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THE FLASH (2023) review

June 23, 2023


written by: Christina Hodson
produced by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein & Joby Harold
directed by: Andy Muschietti
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity)
runtime: 144 min.
U.S. release date: June 16, 2023


This is the year we will likely see the last of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) superhero movies from Warner Brothers/DC Comics. After “Black Adam” and “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” tanked, the decision to shelve it all and hand the reigns over the co-chair/co-CEO reins to James Gunn and Peter Safran makes sense. They’ve been working on cleaning the slate and plotting out a whole new schedule for what’ll be called the DCU (it all sounds very MCU and that too makes sense) in hopes of creating better stories…not necessarily better movies, mind you, but better stories. So, before we get James Wan’s “Aquaman” sequel, there’s “The Flash”, which is the very first time the scarlet speedster headlines his own movie.

If anything, “The Flash” is a prime example of why there’s been a need for better stories in these DCEU movies. Granted, this is a mindlessly entertaining experience amid a cacophony of obnoxious moments. If you want comical and creative action sequences and “Aw cool” moments mixed in with multiple WTF moments, than this one’s for you. Of course, some will only check this one out to see Michael Keaton return as a certain Caped Crusader.

At least “The Flash” doesn’t have a handful of screenwriters, which is normally the problem with these overlong big-budget wanna-be blockbusters. Director Andy Muschietti (who helmed both “It” movies) is working off a script from Christina Hodson here, someone who’s proven her genre chops on “Birds of Prey” and “Bumblebee”, both of which were good and different enough from the types of movies everyone expected them to be. Sadly, it’s never a good thing when a movie is handicapped by the lead character, but that’s what happens here and that’s what happened when Miller was last seen as Barry Allen/The Flash on the big screen. It’s hard to believe that even though the approach to this character continues to be not just be annoying and repetitive, but flat-out wrong (yes, I’m referring to how Barry Allen was written in the comics – why ruin a good thing?), both in the way he is written and they way he’s portrayed, yet for the most part the character is more tolerable in his own movie. That’s more of a plus than it is praise.



“The Flash” kicks off with a fun, rip-roaring tone, as Barry Allen (Miller) is pulled away from getting his usual morning drink at his local coffee shop in Central City, when he is called to Gotham City by Alfred (Jeremy Irons) to assist Batman. Living up to his superhero namesake, he’s there in a flash and complains that he’s the “janitor of the Justice League”, as he is called upon to clean up collateral damage from a bank robbery that Batman (Ben Affleck) is occupied with. This results in one of the movie’s best and most absurdly hilarious action sequence, involving a hospital maternity ward, that emphasizes how the speedster creatively utilizes his specific powers and ends in another comical moment involving Batman and Flash entangled by a certain golden lasso. It’s the kind of fun tone that was missing in both iterations of the Snyderverse Justice League movie.

Despite the titular character feeling the way he does about being a member of the superpowered team, “The Flash” reaffirms that as the youngest member, Barry benefits from having a mentor like Bruce Wayne/Batman. Sure, that may not be how things played out in the comics, but it makes sense for the DCEU iteration of the these characters.

Barry is a young man who’s incarcerated father, Henry (Ron Livingston), has been accused for the murder of his wife, Nora (Maribel Verdu), Barry’s mother. It makes sense that he’s in need of a father figure, especially one who can relate to the loss of a parent. Barry has been met with dead ends in his attempts to prove his dad didn’t commit the crime, and now that he realizes that his new increased speed can send him through time, he naturally comes up with the idea that he can go back in time and save his mom. The audience and Bruce Wayne know that tampering with the past is a bad idea, nevertheless it inevitably becomes the catalyst of the entire storyline here.



However, the way in which Barry effortlessly navigates this Speed Force comes way too easily. There are no moments where he’s trying to figure out how to manipulate time. Instead, we just see it all work out somehow. He’s not necessarily surprised by any of it either, despite the actor’s constant gob-smacked expression. He just picks up speed in this chrono-globe and, well, runs with it. There’s a missed opportunity there.

So, despite Bruce Wayne’s solid advice, Barry takes off to his past, hoping to get back to his childhood home before his mother is killed by a home invader. While in this Speed Force, he’s knocked out by a mysterious figure, dropping him right in front of his home in the year 2013. At first, he thinks he has a chance at accomplishing his mission, as he finds himself hanging out with both of his parents, giving him an experience he was robbed of long ago. But then he has to contend on something he didn’t account for (because he didn’t think it all through), that being encountering his 18-year-old self (also played by Miller), which complicates his plans.

Not only must he contend with his immature teen self, but Barry has to figure out what he can do without his speed powers, an after effect from his time traveling. Barry decides to do what he would do in his own timeline, seek out some Justice League help. He’ll need them not only to help him get back home, but also to deal with an alarming breaking news event, that being the arrival of General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his Earth terraforming agenda. Barry soon learns that in this time period, there are no superhero colleagues to call upon…except Batman. The problem is this Bruce Wayne/Batman (Michael Keaton) is not the one Barry is familiar with. This one is retired from the superhero game and it takes some persuading by the two Barrys to get him back in the cape and cowl. The trio also seek out a certain super powerful Kryptonian, and while they do find someone who fits those qualifications, it’s also not who Barry had in mind. Regardless, the two Barrys and their newfound allies must prevent Zod and his forces from decimating the planet and contend with the continued temptations to tamper with time.



