Ezra Miller headlines “The Flash,” for better and worse. Credit: Warner Bros. Ent.
It’s no secret that Warner Bros. has lost faith in the DCEU. They cut off the Zack Snyderverse and installed James Gunn as co-CEO of DC Studios to reimagine the superhero IP. They killed Batgirl for a tax break. Their last two releases, Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods, underwhelmed at the box office and with critics. And now the studio is hanging their summer hopes on The Flash, a solo film embattled by divided fans and the many allegations against and scandals surrounding star Ezra Miller.
Well, good news for those torn about whether to boycott or give their bucks over to DC’s latest: It sucks. Save your money. This movie is proof that the franchise has outlived its heyday.
Sure, the initial reactions out of CinemaCon were raves(opens in a new tab). But as more critics have seen the film, its reputation has been steadily sinking, while Miller has been carefully kept away from the media, save a brief photo op at the film’s premiere(opens in a new tab). This has made for a subdued press tour for a summer blockbuster. And The Flash may suffer for it at the theaters, as its word of mouth is unlikely to inspire.
The Flash delivers a multiverse adventure. Yeah, another one.
Credit: Warner Bros. Inc.
Marvel’s multiverse has looped in Doctor Strange and Spider-Man. Everything Everywhere All At Once won Best Picture for its inventive swing into this mind-bending concept. Coming hot on the heels of this and Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse, The Flash is running late to the game, retreading territory we’ve seen again, and again, and again.
After bringing some welcomed levity to Justice League, Ezra Miller’s Barry “The Flash” Allen has his own solo adventure. It’s unapologetically stupid and plot-holed. But hey, the studio uses it as a means to not-so-casually flaunt the other DC movies they’ve got streaming on Max. Is this why they pursued this release, even with the ongoing outcry against ostensibly platforming (or at least financially rewarding) Miller?
Isolated, overlooked, and under-appreciated “janitor of the Justice League,” Barry manages to accidentally time travel by running really, really fast. This gives Barry a fantastic idea. He asks his buddy Batman (a tired Ben Affleck) whether he thinks it would be possible for Barry to run fast enough to go back to his childhood and make his mother un-murdered, which would also save him and his wrongfully convicted dad a lot of pain. Batman says no, but Barry — with the accidental help of barely-there love interest Iris West (a criminally underused Kiersey Clemons) — decides he will anyway.
I could explain to you how unexpectedly integral tomato sauce and spaghetti noodles become to this time travel plot, but it’s bad enough I had to listen to it. Spare yourself.
Predictably, Barry’s simple plan goes wildly awry, pitching him into an alternate timeline where he meets himself at 18 as a college doofus who has two living parents and loves saying “bro.” Original Barry also realizes that not only is Batman older and hotter here (Michael Keaton, eternal smokeshow), but there are no metahumans around to save the planet from Man of Steel‘s villain, General Zod (Michael Shannon, looking annoyed at cashing this paycheck). So, can Barry and Barry and Batman and a hastily looped-in Supergirl (Sasha Calle) save the day? Honestly, it’s hard to care when this movie works so hard to do the absolute most but little happens that’s actually interesting.
This Barry Allen is best in small doses.
Opposite a growling Batman, a high-chinned Wonder Woman, a brooding Cyborg, and a surly Aquaman, Miller’s Flash was a funny foil with kid brother energy in Justice League. Here, he’s a hyperactive pest who is a chore by the end of the first act’s requisite action sequence. He’s cringingly awkward. He’s desperate for approval. And then he meets a version of himself who is less insecure but no less exhausting, speeding around like a puppy who’s been fed rocket fuel. Forced to literally face himself, Original Barry straightens up, trying to be the grown-up.
However, the two Barrys’ constant bickering over everything from battle plans to home decor — with many, many exposition dumps to help viewers remember plot details from a bevy of other movies — manages to make this two-hour, 24-minute movie feel even longer. Props to the effects team who Patty Duke’d Miller into two characters who are constantly interacting, touching, and exchanging the relentless banter in Christina Hodson and Joby Harold’s screenplay. But double the Flash is too much by half.
The Flash isn’t as funny or charming as it thinks it is.
Credit: Warner Bros. Ent.
Making matters more migraine-inducing is director Andy Muschietti’s hard but unsteady lean into comedy. The Argentinian filmmaker made his mark with a string of supremely scary films: Mama, It, and It: Chapter Two. You can see hints of his horror background in some of the movie’s gnarlier effects, like when time travel stretches Barry’s mouth Attack on Titan-style, but comedy is not Muschietti’s strong suit. Physical slapstick takes too long to set up, thanks in part to egregious slo-mo effects, and plays a bit bizarrely gross, like when Barry loses a tooth and the other Barry accidentally swallows it. Punchlines aren’t hit, they’re trounced.
