- Movie Rating -

The Flash (2023)

| June 20, 2023

I suspect that my enjoyment of The Flash might have come from my willingness to clear out all the pre-show muck.  How you respond to this movie is largely a by-product of what you take with you.  Are you willing to overlook Ezra Miller’s personal issues?  Are you willing to overlook the film’s overuse of meta references to other cinematic universes?  How are you on fan-service pandering?  Well, I was willing to go with it.  Let’s put it this way, if I can’t be entertained by the sight of The Flash trying to rescue a dozen newborns falling from a crumbling hospital AND a nurse AND a therapy dog, then I just can’t be entertained.

Let us begin with Ezra Miller.  I know that Miller’s problems are keeping most people away and that’s fine, but on the screen he’s so funny and so charming that all of those real-life issues receded quickly from my brain.  That doesn’t make them less horrifying, but in the interest of assessing The Flash fairly, I am forced to put away the headlines and judge the film as entertainment.  If you still resist based on his personal problems, then I bid you no ill will.  I can’t tell anyone how to feel.

All that I can say is that right from the very start I was enjoying The Flash.  It has such a goofy sense of itself and such a fun energy that I eventually put away all of my cynical critical safeguards and just let the movie happen.  Last week the new Transformers movie offered a pared-down version of what had come before and the result was a boring display of the raw basics.  The Flash, in its own way, does the same thing but in a creative and very entertaining way.  It tries to build on its premise and even when it doesn’t entirely work, you’re at least happy for the effort.  Transformers just didn’t try.

The Flash, for me, has always been the most interesting of the superheroes because his powers require him to think on a scientific level.  How can he use his speed to move through walls?  How can he run so fast without having his suit catch fire?  How can he use his speed to multi-task the solution to a potential calamity?  How can he use his speed to fight crime and still have a personal life?

An opening scene gives us a clue to this Barry Allen, who is fidgety and has the high-caliber energy of a buzzing insect.  He needs protein because all that super-speed burns up his energy.  He’s still refueling in mid-run by shoving a microwaved burrito into his mouth at the speed of light.  I like that.

Meanwhile, the real-world non-superhero problems are weighing him down.  As the movie opens, he is struggling with the death of his mother.  She was home one night when his father went to the store and was murdered by an intruder, and landed himself in jail as the prime suspect.  Now, Barry struggles to free his old man while also struggling emotionally with the idea that his superpowers couldn’t save her.

From here, possible spoilers.

Or . . . maybe they can.  After the incident involving the babies and the nurse and the therapy dog, Barry runs so fast that he thinks that he is running through time.  Given that, maybe he can save his mother.  With that (and without giving too much more away) The Flash borrows heavily from Spider-Man: No Way Home in that it draws in characters from other cinematic universes and tries to play them as multi-verses.  This includes (again, Spoilers) realizing that the Bruce Wayne of his universe (Ben Affleck) is a different Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) in another universe.  He realizes that he isn’t travelling through time, but rather crossing multiverses, which the Keaton/Bruce cleverly explains using a plate of cooked and uncooked spaghetti.

He is also saddled with a sidekick – another Barry Allen (also played by Miller).  He’s younger, even more energetic, slightly irritating and unknowing in the ways of being The Flash since he comes from a time before the accident that gave him super-speed.  The by-play between our Barry and the other-universe Barry makes for an interesting coupling and, strange to say, their chemistry together is kind of wonderful.  It says a lot about Miller as an actor that he can create such an interesting duo all by himself.

BUT!  You’re here for Keaton.  That’s the entire drawing power of this movie, and its chief selling point.  The fact that Keaton only played Batman twice has been one of the great stunted stories in pop culture history.  Drawn back in as an other-world Batman is a clever idea.  But here’s the thing: He’s not the key player here.  Keaton is a every bit a supporting role and you feel it.  He figures heavily into the plot and into the climactic battle, but it’s only a tiny portion of this movie.  And, frankly, he’s not really on board.  Yes, its great to see him in the suit, and great to see him playing an older, more defeated Bruce Wayne, but a lot of his dialogue is expository and you can really feel his weariness at having to repeat the character’s most famous lines.  At one point, he is forced into reviving the “Let’s get nuts” line, but he does so with the least energy possible.

But I’m not being fair.  The inclusion of Bruce Wayne and further the inclusion of Kara Zor-El. a.k.a. Supergirl (Sasha Calle) is a nice touch.  They feel like characters who are dropping in from another movie – this isn’t their story.  The movie plays the same multiverse card that No Way Home did and it comes off a little too heavily for some, particularly in the film’s climax wherein all of the other supermen from various franchises are given a nod.  It’s fan-service, but I’ll defend it.  I think it was done in a very clever way, trading on franchises for multi-verses.  I can’t complain.

What makes the film work is the fact that all the multi-verse stuff is really a template onto which the film lays its dramatic weight, that being the lesson to both versions of Barry Allen that things happen for a reason, that sadness and tragedy are a part of life and all the superpowers in the world can’t change that.  The bond between Barry and his mother is surprisingly touching, leading to a scene of reconciliation that, I’ll admit, put a tear in my eye.  That kind of human moment, when it is genuine, works beautifully and it is so rare. 

There’s been a public backlash lately that superhero movies are wearing out their welcome, and I join that argument.  My stance is that they’ve pumped up the ad campaigns and they’ve forgotten the characters.  They’ve forgotten what made them popular in the first place.  I genuinely enjoyed myself during The Flash.  I liked it’s energy, its comedy, its drama, its message, its willingness to go for broke and the humanity that finally brings it around.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2023) View IMDB Filed in: Action