A little humor in “The Flash” storyline and in the overall portrayal of the character goes a long way. His neurosis and high-caloric consumption is only funny in short bursts, and after that it just feels tired and overdone. It doesn’t help that Warner Brothers/DC has never shown a good grasp on this iteration of Barry Allen and his potential. Miller seems to have only one bug-eyed, gee-whiz expression to employ here. Despite Miller delivering some great performances in the past (namely “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), what they’re doing here just doesn’t feel right for the character. It’s hard to take the dramatic moments seriously when the action and comedy is so big. That seems more like a studio problem than it is a writer or director problem. Clearly, the studio has n problem with this iteration of portrayal of Barry Allen and it seems like they have no problem with Miller’s off-screen legal allegations as well.

There’s a certain amount of selfishness that Barry is blinded by that’s hard to get on board with. He works as a forensic specialist for the Central City police department, yet it doesn’t sink that playing around with time is a bad thing…even after Batffleck tells him “our trauma defines who we are”. Now’s a good a time as any to go ahead and say what a shame it is that we’ll probably never have a Batffleck Batman movie. Affleck is down-to-earth and easy-to-approach here and shows a side of Batman we haven’t seen before. It’s too bad the actor is only given a cameo here and wasn’t really given a chance to spread his wings with such a different depiction.

At least we have Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman. When the Barrys meet him in rundown Wayne Manor, he’s got a gray beard and long, scraggly hair, yet he can almost still hold his own against unexpected guests. It’s a low-key performance from Keaton that’s welcome, balancing all of the bigness that Miller brings. Keaton’s Wayne is a recluse who hasn’t played vigilante in Gotham in years. Somehow, his city doesn’t have the kind of crime problems it earned a distinctive reputation for. He lives alone with Alfred long gone, cut off from the rest of the world. He’s probably earned it. That is, until the Barrys inform him of the Zod problem.

At first, he passes on the offer, but between the grim current events and the optimistic determination of the oldest Barry, he comes around to getting back into the Batsuit (cue the homage to Danny Elfman’s score from the 1989 hit, thanks to Muschietti’s frequent composing collaborator, Benjamin Wallfisch) and flying the Barrys off to Siberia where they think Superman is located. Before they take off, there’s a great Keaton scene where Bruce Wayne uses a plate of spaghetti and sauce to explain the precarious nature of playing with timelines. It’s a great moment written by Hodson that’s executed in Keaton’s wry, matter-of-fact manner that he’s known for. It’s one of many moments in which “The Flash” confirms that the price of admission is worth it just to see Keaton in a role he hasn’t played since 1992. While one classic line from is reused from his first Batman movie, eliciting an eye roll, most of the material and characterization given to Keaton is spot-on for a hero that is giving it one last go-round. It’s notably cool to see Keaton’s Batman get some action scenes in broad daylight, which is the opposite of what we saw in Tim Burton’s movies.



While Keaton adds some dramatic heft to “The Flash”, Sasha Calle brings the rage and power to Kara Zor-El, a Kryptonian who’s crash-landed on this 2013 timeline. Calle conveys a refreshing confidence to the role, displaying her character’s formidable solar-powered super abilities and navigating a brief character arc that convincingly goes from confused to illuminated. She completes a motley quartet of Justice League Lite that do their best to hold back Zod and his Kryptonian acolytes, but it’s just not enough and soon Barry has to contend with the extent of his newfound powers, especially the toll it’s taking on young Barry.

“The Flash” is a long-developed project has seen many hands come and ago over the last couple decades and there’s nothing wrong with the abilities director Andy Muschietti brings to the assignment. Considering Hodson’s screenplay is solid, it’s surprising that the overall to this massive-swing story is the big problem. Production values are strong, especially all aspects of Wayne Manor and the Batcave, but it’s the visual effects that trip everything up. Most of the time, the shoddy CGI on display can be seen when the Flash is zooming around or caught in the Speed Force. Clearly there’s a goal here to give these moments a distinctive style, but it winds up looking messy, unfinished and only a little better than a first-gen Playstation game. Some of the digital doubling on these heroes in action are noticeable, which kills any kind of convincing illusion. It’s a reminder that some of these trippy visuals are best left on the comic book page.

Muschietti geeks out at the end of the movie’s third act, cracking so many obnoxious Easter Eggs, the end result looks like a failed omelet. It’s not even worth mentioning all the AI-looking images from other universes that slide through like a turnstile. These are meant to be awestruck moments instead of laughable outbursts. That’s not to say “The Flash” isn’t entertaining. It is – especially in IMAX format. It’s just that by the time the whole excessive thing reaches the finish line, the most memorable feeling is exhaustion.



RATING: **1/2


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