After almost a decade, and a total internal reshuffle at DC Entertainment, The Flash, finally has arrived. The film stars Ezra Miller as the titular character supported by Michael Keaton and Sasha Calle as Batman and Supergirl respectively. It is a film that in many ways is a legacy of a nearly bygone era of DC superhero movies. Yet it also opens a bridge to everything that will come next.
The Fastest Man Alive
The Flash finds itself debuting at an awkward time. It is one of the last remaining holdovers from Zack Snyder’s controversial takes on the characters. At the same time, the next generation of DC movies headed up by James Gunn are on the horizon. This film feels like a bit of a farewell to the first big screen Justice League. The Flash opens with a heist by a nameless faceless set of bad guys that provides the Justice League with the kind of fun teamwork that we rarely get to see in superhero movies. It also showcases one of the most fun and most bizarre uses of superspeed ever put to film. It is a fantastic set piece that sets the tone of the film to be a little weird. The film very much follows through on this promise even as it gets increasingly serious over its almost two and a half hour run time.
The visual language of the film is quite breathtaking. Its representations of time travel, super speed and the multiverse are stunning. Ezra Miller’s kinetic body language is also something to behold. It lends itself to physical, almost slapstick comedy, at times that in another context would feel out of place. Here though it feels perfectly stylistically consistent.
Flash of Two Worlds
Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen bears little resemblance to the comic book character who bears his name in temperament or personality at the start of this film. However, about halfway through the film, there is a turn in the character. We see Barry maturing in real time and become the hero we want him to be. He is still silly, but he gains a confidence and displays an intellect that was previously missing from this rendition of the character. By splitting off the goofiness and immaturity into Flashpoint Barry, it frees Earth 1 Barry to be more like his comic book counterpart and it is a change for the better.
Ezra Miller really is the star of this show. Any fears that this would be a Batman movie starring the Flash are eliminated entirely. This is Ezra Miller’s film and everyone else is a supporting character. Michael Keaton’s performance is suitably campy without being overdone. Sasha Calle’s nuanced and understated performance of Supergirl is powerful and filled with pain and gravitas. She was a highlight of the film, and I would love to see more of her. The same can not be said for Iris West. Iris is given some absolutely soul crushing dialogue and Kiersey Clemons just does not feel like a good fit in the role. Barry’s parents, Maribel Verdú and Ron Livingston, are serviceable in their roles. Maribel’s Nora provides real warmth to the character and makes her story especially heartbreaking.
Unlike most superhero films, the central relationship and indeed the central antagonist is Barry’s relationship with his past. It’s an inspired choice by the filmmakers to not have the central villain be someone Barry can punch or outrun. Instead it is an internal conflict, a conflict about power and ethical use of that power. Fundamentally, ethical frameworks are written by humans with our own limitations, and this film asks why those should apply to those who can alter reality itself.
The Flash is a movie about change. Our ability to be effectors of that change and coming to terms with the consequences of change. Superheroes often times come up against a totally reasonable critical argument of “why don’t they do more”? If Superman really is that fast and that strong, then why isn’t world peace achievable? If the Flash really is that fast then why is there any crime at all? This movie seeks to address these kinds of philosophical questions. More importantly though, it seeks peace. Peace with our past and peace with our future. And in this respect, it somehow miserably fails.
Sometimes There Are Infinite Solutions
The film thematically brings up the idea of there being no solution. Yet, the example they provide, a homework problem that Barry works as a child doesn’t have no solution. It, in fact, has infinite solutions. This seems to prove a rather contradictory narrative about Barry’s character which is that he is simply not emotionally equipped to handle a problem with more than one solution. Barry’s evolution and his ability to cope with the tragedy of his past is all undone in the final sequence of the film. He doesn’t learn or accept anything, especially if the theory of time travel and the multiverse that is laid out by Batman is true.
It’s a great gag, but it fundamentally ruins Barry’s narrative arc through the film. Not only that, but the idea that the father’s alibi for the murder of his mother didn’t hold up makes no sense given that he is shown to arrive at the house just seconds after her murder occurs. Him being at the store in now way actually exonerates him. Yet the film doesn’t show who did kill Nora, which you would have thought would have been Flash’s first stop on his time traveling crusade.
The upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom may be the true swan song for the DCEU, but The Flash feels like a farewell to these versions of the characters. It is a film that should be seen for the strength of Ezra Miller’s performance, but, like many time travel films, falls a part under the weight of its own internal logic. It is a spectacle worth seeing in theaters for sure. The scenes with Zod alone, are given so much weight with a big screen and a booming sound system behind them. The Flash ultimately is like too many of the DCEU films: a strong character piece but thematically fundamentally flawed.