Ironically, the pacing throughout the film is gruelingly slow. The magic made when X-Men: Days of Future Past gave us the zippy fun of Quicksilver’s run is not recreated on this side of the Marvel/DC divide. The Flash’s running is unspectacular, and his slo-mo rescues, while peppered with ridiculous feats of dexterity and ingenuity, lack a sense of fun.
For instance, the opening salvo features Flash at a crumbling hospital, where innocent victims are plummeting to their presumed deaths. But they’re not just any victims! This franchise has razed cities, killed countless in collateral damage — even its own heroes. So, the DC movies are now at a place where they must chuck babies out of a skyscraper, as well as a therapy dog for good measure, just for effect.
Barry is forced to dash about in an overlong, slo-mo action sequence to protect these cooing skydivers from being crushed, stabbed, or set aflame by debris. It’s supposed to be funny, and hey, it sounds pretty hilarious, right? But there’s a winking cynicism at play here that leans on nostalgia while also pushing everything to extremes, because surely we’re numb to all this repeated superhero spectacle by now? The drudgery of these repetitions becomes a literal plot here, hammered into the ground like so much fallen hero.
Perhaps this cynicism was inevitable, because The Flash is less a movie and more a massive marketing campaign to renew interest in upcoming DCEU titles, as well as all those that came before. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Michael Keaton is still hot as hell as Batman.
Credit: Warner Bros. Ent.
Granted, a bunch of talented, dashing actors have put on that iconic Batman cowl. But for my money, not one has been as scorchingly exciting as Michael Keaton, who starred in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and (my personal favorite) Batman Returns. In The Flash, Keaton steps back into the role he made his own with a defiantly blue-collar charm and a tendency to “get nuts.”
I hate so, so much about this movie, but I’m elated to see Keaton back in this role, twisted though it may be. His Batman is puttering around the ruins of Wayne Manor (“What is this?” Other Barry asks, “Hell!?”) when we discover him with the now-cliched Batman depression beard. But while Affleck and Christian Bale looked down and out with this facial hair choice, Keaton, with a long, wavy, gray wizard wig, matching beard, and kicky ascot, is a silver fox. The fight is still in his character and in his eyes. And when he does the inevitable “I’m Batman (again)” makeover, it’s a heady thrill to see that strong jaw in that structured suit once again.
While his Batman is rough around the edges, Keaton plays well with others; he manages to be the straight man to the Barrys’ bonkers outbursts without surrendering his sharp-browed comedic reactions. Danny Elfman’s score from Batman infuses this superhero’s scenes with a gravitas borrowed from another age, when the hero could be serious but these movies could be gothic, ultra-sexy freak shows that took wild risks. However, it’s also a reminder of how bedraggled with cliches and tie-ins this current crop has become. Plus, as entertaining as it is to see Keaton back in the fray, it also feels forced when he’s pushed to repeat the lines he made quotable over three decades ago. Did I squeal in fangirling recognition? Yes. Am I also part of the problem? Also yes.
The Flash doesn’t live up to the hype.
Credit: Warner Bros. Ent.
It’s not just Keaton who is included to stoke nostalgia. I’ll spare spoilers except to say The Flash recognizes it can’t coast on its own premise, which feels tired even if it is an adaptation of 2011’s Flashpoint. It can’t succeed on the chaotic charm of Miller, and it gives too little time to newcomer Sasha Calle to make an impact as a character who is chiefly presented here as a mirror of a pre-established hero. Keaton brings the sex appeal and sparking charisma that made him a household name in the ’80s, and bless him for all that. But his Batman is essentially a sidekick here who turns up an hour into the movie, which is too little and too late to save this film from itself.
With The Flash, Muschietti has stuffed stars, jokes, action, and so much DC exposition dumps that you may well long for simpler times when a movie only asked you to know its story, not the dozens leading up to it. But amid this sea of spectacle and stuff, and wave upon wave of great to deeply uncanny CGI action, this movie is a mess. The Flash strives to appease apparent studio demands, the fickle love of fans, the gnawing yearning for nostalgia, and the increasingly impossible task of finding something new to say while repeating the same stories, and succeeds at none of it.
Or maybe it’s just not my speed.
Kristy Puchko is the Film Editor at Mashable. Based in New York City, she’s an established film critic and entertainment reporter, who has traveled the world on assignment, covered a variety of film festivals, co-hosted movie-focused podcasts, interviewed a wide array of performers and filmmakers, and had her work published on RogerEbert.com, Vanity Fair, and The Guardian. A member of the Critics Choice Association and GALECA as well as a Top Critic on Rotten Tomatoes, Kristy’s primary focus is movies. However, she’s also been known to gush over television, podcasts, and board games. You can follow her on Twitter. (opens in a new tab)