The Flash is a superhero movie that knows exactly where it is in the scheme of these things – the end of days – and uses that as its own super power. This is a film that cuts quickly to the chase, doesn’t overdo the lore and knows that laughter is a good alternative to roughage in a superhero diet. It even understands that the obligatory “guys beating the shit out of each other” big finish is in need of an overhaul and needs freshening up a touch.
We need to talk about Ezra Miller. The onetime star of a film about a teenager with serious issues grew into an adult with problems of his own, problems (multiple lawsuits and accusations flying) that threatened to pull this film out of the sky.
That would have been a great shame, because this is two thirds of the way to being a great film, with Miller in particular all you could want as a petulant young man with a slight case of arrested development who is also an antsy superhero who can move at lightning speed.
But first a lightning-fast introduction to the new guy, in a fun and brilliantly executed opening in which the Flash – “the janitor of the Justice League”, as he complains to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) – deals with a high-rise hospital on the point of collapsing, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all being otherwise occupied.
There is literally a “baby shower” of newborns falling from the sky – plus nurse, plus therapy dog – once the building actually topples, giving us a thumbnail intro to the guy (loves children, the caring professions and animals) and his abilities (can move at such speed that time appears to slow right down).
Flash can move at such speed, in fact, that he can turn back time, something he eventually decides to use to “correct” a tragedy in his own family history, inadvertently changing the course of future events – if it’s the 2020s there must be a multiverse in the plot, as well all know.
In this alterna-verse, General Zod (Michael Shannon) is arriving on planet Earth to extinguish all human life, superheroes seem to be noticeable by their absence and the Flash is now just plain Barry, while his alterna-self, also called Barry but with floppy hair so we can tell the difference, is newly gifted with the Flash’s amazing abilities.
This opens the door to what is always the best bit in any superhero movie, when Joe or Joanne Normal first get their new powers and simply glory in them, have fun, go crazy.
From here an Old Flash/New Flash double act, one of them knowing how it works but no longer able to do it, the other with no idea what he is capable of but aware he’s not in Kansas any more. Miller, interacting largely with himself (with a stand-in to react against) is really remarkable here, seamless. You wouldn’t have thought that all those left-field films, starting with Antonio Campos’s brutally powerful Afterschool, would have prepared him for this sort of highly technical and emotionally alien kind of acting, but it has. This Flash (either of them) isn’t particularly loveable, but he/they are vulnerable.
It works as a movie, not just as a superhero movie, with drama, mystery and jeopardy propelling the whole thing along. But there’s plenty for the Comic Con-tingent to enjoy. Michael Keaton out of retirement as Batman, when it looked like it was going to be Ben Affleck. That’s the alterna-verse angle again, and at various points Superman turns up looking like George Reeves, Christopher Reeve and Nicolas Cage, while Adam West’s Batman also blurs by and at one point the voice of Jack Nicholson’s Joker can be heard cackling.
Sasha Calle is a new face and a new iteration of Supergirl and it may sound stupid but she gets my vote just on her ability to strike that hovering/standing-in-space stance.
For all the good stuff, the energy does not make it to the finish line, with things dropping off in the last half hour as the visuals become computer game-y and the confrontation with Zod develops into a “guys beating the shit out of each other” finale, in spite of director Andy Muschietti and a phalanx of writers mixing things up with digressions to alterna-pasts and alterna-presents.
The lesson for our superhero hero, ultimately, is don’t dick with time. The lesson for the movie’s makers turned out to be even more stark – don’t disappoint the fanatics. Though this is the sort of superhero movie that even the refusniks might enjoy, the diehards didn’t go a bundle. In spite of positive test screenings, the film lost a large amount of money, a “shit ton” I believe is the official figure.
Which means that the Supergirl spin-off movie will now not happen. Which is a pity because Calle did a lot with very little. Add that to the list of DC Universe (or Extended Universe – they don’t seem sure themselves) movies that have recently been cancelled – Batgirl lining up alongside Wonder Woman and Superman – and for all the many merits of this enjoyable movie it looks like DC is in trouble.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023