Sluggish plot and shocking CGI stop The Flash before it gets up to speed
The Flash is the type of superhero whose powers fuel the imagination but are very difficult to actually show on screen. Being able to run super-fast is an ability that requires filmmakers to, paradoxically, show the character in slow-motion so as to get an idea of the impact he has on his surroundings.
While this can be fun in short bursts, making a whole movie about such a character is challenging, as the makers of The Flash found out. After the character appeared in both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, the film kind of backs into an origin story for Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), a young researcher still dealing with the trauma of the death of his mother when he was 8, a crime for which his father, Henry (Ron Livingston), was convicted even though Barry knows he didn’t do it.
Determined to exonerate his dad, Barry finds a way to use his abilities to travel back in time. As any good sci-fi fan knows, though, if you mess with things in the past, it has an adverse effect on the future. In this case, Barry accidentally emerges from his time travels at a point where his younger self exists, and everything he knows about the superhero world has changed to a large degree.
Directed by Andy Muschetti and written by Christina Hodson and Joby Harold, the film plays upon the now-trendy idea of the multiverse, but ties it to time travel in a way that makes things extra confusing. Having the Batman Barry knows (played by Ben Affleck) somehow change to an aging version played by Michael Keaton is a fun premise, but the set-up makes zero sense in the context of the film.
Naturally for a time travel movie, talk about the iconic movie Back to the Future is included, but the filmmakers are too clever by half in suggesting that elements of that and other ‘80s movies have changed in this new world. The idea that Barry changing an event in the ‘90s affects anything that happened prior to that point in time is patently ludicrous, and goes right along with the lazy thinking of the rest of the movie.
This lack of creativity is most evident in the copious CGI in the movie, which is shockingly bad for a movie that reportedly cost over $300 million to make. A prime example is when Barry time travels: He enters a vortex of scenes from his past, and instead of using actual footage, the audience is “treated” to CGI versions of actors’ faces, all of which are nowhere close to being believable.
This light level of effort is applied to almost all aspects of the film, including a plot that brings in Supergirl (Sasha Calle) in place of Superman, and a phoned-in appearance by Michael Shannon as General Zod. By the time the film gets into fan-fiction appearances by real-life actors who never actually played the characters, the film has long since passed into unwatchable territory.
For their sake, Miller seems to be having a ball in their dual roles. They get be the “normal” superhero trying to figure things out and the person learning how use newfound skills, and the fun the film does have mostly comes from these performances. Keaton was much more effective as a villain in Spider-Man: No Way Home than he is as a craggy superhero here. Supergirl is shoehorned into the plot, giving Calle little chance to make an impact.
One of the final DCEU films under the current regime, The Flash goes in many different directions, none of which work very well. With enthusiasm for superhero films perhaps starting to wane, this film gives no reason for fans to hope for anything great in the future.
The Flash opens in theaters on June 16.