Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Flash (2023): A Review



Whatever merits one may find in The Flash, the newest entry in the DC Extended Universe, it comes at a terrible time. We have been treated to many films that tackle multiverses in the past few years (Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3). Last year's Best Picture winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once, centered around a multiverse. The Flash's face, Ezra Miller, has had some shall we say eccentric behaviors that has made Miller toxic to some viewers. The Flash is not a major character, even when featured in past DCEU films and outside of a successful television series has little to offer. With all that being said, is The Flash the horror that many of its detractors have proclaimed? I would say, "no". The Flash is not a horrible film. 

It's just not anything. 

Barry Allen, aka The Flash (Miller) is tired of being seen as the junior partner in the Justice League. He is also tired emotionally and physically from the trials his father Henry (Ron Livingston) is going through. Henry has been convicted of murdering his wife and Barry's mother Nora (Maribel Verdu). While Barry knows his father is innocent, there is not enough evidence to prove it.

After rescuing a collapsing hospital and taking out his frustrations by racing, Barry discovers he can run so fast he can literally go back in time. Despite warnings from Batman (Ben Affleck), Barry goes back in time enough to prevent Nora's death. He is able to see what the Allen family's life is like and is happy, until a shadowy figure knocks him into his past. Barry is eventually forced to join with his former self to recreate the accident that gave him his powers. 

Unfortunately, the other Barry Allen inherits them, and he is far too immature to handle them well. It also does not help that in this universe, there are no superheroes and Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) has come to invade and conquer Earth. With that, the Barrys join forces with Batman (Michael Keaton) and later on, not Superman but Supergirl (Sasha Calle). Battles ensue, heroes die, and Barry realizes that he cannot change the past entirely. 

I do not know if it is damning with faint praise to say that I did not hate The Flash. One senses that there is something of a story desperately clawing to get out. Issues such as attempting to change history and acceptance of grief are bubbling underneath the surface. It is surprising, however, that despite having only one screenwriter (Christina Hodson) and one screen story by credit (Joby Harold), The Flash seems a hodgepodge of chaos. At almost two-and-a-half hours, The Flash takes such a long time on other matters that by the time you get somewhere, you are bored.

Was there a reason for the entire hospital sequence? Granted, it was a chance for Bruce Wayne's loyal Alfred (Jeremy Irons) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to pop in and cash their checks (Affleck has two scenes, so he did a bit more work). Yet, we could have cut the entire sequence and gotten to Henry Allen's impending court date to get to our story.

Perhaps this section was there to give us some simply ghastly VFX work. Not since poor Bradley Cooper attempted to make a baby doll appear lifelike in American Sniper has the screen given us such awful computer-generated imagery of babies. The various sequences of Barry seeing his newly created future was equally ghastly, as was when the Barrys went through that same world.

As the various worlds are collapsing onto themselves due to both Barrys furiously attempting to fix the climactic battle in their favor, we get what I think will end up being controversial moments. In these various universes we see both the George Reeves and Christopher Reeve versions of Superman (the latter joined by Helen Slater's Supergirl), along with Adam West's Batman and even the never-materialized Nicolas Cage version of Superman. 

As a side note, Slater and Reeves never actually appeared together in a Superman/Supergirl movie. There were plans for Reeves to cameo in Supergirl to meet his Kryptonian cousin, but they fell through. 

There is not enough nostalgia to justify this section. Moreover, I imagine that more than one viewer would genuinely wonder who some of these figures are. How many Zoomers know of George Reeves' Superman from the 1950's television series? Some might not even be aware of Christopher Reeve's Superman given that for some, Henry Cavill is the only Superman they know (he does appear via computer-generated imagery, something that comes across almost as a slap in the face given how popular he has been to fans). 

How the Adam West version of Batman, which was strictly camp, can fit into what is meant to be a serious film cannot be explained. How Christian Bale or Robert Pattinson's very dark version of The Dark Knight cannot fit into The Flash is equally left unexplained. Neither can the exclusion of other past Supermen Dean Cain, Brandon Routh, Tom Welling and Tyler Hoechlin, as well as former Supergirl Melissa Benoist and former Flash Grant Gustin.

Gustin's exclusion in particular has, from what I understand, drawn the ire from DC fans given how successful both he and The Flash television series have been. It is strange to be so celebratory about certain versions of these characters but selective on who pops in. Batman's West is in. Gustin's Flash is out. 

Most baffling is George Clooney reprising his role as Batman at the end of The Flash. Clooney has never fully lived down his disastrous performance in Batman & Robin, a film that derailed the Batman franchise until Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. To his credit, Clooney is the first to laugh at how Batman & Robin came close to wrecking his career, and I can only assume that he did it as a favor, perhaps for his friend Affleck. Still, why he was in this at all, even for a quick cameo, is baffling.

It is more baffling since we had 71-year-old Michael Keaton return as Batman in the alternate universe that the Barrys are in. If the 1989 Batman and the 1997 Batman & Robin films are in the same universe, then Keaton and Clooney are supposed to be the same person. In a mad effort to please fanboys, The Flash only succeeded in making things maddeningly muddled.

Keaton is the sole standout in The Flash acting-wise. He has the gravitas of an older, more seasoned superhero who is lured out of retirement. He does seem to be superfluous to the overall story, but Keaton does excellent as the more world-weary Caped Crusader.

Everyone else, though, brings nothing to the screen. Miller, to be fair, is not terrible when playing the more serious Barry Allen. Less so is Miller when playing the goofier Barry. A chance for Miller to play dual roles falls flat. Calle's Kara Zor-El has a permanent scowl on her face, but to be fair she is not given much to do or work with. It is hard to build a personality when you are almost thrust into things and expected to carry so much of the film.

Shannon looks bored and again, to be fair, his General Zod is a weak antagonist. He is pretty much forgotten about while Batman and the Barrys search for "Superman" only to find the future Supergirl. That entire section is so unimportant that Zod's henchwoman, nicknamed "Mistress Murder" by the immature Barry, is just there.

The Flash has some simply inexcusable visual effects. Despite the protests of its director, Andy Muschietti, so much of The Flash's visuals look so fake it is astonishing that the film could have been so costly to make. A quick moment when the Flash's head pops out rivals a similar moment in Thor: Love and Thunder in terms of fake looking. 

The Flash's script is too self-indulgent with certain elements. A section where we learn that in this universe, Eric Stoltz finished Back to the Future and Michael J. Fox ended up in Footloose and Kevin Bacon in Top Gun is not funny and pretty pointless. It must have been funny to the production crew, because Stoltz is brought up later. A pointless section where Barry calls Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) looking for his son Arthur (the future Aquaman) is equally pointless and just pads the film's already bloated runtime. Jason Momoa's post-credit scene does not help and can be skipped in my estimation.

We could have gone faster if we had had a montage of the final battle versus seeing endless computer-generated imagery of Zod killing Zara. 

It is strange that the idea of changing the past to "fix" the future has been touched on in so many movies already. Even the original Superman and Superman II had the Man of Steel literally turn back time to save the one he loved. 

The Flash is a jumbled mess, bloated, with no sense of direction and worse, no heart behind it. Only Michael Keaton's return as Batman is worth anything, and even that was not necessary. While not the worst film I've seen this year, Warner Brothers really should close down the Extended Universe once and for all. 

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