If we're putting it lightly, building up to The Flash’s release has been an eventful venture. Various writers and directors were involved with the project from 2015 until director Andy Muschietti signed on in 2020. Various release date delays have happened, multiple allegations against the film’s star Ezra Miller, and a complete regime change that will reset the entire look of the DC cinematic universe. It’s damn near a miracle that we even got to this point, and with the main story somewhat drawing from Flash’s comic book event, Flashpoint, perhaps there might be a way for DC to honor all the places it’s been while setting off on a new course.
This is what The Flash tries to do – at least more so at the feet of another iconic traveling picture, Back To The Future. It references it throughout the narrative and even in a funny easter egg way. Yes, many nods to previous DC media exist, but it’s clear writer Christina Hodson aimed to formulate a story based on fate, grief, time, and how they all come together to make up who we are. When we catch up with Barry Allen (Miller), in his words, the character thinks he’s relegated to being the “clean up” crew of the Justice League. Muschietti begins the film with a huge action sequence around Gotham City – essentially showcasing The Flash’s power.
When things settle down, Barry is missing something. He works in forensics and is often late (get it?) His father, Henry (Ron Livingston), is still in prison for wrongly being accused of killing his wife/Barry’s mother, Nora (Maribel Verdú), and various appeals haven’t bared any fruit. Barry is also awkward; he can’t tell that reporter Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) likes him. It all circles back to the death of his mother and the profound sadness Barry still feels. If everybody could go back in time to change a tragic moment, they would – full stop. But, of course, that comes with some consequences, which Barry and another version of himself must contend with.
At the basis of its story, The Flash speaks about the events that ultimately make us who we are. The multiple instances of Batmen within the film warn Barry about what he’s thinking of doing and make their parallels to what losing their parents did to propel them to be who they are. It’s ultimately a surface-level connection investigated throughout the Caped Crusader pantheon of live-action stories – this notion of using pain to become a hero. Throughout the heaviness of it all, there is time for more lighthearted tones that Miller carries with two instances of the Barry Allen character. A mentor/mentee/big brother/little brother relationship happens between them in the second act, making it feel like you’re watching a different film altogether.
When General Zod (a returning Michael Shannon) starts to make his move to destroy Earth in the fashion of Man of Steel, the variations of Barry Allen need some extra muscle to end this. Enter a returning Michael Keaton as Batman and newcomer Sasha Calle as Kara Zor-El / Supergirl. It’s cool to see Keaton wear the cowl again with all the classic Batmobile and cave fixings – even if he is motivated enough to bring the part to life again. The Flash only scratches the surface of what Calle’s take on Supergirl can be, but the character is introduced so late in the film that there’s not enough time to establish her motivations beyond getting to the third act. The film looks to build your excitement off nostalgia, but doesn’t realize you can utilize that to propel fresh ingredients.
The Flash banks on anchoring itself with its human aspect, but is aggressively hampered by the CGI component. Many environments (especially later) don’t have a tangible quality. There’s little connection to what’s going on as many of the actors' faces are obscured and, at times, glaringly computer generated. All of this culminates with a finale that you can see coming and lessens the emotional effectiveness that it’s going for.
Multiverses and timelines are all the rage inside superhero narratives. You can readjust, erase, or combine things inventively – which challenges how this film sub-genre usually turns out. The Flash feels caught between too many things it wants to keep ahold of (which flies against the film’s lesson of letting go). It feels like a brand that wants to have all its cards on the table in case it wants to pivot to the most popular one – a case in too many roads to choose from.