For a film about the fastest man alive, The Flash has had an incredibly laborious time making it to the big screen. From a slew of creative differences, a multitude of directors and writers dropping in and out of the project for the better part of two decades, a squabbled attempt at an expanded universe and now a complete clean slate in the form of James Gunn’s DCU, it’s a near miracle that Barry Allen and Speed Force ever made it to cinemas in the first place under the direction of It’s Andy Muschietti.
How does it do?
The Flash is a film that succeeds far more than it fails, and has its heart very much in the right place. While it doesn’t reach the same heights and triumphs that it otherwise could have, it’s one of the more solid entries in the heaving library of comic book films, and a much better note to leave on as the lights go out in the DCEU.
Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is a young man out of time and out of step. Forever late to his job as a forensic chemist at S.T.A.R. Labs, and chief whipping boy of the Justice League, life has treated Allen more than a little unfairly. Returning to his childhood home, where he watched his mother (Maribel Verdi) die at the hands of an unknown assailant, a crime for which his father, Henry (Ron Livingston) has been falsely imprisoned for, Barry runs. Fast. He runs so fast that he finds a way to turn back time. Finally discovering a mechanism to right the wrongs of his past, and against the sage advice of one Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), Barry travels back to the day of his mother’s murder to prevent it from ever happening and rejoin his newly whole family. Or so he thinks.
The past few months of superhero releases have been an interesting lesson on what makes the genre work. While Quantumania landed with a thud, Guardians Vol. 3 and Across the Spider-Verse have soared, and while The Flash doesn’t quite bask in the sun alongside its contemporaries, it does have something in common that makes it work – heart. It’s not enough, in any story, to merely have a CGI smash ‘em up and hope that the audience remains on side. It becomes difficult to care if the character at the centre of the story is difficult to identify with. At its core, The Flash is the tale of a boy who misses his mother. It’s here where Muschietti and writers Christina Hudson and Joby Harold find their treasure trove of narrative gold. And, quite frankly, that should have been enough to carry the story. Miller’s Barry is a broken child, unable to reconcile with the past, especially with the Speed Force at his fingertips. For all the goofiness and the wonderfully awkward humour, it’s hard not to feel bad for the kid, who’s attempting to right an injustice, even if it means breaking the space-time continuum in the process.
Where The Flash loses its step is in its nostalgia padding. Absolutely, it’s a joy to see Michael Keaton suit-up again in the rubber cowl, and, with the aid of some modern day stunt wizardry and CGI ingenuity, give the ’89 Batman an infinitely more spritely step. And Sasha Calle does indeed turn in a star-making performance as Supergirl, protector of Kal-El with a far more grungier and darker demeanour than we’re used to seeing from other iterations of the character.
But none of it is needed or earned. Barry should have been enough. With the off-kilter sense of humour and unique visual style (rubber banded CGI not withstanding), Muschietti has a enough at his fingertips to bring together a story that leans heavy on the heartfelt and doesn’t require the need to look to other franchises to help prop up what is the first (and maybe only?) solo outing of the character. It remains a fun time at the cinema and cheeky love letter to the wonderful foibles of the DC universe spanning decades. But Barry Allen as a character has enough juice in those legs to carry a film without the need for a cameo-palooza,