Haunted by his past, Barry Allen, better known for his alter ego, the Flash, races back in time to rewrite a tragic death from his youth. This decision sends shockwaves through the universe, unlocking an alternate reality where new heroes and foes emerge in The Flash.
I am sure executives at Warner Brothers and DC want most pundits to race past the film's pre-release controversies with Flash's signature super speed. Years of problematic behavior from the film's star, Ezra Miller, and seismic regime changes at DC leave the long-awaited project in a fascinating quagmire. Frankly, these storylines are more intriguing to dissect than the soulless film that has arrived on screen.
The Flash marks a new nadir in the modern DC Universe. Entering the same infamous vein as 2016's disastrous Suicide Squad and 2011's woeful The Green Lanter, this lighting-quick yet emotionally vacant feature races toward a plethora of well-entrenched comic book staples in a disjointed and oppressively cynical fashion.
The Flash feels oddly indecisive for a project marred in a decade of development purgatory. It makes sense on paper to give Barry Allen, a comedic scene-stealer in prior DC films, his own heroic moment in the spotlight. While the concept seems like a fluid extension, the final product dashes around in circles without drawing a well-defined identity. Half of the experience tries to feature Allen in a similar vein to his DC peers. In contrast, the other half clumsily introduces multi-verse shenanigans that are grand in scope yet inept in their delivery.
Like The Avengers: End Game and Spider-Man: No Way Home before it, The Flash frames its time travel plotline within DC's expansive comic book universe. Opening a Pandora's box of deep-cut references dedicated to past cinematic icons is a common trope for blockbusters. More and more films today lean upon nostalgia and loving homages as an easily digestible marketing gimmick to bolster their appeal. The Flash is absolutely listless in introducing its gamut of poorly integrated cameos. I, like many superhero fans, expressed excitement toward the return of Michael Keaton's Batman and the introduction of a new Supergirl. Keaton remains my favorite caped crusader to this day; his performance taps into a melancholic side of Batman that is rarely given nuance onscreen.
Here, Keaton finds himself stuck in the morass of a supremely uninteresting character. The creative team makes no effort to incorporate the gothic aesthetics or emotional undertones from Keaton's beloved work, instead straddling the actor in a lifeless husk of his Batman persona. He comes across as a shoddy clone, appearing as a disposable action figure who is only there to regurgitate signature dialogue and attract cheap responses from audiences reminiscing about his glory days. Sasha Calle is equally undercut in her debut as Supergirl. The actress showcases commanding force in unearthing the character's insular complexions, yet a glaring lack of screentime prevents the role from developing into a lived-in figure onscreen. The great shame is that Keaton and Calle could have shined onscreen if utilized with thought and care. It becomes abundantly clear, though, that The Flash is vacant of those qualities.
Somehow, Batman and Supergirl's half-hearted inclusions are not the worst cameos featured in The Flash. Christina Hodson's momentum-free screenplay builds toward a lifeless final act that empties the bucket of past DC heroes. The various references assault the screen without adding significance, with the film preying on nostalgia as a flimsy substitute for developing an engrossing story on its own merits.
Each cynical nod to the fans appears more desperate than the last, including several now-deceased actors who are carelessly rebuilt through sluggish CGI. Making goodwill gestures to fans and a property's legacy is not an inherently bad idea, although they come off in poor taste when implemented as gaudy gimmicks rather than integral narrative components. I give director Anders Muschetti some credit for trying to imbue life into these admittedly dreary frames. Muschetti implements a few subversive techniques, such as distorting characters and backgrounds to showcase a blur of time created by Flash's superspeed. Unfortunately, the blips of creative inspiration Muschetti attempts suffocate under the typical blockbuster formula. Each action setpiece comes off as factory-made, jam-packing tedious explosions and video game-esque effects work to create mind-numbing moments of meaningless mayhem.
You may have noticed how few mentions I've made of the film's titular character so far. That's because the movie (and its bombastic marketing campaign) goes out of its way to sideline the Flash. The wave of eccentric quirks that have defined this iteration of Barry Allen charmed in small doses; his youthful exuberance and refreshingly tentative personality made for a welcomed everyman amidst an array of heroic titans.
In The Flash, the character is strangely given little supplementary material to work with. He remains the same oddball jokester, spewing constant one-liners and deflecting his feelings at every turn. Rather than giving the character more room for exploration, the film dials up his personality to new extremes, creating an insufferably cloying presence defined only by his idiosyncrasies. Ezra Miller does not thrive in these circumstances, but I have a hard time faulting them completely when the film around them falls apart at the seams. The screenplay does try to award Barry an emotional arc as the character races back in the past to prevent his mother's death. However, these maudlin, emotionally manipulative frames conjure little response from viewers. The whole message of "move on from your past" also comes off as insincere when the film spends so much time reveling in its needless cameos.
The Flash makes it abundantly clear why DC is choosing to hit the hard reset button on their cinematic universe. Similar to other recent DC failures, Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the film is desperate to please yet only attempts to do so through cheap gimmicks and a lethargic embrace of superhero formula.
The Flash is now playing in theaters.