Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Andy Muschietti
Stars: Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdu, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot, Temuera Morrison, Kiersey Clemons.
Once more into the multiverse we go. For a while the Marvel superhero movies have been exploring the fertile possibilities of the multiverse, which is full of potential if done right, as in the recent Spiderman: No Way From Home. And now it seems as if the DC expanded universe is dipping its toes into this rich territory with The Flash, a belated stand-alone spin off from their Justice League series of superhero films. But somehow, despite their best efforts with the DC extended universe, they fail to match the Marvel films.
The Flash of course is the alter ego of Barry Allen (played here by Ezra Miller, from The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, etc), who is something of a socially awkward, insecure and nerdy sort who works as a forensic scientist in the city’s crime laboratories and continually feasts on junk food. He has been driven into this line of work by his desire to try and prove his father (Ron Livingston) innocent of killing his beloved and supportive mother Nora (Maribel Verdu). Barry acquired his superpowers after he was struck by lightning and doused in chemicals, but he has always felt like a second-string hero only called upon to save the city when Batman is unavailable.
The film opens with an exciting sequence that sees Barry/Flash rescue babies from a collapsing hospital while Batman (Ben Affleck) is engaged in a high-speed chase pursuing some bank robbers through the streets of Gotham City. Having saved the babies, Barry races through the city and discovers that if he can run at the speed of light he can journey back in time. Barry thinks that he might be able to harness this newfound ability to travel back in time to prevent the murder of his mother. However, Bruce Wayne warns him against such actions, suggesting that playing around with the space/time continuum could actually upset the balance of the world.
Undeterred, Barry travels back in time and finds himself in a strange version of the world he knows. Here Eric Stoltz was the star of Back To The Future, while Michael J Fox starred in Footloose and Kevin Bacon was the star of Top Gun. Barry also meets a teenaged version of himself (also played by Miller through the magic of CGI effects), a hormonal, somewhat dopey and motor-mouthed younger version. Interacting with yourself in a different time zone is against the rules of time travel though.
But this world is also under threat from the dreaded Kryptonian supervillain General Zod (Michael Shannon) who plans to destroy it with his terraforming technology. There is no Justice League here for Barry to turn to for help, as apparently Superman is being kept a prisoner somewhere in a heavily guarded fortress somewhere in Russia. But he learns that Batman is still a hero in this world. The two Barrys break into a less than stately Wayne Manor and find that Bruce Wayne (now played by Michael Keaton, who played the role in the two Tim Burton Batman movies from the late 80s) is living as a semi-reclusive hermit as Gotham City is supposedly crime free and doesn’t need his services. Barry manages to convince Keaton’s Batman to help him break Superman free from his prison and tackle General Zod.
When they do manage to penetrate the remote fortress they find inside a young girl named Kara Zor-el (Sasha Calle), Superman’s cousin who has basically been held prisoner since she arrived on Earth and thus has not been allowed to develop her superpowers. After rescuing her, they head off to defeat Zod, but Barry discovers at great cost that he can’t change what was destined to happen, no matter how many times he tries to rewrite the past.
The Flash has been written by Christine Hodson (Birds Of Prey, etc) and Joby Harold (the upcoming Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts, etc) and it fits into the overall whole DC Justice League narrative. The writers work in themes of fate, destiny, power, responsibility, family. But it is also laced with some generous doses of self-referential humour.
There are lots of clever, largely uncredited cameos here from the likes of Gal Gadot and many others that pay reverential homage to earlier versions of many superheroes, and it also serves to pay lip service to the fan boys. And the filmmakers do take some chances and make some bold choices throughout, although not all of them are successful and there are some moments that will divide fans. Miller is great in a dual role and acquits themself well in a dual role, although the younger teenaged Barry seems to be channeling Keanu Reeves from his Bill and Ted days. Keaton becomes the oldest person to play Batman on screen, but he brings a sense of gravitas and familiarity and nostalgia to his role. And Shannon seems rather bored and is given little to do as Zod while Calle’s Supergirl suffers a similar fate here.
The Flash has been directed by Andy Muschietti, who is better known for his horror movies like It and It Chapter Two. He makes a good fist of his first non-horror film, but with a generous runtime of 144-minutes the film is over long and does become a bit repetitive especially towards the end with its climactic showdown with Zod. The film overdoses on special effects and CGI, and while some of the visuals are quite good there are also some rather underwhelming effects which suggest that the production was running out of money or was rushed.
This was also something of a troubled production that was shut down by COVID, but it has also attracted unwanted attention due to the legal troubles of its star. Given the likely box office success of The Flash and the inevitable demands for a sequel, one wonders how the producers will cope – will they stick with their troubled star or simply recast the central character? After all, many other superheroes have been recast many times without any problem.