'The Flash' Review
June 5, 2023
One of the first things you’ll notice about The Flash is how much of a lighter affair it is compared to Zack Snyder’s vision. I mean that on both a metaphorical and literal level, as director Andy Muschietti opens his film with the titular hero in such a ludicrously stupid situation, it almost has to be interpreted as a middle finger to Snyder’s doom and gloom. Carrying over from that dark place is Ben Affleck’s Batman, who looks a little ridiculous in the full daylight (almost as if his entire aesthetic was created with a different visual style in mind…) and still doesn’t have the time to put up with Flash’s personality (you and me both).
But even if the tone and colors have been lifted from the shadows, the stakes are still as high as ever. Zack Snyder’s Justice League gave us a glimpse of Flash’s ability to enter the Speed Force and reverse the flow of time, which he did to save the entire world from Darkseid’s Mother Boxes. Being a jittery and perpetually inquisitive person, Barry extends that logic into the implication that he could go back far enough in time to save his mother from being murdered, for which his father was falsely blamed. It’s an extremely dangerous gamble, as even the slightest alteration could have unforeseen consequences on not just his own timeline, but innumerable timelines spread across the space-time continuum (the new industry-approved term is “multiverse,” which I’m sure you're very familiar with by now).
To Barry, the risk is worth the reward. But instead of going back in time to make a paradise, he makes a new hell on earth. Because of his actions, the world has been rendered without metahumans, meaning no Superman, Wonder Woman, or Aquaman. But it does have a General Zod, who now stands unopposed in his destruction of Earth. Thankfully, the exclusion of metahumans doesn’t apply to Batman, who’s now in the form of Michael Keaton.
Every comic-book franchise, whether live-action or animated, has dabbled in the multiverse at this point. There are some that haven’t gone far enough with it (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), and some that have done it just right (Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse). The Flash takes its concept and gives way to its worst impulses. The opportunity for endless possibilities is mostly spent on jingling car keys in front of your face in the form of cameos, line readings, and music stings that you recognize, many of which dramatically undercut the physical and emotional stakes of the situation. This is The Rise of Skywalker all over again, so desperate in its attempt for you to like it by flashing as many pleasure-inducing sights as possible that you don’t have time to think about what’s going on behind the scenes.
It’s not like what’s on the surface hiding that rotten core isn’t good either. Ezra Miller continues to be the kid in high school who tried way too hard to be the class clown, devolving every “humorous” moment into an eye-rolling groan fest. I understand how it’s nearly impossible to look at them and not think about his heinous off-screen persona, but it’s also nearly impossible to like them on-screen. What’s their appeal? Being annoying? And now there are two of them!
It also can’t be understated how undercooked several visual-effect-heavy sequences look. Characters move around weightlessly, CGI doubles look as natural as the actors from Tom Hooper’s Cats, and some “unbroken takes” might as well qualify for the Best Animated Short Film category at the Oscars (although I would harshly refrain from using the term “best”). Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania still takes the cake for the worst-looking blockbuster in recent memory, but this gives it a run for its money.
To give Muschietti a smidge of credit, he does come up with some inventive ways to show off Flash’s powers without just ripping off the Quicksilver scenes from the X-Men movies. The distortions of time and physics may put physicists in a coma, but it’s mildly interesting to see how bad guys can be dispatched within the blink of an eye.
The Flash is the straw (a heavy one nonetheless) that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to multiverses in blockbuster franchises. Instead of using its unlimited potential to deliver something unique, it sinks to the lowest form of pandering by just waving around what you already know. What’s the point of boasting about the oceanfront view if you’re only ever going to swim in the kiddie pool?