Arriving with not-so-lightning speed towards the end of the DC Extended Universe’s cinematic run, The Flash is a project that’s technically been in the works since the 1980s and is finally bolting into theaters. Based around the lauded Flashpoint comic book storyline, the movie’s narrative integrates time travel and multiverses in ways that should be inspired but ultimately end up just creating a confusing mess. Even if one goes into the film with knowledge of the myriad storylines from this Universe, along with general knowledge from other superhero lore, there’s a good chance audience members will have issues keeping up with the leaps in continuity and logic that this film makes. Despite some winning performances and some of the most consistent humor in a DCEU entry so far, The Flash is too little too late.
The Flash opens with Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), now a full-time member of the Justice League as The Flash, in the midst of handling a speedy clean-up for Batman (Ben Affleck) during a particularly messy car chase. After that bout of crime fighting, Barry works to clean up grocery store footage that will exonerate his father Henry (Ron Livingston) after the wrongful conviction of his wife’s murder. In frustration one night, The Flash discovers that he is able to run so fast that he can travel faster than the speed of light and, in doing so, effectively travel through time. Hurt over his mother’s murder years prior, he jets back in time with the intent of preventing her death but his actions create an alternate reality where Barry runs into his former self. Along with an altered version of Batman (Michael Keaton), the two Barrys work to set the timeline right.
Yes, The Flash sees the return of Keaton donning the cape and cowl for the first time in over 30 years and despite the time that’s passed, he settles back into the role very nicely. His Bruce Wayne was always the most eccentric and cerebral of the bunch, traits that Keaton has refined even further in his career since Batman Returns. While director Andy Muschietti can’t help but bolster the performance with CG-enhanced virility that has Keaton moving like an impossibly spry sexagenarian, the best Keaton moments in this film call back to the ingenuity of those earlier Burton Batmans. Staging an escape in an elevator shaft, he quickly calculates the collective weight of the escapees, along with a handy tape measure, and sets an explosive charge with proportional propulsion to shoot them up to the roof.
Though Muschietti and his screenwriter Christina Hodson do their best to hold our hand through the time travel paradoxes and multiverse snafus, it’s enough to say that the concept of the “butterfly effect” is used very liberally throughout The Flash. After Barry makes his first interjection within the past, the ramifications are predictably severe and the storyline gets messier than an Ashton Kutcher nose bleed. But if going back in time and zipping back to the future is enough to completely alter the appearance of someone (Bruce Wayne, for instance, since he’s played by two actors), shouldn’t nearly everything else be drastically changed too? The way that these universes unravel relies heavily either on plot contrivance or comedic effect, as with the running joke that Eric Stoltz starred in an alternate version of Back To The Future instead of Michael J. Fox.
I’m not someone who tends to pick on CGI in these superhero epics; there’s often so much money on the screen that the majority of these blockbusters are arranged at least competently enough for me to ignore some choppy rendering or unconvincing shading here and there. Having said that, this movie has scenes containing some of the most jaw-droppingly outdated effects I’ve seen in the modern superhero era. When The Flash is speeding through time, he generates a large orb of energy around him that projects flashes of events as they were and could have been. It’s not clear to me if these images are meant to look as if real actors were present in creating these vignettes but as presented, they would barely pass muster as cutscenes from a Playstation 2 game. The Flash has flashes of brilliance when it tackles themes of regret and acceptance but stumbles in delivering a coherent standalone feature.
Score – 2.5/5
More movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Elemental, a Pixar animated movie starring Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie set in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic elements of nature where a fire creature and water creature strike up a romantic relationship.
Also playing only in theaters is The Blackening, a horror comedy starring Grace Byers and Jermaine Fowler about a group of Black friends who go away for the weekend, only to find themselves trapped in a cabin with a killer who has a vendetta.
Streaming on Netflix is Extraction 2, an action thriller starring Chris Hemsworth and Idris Elba continuing the story of a black-ops mercenary whose new mission involves the rescue of a ruthless Georgian gangster’s family from the prison where they are being held.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup