and also exploit the snot out of your nostalgia. Oh, and there’s multiple on-the-nose references to Back to the Future.
Performance Worth Watching: Miller is weirdly charismatic and exhibits keen comic timing in a dual role. One of the film’s more enjoyable components is the dynamic between Mature Barry, who was a little goofy before but tones down his eccentricity in the presence of his other self, and Immature Barry, who’s happy and isn’t burdened by the trauma of being an orphan and jibber-jabbers endlessly and has a highly irritating laugh, which bodes well for him if he should decide to become a YouTuber. All this is a way of saying, hey, it’s too bad about Ezra Miller, because at this point, his career appears to be nuked.
Memorable Dialogue: This is not the Lego Batman quote, it’s by the Affleck Batman, but it sounds like something Lego Batman would say: “My ego’s way too big to say thank you to someone else.”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: The Flash is the C+iest of all C+ movies. Somewhere in this overstuffed 144-minute mess are the following things:
- The signature highly amusing comedy of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who were originally signed to write and direct, but ultimately abandoned ship (their script landed on the desk of Christina Hodson — of Birds of Prey “fame” — for a rewrite). Their goofy brand of action-comedy humor, established in Game Night and Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, bursts ebulliently forth at times, and is the film’s most endearing quality. (One wonders if a Daley-Goldstein directorial effort would have had better results, or if they would’ve been steamrolled by the DC machine.)
- The signature dour tone of other DC films, which tend to take themselves far too seriously. It’s leavened by the Daley-Goldstein stuff, and also Barry’s moderately affecting I-lost-my-mother emotional sludge. This is a long way of saying The Flash is tonally inconsistent.
- Some amazing visual-effects work, specifically the highly effective instances where Miller shares the frame and interacts with himself. Doppelganger VFX tech is as convincing as ever.
- Some exceptionally putrid visual-effects work, specifically the CGI, which doesn’t even bother to make the fight/action sequences not look like cartoons or video game cutscenes. It’s even worse in the de-aging/deepfake dept., where specific faces (living or dead) you’ll recognize from specific past films (NO SPOILERS!!!1!!!11!!!1!!) are uncanny-valleyed into oblivion. How a $200 million-and-then-some budget results in such eyeball-excoriating FX is beyond the palest pale.
- References! Oh MY gosh, there are so many references in this movie, to other DC movies and movies that almost existed but don’t exist and other time-travel movies and cartoon versions of familiar characters, and more. If you like to be reminded that you know things and remember things, this movie will do that over and over again.
There are more things in this movie, but these are the big things. The movie is just a bunch of things tossed together with the Sad Barry arc weaving its way through them all, but unable to draw them together into something manageable. It feels relentlessly engineered to be everything etc. all at etc. etc., because that’s what’s hip and cool and with-it in the modern superhero-cinema game, but those engineers don’t seem to care if the final product is visually or thematically coherent (you can truly sense how the production churned through writers, directors, producers and execs). There’s a lot to like about The Flash; there’s a lot to dislike about The Flash. “How do you like our endless paradox?” a character asks at one point, a slashy bit of meta-critical commentary if I’ve ever heard it, and one that sums up the experience of watching DC Universe movies in general.
Our Call: The Flash may be fast, but he’s still a step behind the cinematic competition. There’s some diverting entertainment to be had here, but just as many opportunities to be baffled or annoyed. So SKIP IT for now, and maybe wait to STREAM IT for free when it eventually hits Max.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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