In what can only be described as a swan song to the DC Extended Universe, The Flash zooms into theaters after years of production troubles and off-screen issues with star Ezra Miller. With James Gunn taking over the studio to build a new cinematic universe, The Flash is potentially a last hurrah for the remaining elements of the DCEU, with many famous characters likely to be recast and this continuity put to rest. As seen in the trailers, the central plot of The Flash centers around time travel and multiverse hopping (yes, another multiverse movie), so the film seems set up to be reset.
Without too much spoiler-type material, Andy Muschietti‘s film is a fine enough endpoint. While awash with issues, including a rushed plot, horrendous special effects, and somewhat bland direction, it also has a surprising humor, some touching scenes, and decent performances. It also cleverly works as an origin story despite the multiverse approach.
Set after Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Barry Allen’s Flash is a hero who occasionally helps the Justice League. The opening of the film features a surprising number of cameos and has a fun, comic-booky spirit. There’s a surprisingly dark sense of humor, too, as the film puts multiple babies (terrible CGI babies, but still) into peril as they fall out of a collapsing hospital. This off-kilter humor persists throughout the film, though it never feels as daring as this first instance.
In what can only be described as a clunky decision, Flash has flashbacks about his parental issues and then runs to his childhood home before running out so fast that he accidentally travels into the past. Lazy screenwriting is unfortunately fairly common throughout the script, as it moves from scene to scene and moment to moment in a helter-skelter manner that leaves little room to breathe.
The main plot kicks off from there. Despite warnings from Ben Affleck‘s Bruce Wayne, Barry travels back to the past and alters it to prevent his mom dying. As one might expect, this alters the universe, and Barry finds himself in a reality where no superhumans exist, but General Zod (played by Michael Shannon, last seen in Man of Steel) arrives on Earth with no one to defend it. Barry finds his past self, and the pair team up to find people to save the world, including Michael Keaton‘s Batman.
To call this hyper-convenient and contrived would be an understatement. But ignoring all of the shortcuts, there are positives. Miller does a fine job playing a young version of Barry, who is more immature and goofy, allowing older Barry to see how others see him. This allows older Barry to teach younger Barry about being The Flash, allowing for a fun backdoor origin story in a film full of more grandiose things. Miller is actually fairly funny, and brings the right energy to the more emotional moments. Barry’s arc is learning to accept he can’t save everyone and can’t solve every problem. This doesn’t feel especially specific to Barry, but it allows a few somewhat touching moments between Barry and Keaton’s Bruce, or Barry and other Barry. Barry’s natural desire to want to have more time with his mom is something one can empathize with, and these scenes don’t feel devoid of heart.
The rushed nature of the plot leaves nearly everyone else feeling wasted, though. Keaton is good enough in his return to the cowl, but is hardly a character. He has some dialogue near the end of the film to try to imply there was an arc, but the paltry screentime devoted to him doesn’t justify it. That said, there is boyish pleasure to seeing him in action as Danny Elfman’s iconic theme trumpets in the background. It’s pure nostalgia bait, but fun all the same. Sasha Calle’s Supergirl is even less of a character. She has hardly any dialogue or screentime and feels like she’s in it just because. Michael Shannon is an actor with great presence, a highlight of Man of Steel, but he has next to nothing to do here. Zod is there for a big CGI battle more than for any meaningful scenes.
To call the film’s ending anti-climatic would be an understatement. While it tries to do something at least somewhat clever, it is such a subversion of what the film built toward for two acts that it makes most of the cast feel like a waste of space. It doesn’t help that the site of the film’s climax is the Time Bubble, where the special effects are at their worst. It’s on level with The Scorpion King, and it doesn’t help that the effects are used for a series of cameos of questionable integrity.
Because the film is such a run and dash affair, it avoids the outright stupidity that many blockbuster scripts have. But The Flash is only average at best. It is enjoyable in many spots, and not anywhere near as big of a disaster as it could have been, given the production history. For the ending of an era, the DCEU could have done worse.