We’re in our multiverse era and it is fitting that The Flash, a film dealing in divergent paths and multiverses would have its own long-winding journey to the big screen. In development for decades, there’s been several writers and directors attached before landing on this timeline’s Andy Muschietti-directed film and screenplay written by Christina Hodson.
Barry (Ezra Miller) pushes the metaphorical red button AKA goes back in time to try and save his mom (Maribel Verdú) and dad (Ron Livingston) from their tragic fate. He does not heed Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) warning that time traveling back in time will cause irreparable damage. He is consumed with ‘fixing’ the tragedy that happened to him without thinking about the real consequences of going back in time. Flash forward to where Barry finds himself trapped in a timeline where General Zod (Michael Shannon) is invading Earth, there is no Justice League except for maybe a certain caped crusader or two. With the help of this timeline’s Bruce Wayne (Micheal Keaton), Barry tries to reset the universe while also confronting the pain of his past/future through an alternate version of himself.
The Flash is a chance to get to know Barry, his origin story and open up a multiverse world that can lead us into the new James Gunn-helmed DCEU Universe. The Flash is at its best when we see Miller’s two Barry’s interacting with each other. Miller’s nuances with each Barry makes it easy for the viewer to distinguish the glaring differences between the Barry’s. The growth and evolution of the main timeline Barry is seen against this younger, underdeveloped alternate Barry. There are genuine funny and coming-of-age moments between the ‘two’ of them and it’s really the glue that holds the film together alongside the relationship of Keaton’s Batman to both Barry’s.
Keaton feels right at home in his batcave and delivers the iconic throwback lines effortlessly. This is a plus for the film but also a negative because at the times when Keaton is on screen, you may find yourself wanting to watch more of that version of the movie which is not good when the title of the movie is The Flash, not Batman. Keaton’s Batman’s antics are captivating because of the old school practical effects of his Batman days. It was clever to meet his Batman where he’s at now and not trying to relive the magic of the old days with the trend of bad CGI deaging.
Muschietti’s direction shines the brightest and is the most dynamic in the Batman action sequences. You feel the fun he’s having playing with the old Batman toys and is a beautiful homage to the legacy of Keaton’s Batman juxtaposed to the other parts of the film that feel safe and bland. It’s a back-to-basics in a CGI-filled world and unfortunately is glaringly at odds with the other parts of the film – mainly the VFX.
There is not enough heart or Keaton wit to save this film from its lackluster VFX that ultimately fails to support the performances and world building. From the opening montage of digital babies and the many weird looking misshapen digital faces, the poor VFX takes you out of the multiverse instead of being submerged in it. It’s a mess from start to finish and uneven. There are parts where The Flash and Co. look spectacular and then a subsequent shot that feels unfinished. The VFX inconsistency is very jarring and off putting. The Flash suffers from being among other multiverse films that have superior VFX like Everything Everywhere All At Once, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. The Flash’s multiverse alludes to seeing a visual spectacle of speed and traveling back in time but what we get is Barry in a stadium-like arena looking out into the various timelines with flashes of different lives lived with what looks like low-level video game visual effects.
One can usually forgive lackluster VFX if the story is on point, but The Flash’s story leaves a lot to be desired. The two Barrys are the only characters that are fleshed out, grow and change over the course of the film with the exception of his relationship with his mom. Barry goes back in time to save his mom. He makes a selfish choice without thinking about the ramifications. What does it mean for a hero to be selfish and the internal struggle to be selfless? It would have been a rabbit hole of interesting exploration for Barry to go down with himself, Batman or Kara.
Seeing Keaton’s Batman was fun alongside all the other surprise cameos but one can’t help but feel like it’s more empty spectacle than substance. The lack of the supporting characters’ development makes the cameos feel more like fluffy fan service than concrete world building. The supposed stake of this film is to save all the divergent timelines yet the people of these worlds are not seen or even felt. What and who is being saved? We’re told through dialogue that General Zod has killed billions and will kill all of Earth but The Flash does not ground itself to anything to give Barry’s epiphany of sacrificing his own tragedy to save the world the gravitas that is needed to make an impact.
But with only a Batman, two Barry’s and very underutilized Zod and Kara’s Supergirl (Sasha Calle), the story feels empty, disconnected and leaves you searching for a timeline where a better version of this film exists.
Warner Bros will release The Flash only in theaters on June 16.