The wants and needs of comic book fans is something of a tall order when it comes to successfully executing a story that has a certain level of lore attached to it. In terms of The Flash, there’s perhaps an even stronger necessity for the film to prove its worth off the back of certain controversies and the subsequent studio defiance in seeing the film garner a release.
I won’t go into any of those specifics as I’m looking at The Flash as a film on its own accord, and as another comic book offering hoping to leap around any fatigue audiences may be experiencing from a relative over-saturation, its Back To The Future-inspired mentality places it on a higher plane than many of its fellow DCEU counterparts.
It may not get everything correct, and the effects aren’t always completely polished, but it owns its outlandishness in a near-perfect capacity, it dedicates its sole F-bomb use to a particularly great humour gag, and when it’s leading with its heart, Andy Muschietti‘s ambitious actioner is impossible to dislike.
Both an origin story and continuation of the actions laid forth in Justice League, The Flash (Ezra Miller), initially, is presented as a superhero happy to put in the work – though he notes to Batman (Ben Affleck, who reminds us just how great a caped crusader he actually is) that he never feels as if he’s always the first point of contact in a crisis – but, as Barry Allen, is having more difficulty in juggling a healthy balance between his work and his personal life; ironically he always seems pressed for time.
Consumed in his determination to prove the innocence of his father (Ron Livingston), currently incarcerated for the supposed slaying of Barry’s mother (a wonderfully tender Maribel Verdú), Barry, literally outrunning his problems, uncovers an ability that allows him to travel back in time. This unwitting discovery is naturally harnessed by Barry for the most pure of purposes – now he can alter the timeline so that his mother isn’t murdered by a rogue intruder, thus setting his father free from prison – but, as warned by Batman, this ripple effect could drastically transform not only Barry’s very existence but the world as he knows it.
It goes without saying that Barry doesn’t listen to such warnings, but in saving his parents from their fates he creates a new timeline where a much more enthusiastic, non-Flash enhanced Barry exists and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s forced by a mysterious presence to remain in said new timeline. With this new setting, screenwriter Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey, Bumblebee) – working off a story by John Francis Daley (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Jonathan Goldstein (Game Night) and Joby Harold (Transformers: Rise of the Beasts) – has an awful lot of fun in twisting certain pop culture references, and Miller’s dual performance as the opposing Barrys allows the actor to indulge in their natural on-screen charisma, but it also speaks to the film’s emotional core and how easy it is to let trauma define us, but that we need to utilise it as a strength above all.
The film’s own delight in referencing iconic 1980’s properties is carried over to The Flash‘s eventual plot device of introducing (or re-introducing) the Batman and Supergirl of Barry’s newfound reality; Batman (Michael Keaton, effortlessly reprising his role from the 1989 original film and its 1992 sequel, Batman Returns), an older incarnation, and Supergirl (Sasha Calle), who arrived on Earth as a substitute for the Superman Barry has become accustomed to.
With Affleck and Keaton’s appearances as Batman, Calle’s Supergirl, and a certain horde of cameo appearances from other-dimensional superheroes, there may be a worry to some that The Flash turned to such character inclusions as a way to deflect from the character’s own inability to lead a picture. But as Miller demonstrated in Justice League (whether it be Joss Whedon’s sanitised version or Zack Snyder’s superior 4 hour-cut), they’re a presence to take note of, and whilst the film could be accused of overtly servicing fans, The Flash more feels as if it’s celebrating comic history rather than catering for mere likes and approval.
As is typical with most comic book outings, the climactic 3rd act never quite feels as emotionally resonant as all that has come before – especially when compared to the genuine stirring of Barry’s insistence in keeping his family alive – with Supergirl feeling a little short-changed as a character (though Calle is stellar) and Michael Shannon‘s appearance as Man of Steel‘s big bad, Zod, not earning as much impact as we know is capable. That being said, Supergirl and Batman both feel warranted in their inclusion in both the story and as catalysts for Barry’s psychological breakthrough in accepting tragedy as a necessary evil in one’s own actuality.
Succeeding in spite of its own imperfections, The Flash conjures enough awe, emotion, humour and visual wonder to earn its place amongst the upper echelons of its genre.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Flash is screening in Australian theatres from June 15th, 2023.