Toward the beginning of The Flash, Barry Allen gets to know a different side of himself — in more ways than one. Having traveled back in time to rescue his parents, the nervy goofball is cast into the role of exasperated teacher, having to instruct a younger, less weary alternate universe Barry in the ways of super speed. Over time, Present Day Barry’s twitchy facial expressions morph into agitated glares, and quippy barbs transform into teary-eyed wisdom as he faces down a counterpart that wasn’t forced to grow up early. It’s a dual role managed expertly by Ezra Miller, whose performance punctuates the new flick with dynamism, grace and electricity.
With inventive action, sharp humor and a lot of nostalgia, The Flash (which is out in theaters starting today) is a well-rounded superhero epic that never forgets the humanity of its story. Although parts of the plot feel rushed — no pun intended — and the CGI can be iffy, the penultimate flick in Zack Snyder’s fractured DCEU delivers on a film that was nearly derailed by global disaster and controversies surrounding Miller.
Catching up with The Flash
At a little over two hours, The Flash, which was directed by IT filmmaker Andy Muschietti, covers a lot of ground without feeling sluggish (again, no pun intended). The story itself finds Barry discovering his ability to travel back in time. Lamenting the loss of his mother, who was murdered when he was a boy, he decides to use his powers to go back to the past and prevent it from ever happening. The move could keep his mother alive and his father out of prison. But as his pal Bruce Wayne tells him, it could also dismantle the fabric of time and space itself. Thanks to a mysterious interference, that’s exactly what happens, and it’s up to Barry, his younger self, Superman’s cousin, and an older Batman to save the world from a certain Kryptonian general.
While it’s a weighty story, The Flash remains a lot of fun, with the fight choreography and illustrations of Barry’s power being as imaginative as they are exhilarating. Running low on energy, Barry turns a last-second snack into the power he needs to save babies from a crumbling hospital, using a microwave as an impromptu container for one of the infants (which, rendered through some shoddy CGI, look an awful lot like dolls in slow motion). His ability to phase through solid objects and generate electricity with his speed are also put to use in some surprisingly practical ways. The action is matched by the humor, with Miller’s pulsing eccentricity and quips about altered timelines lacing it with an MCU-esque levity, even if tragedy is close by.
The Flash – Official Trailer
Some of the best moments of The Flash come via blasts from the past, with Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck returning as separate versions of Bruce Wayne. To a lot of fans, experiencing Keaton and Danny Elfman’s classic Batman theme in a new context would have been worth the price of admission, but Keaton brings it, stepping into his old role with finesse and an oddball twist. Before The Flash was released, Affleck said he learned how to effectively play the character while filming the movie. He’s got a point, as he showcases a casual sternness and an air of vague paternalism in his interactions with Miller. There’s an ease to it; it’s a more organic portrayal than the fake tough guy act from Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The Flash’s battle with himself
Between the laughs and a series of damn-near unprecedented cameos, The Flash is heavy on the fan-service. But that’s only a crime if it’s not supported by a genuine story. Threaded by the theme of fate, the film sees present day Barry reckon with the things he can and can’t change — and the things he naively hopes to revise.
Barry’s battle with both himself and his 2013 counterpart give the movie a dense emotional center that keeps the stakes high. Miller’s ability to generate two largely different versions of the same character help power the tension. His palpable anxiousness is a distinct contrast from the clueless and largely carefree Barry that isn’t bound by his own trauma. It’s an affecting performance that, when combined with Keaton’s honed charisma and a script that’s got real narrative symmetry, makes The Flash one of the stronger DCEU entries.
Earlier in the year, James Gunn — the new DC Studios Co-Chief and person who has directed multiple comic book movies — called The Flash “one of the best superhero movies I’ve ever seen.” Was he right? No. The last act is rushed and the CGI is a problem. But The Flash does something not a lot of superhero movies do anymore: give the impression that it’s a movie made with care.
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