‘The Flash’: Not bad as a comedy, not good as a superhero epic

Ezra Miller as the Flash in ‘The Flash’ Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics

I passed my screening of The flash with a thundercloud over my head. Even I, a lifelong reader of superhero comics, have become exhausted by the sheer number of Marvel and DC projects dominating our screens, especially now that superhero movies have adopted many of the most frustrating traits of their ink and paper counterparts. The marketing for The flash showcases all of the genre’s worst current traits, from undercooked CGI to overwrought multiversal contrivances designed to show off the studio’s library of intellectual property. Every rumor or tainted detail I heard about this movie before seeing it made me dread the experience.

THE FLASH ★/1/2 (1.5/4 stars)
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Christina Hodson
Starring: Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Michael Keaton
Duration: 144 minutes.

Perhaps these crater expectations finally worked out The flash a few favors because despite my negative attitude I ended up having a good time. The flash isn’t a genre-redefining masterpiece, and it’s unlikely to appeal to viewers who haven’t already been convinced by the superhero oeuvre, but it’s a much better movie than it’s advertised for. Sold as a cameo-filled Justice League crossover, it’s actually a comedic time-travel adventure coherently focused on the title character’s emotional journey. This is faint praise, but it is also a pleasant surprise.

Walking publicity disaster Ezra Miller stars as Barry Allen, a forensic scientist doused in chemicals, struck by lightning, and connected to the fantastic “force of speed,” which allows him to outrun cars, bullets, and time itself. He has spent the last few years fighting crime and responding to disasters as The Flash, masked superhero and member of the Justice League. While the front and back of the movie are littered with cameo appearances from his fellow superheroes, allowing multiple actors from the DC Extended Universe and beyond to take a curtain call, this is truly Barry’s (and by extension, Ezra Miller) movie. . Not even Michael Keaton, who reprises his role as the version of Batman last seen in 1992. Batman returns, can wrestle the film out of their hands. Miller’s performance isn’t, as the film’s production designer infamously claimed last month, as good as it could be let me forget the actor’s growing list of criminal accusations, but it’s one of the film’s strongest assets.

Most of the movie is a buddy adventure with Miller portraying both buddies. There’s Barry, the seasoned but absent-minded superhero from the film’s original timeline, and there’s Barry, an immature teen from a new reality created when Barry (the former) goes back in time to prevent his mother’s murder . The original Barry gets caught up in an alternate 2013 (coinciding with the events of the first DCEU movie, Man of Steel) and must team up with his younger self to save the world from a disaster of his own making. This is a big conceit for three reasons: First, it allows a character who is rather raspy to begin with to be on the receiving end of his own raspy personality as he learns to appreciate how his traumatic childhood shaped his life, which the key is to the themes of the story. Second, Miller has great chemistry with himself, making the interplay between the two Barrys by far the film’s most successful special effect. And third, it means fewer actors were forced to interact with the increasingly creepy and unhinged Ezra Miller on set.

While all images of super speed live in the shadow of the “Time in a Bottle” sequence of X-Men: Days of Future Past, director Andy Muschietti and the undoubtedly extremely exhausted visual effects team devise evocative ways to represent the Flash’s powers on screen, from the Looney Tunes-esque slow-motion gags to the spherical kaleidoscope of high-speed time travel. Muschietti and company lean into the cartoon fun of the character and there’s a lot of broad comedy in the action, which is almost enough to excuse how waxy and rubbery every digital human is throughout the film. On the one hand, I can hardly believe that a major studio released one of their biggest and most expensive tentpole movies that looks like this. On the other hand, what I watched never bore me, and since so much of the movie is comedy, I was much more inclined to suspend my disbelief.

Ezra Miller as Flash (both left and center) and Sasha Calle as Supergirl in “The Flash.” Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics

What hurts The flash is mandated to function as a selective reset of the DC movie universe, a bridge between the devastated DCEU and its James Gunn-produced successor. (The billion dollars Aquarius franchise will continue largely unchanged while the rest will be overwritten by the new management in hopes of finally coming face to face with the mammoth Marvel machine.) The film’s story is based on Flash point, a 2011 comic event in which Barry’s meddling with the timeline creates a grim new reality. The young Superman of this universe (or in the movie Supergirl) is recovered by a brutal government agency rather than friendly farmers, and his Batman is not Bruce Wayne, but his father Thomas, who goes mad with grief after young Bruce is killed . shot in front of him. This hyper-violent, gun-toting Batman is the product of the same impulses that led Barry to make this mess in the first place, the inability to let go of a terrible loss. In the film adaptation, Thomas is traded in for the Keaton version of Batman because someone at Warner Bros. saw how much money Spider-Man: No Way Home made and said, “Let’s do that.” Keaton does a good job repeating his quietly goofy take on the character, but his presence doesn’t really add anything beyond a cheesy nostalgic doll for older viewers.

I can only wonder what this movie would have turned out like if it hadn’t been forced to be the epic finale of a wider superhero universe and thrived as a goofy, heartfelt time-travel comedy. Part of the reason so many viewers express their exhaustion with superhero cinema is the way each individual movie has exploded to the scale of a Avengers crosswalk. Every “solo” movie is now a team movie, and every story has a reality ending. This is an issue inherited from the source material. Ask any comics fan, and they’ll tell you that the titles of big summer events rarely make the best stories, and even when they’re good, you need the more intimate and episodic stories in between, otherwise they don’t feel right. like everything. The hour or so in which The flash is about a character who goes on a wacky adventure with his younger self and really impresses me. The rest is an acceptable distraction, not enough to spoil the experience, but enough to make me wonder what could have been. In a neighboring timeline, The flash could have been really great. But if the movie taught me anything, it’s that I should probably just get over it.

Observer Reviews are regular reviews of new and notable movies.

'The Flash' review: Not bad as a comedy, not good as a superhero epic

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