‘The Flash’ or Everything DC All At Once is Surprisingly Meh

I know the internet doesn’t like to hear this but sometimes as critics we walk away from a film feeling a certain degree of ambivalence. We aren’t moved one way or another. These mixed reviews are honestly often the hardest to write especially in a world of rottentomatoes where we must pick a side, pro or con, fresh or rotten. This is definitely the situation I am finding myself in with DC Studios’ latest film The Flash. It’s an uneven film that I’m very torn whether to recommend or not. Even as I write this review I’m debating whether the positives outweigh the negatives.

Let’s talk about those positives. First, the biggest plus for the film is the heart that motivates all the action. Ezra Miller plays 2 versions of Barry Allen and with both, the character is motivated by love and kindness. This was much better than the bland one-note motivation in last year’s The Batman movie, which I found underwhelming. I was particularly moved by anything involving Barry’s mother, Nora Allen, played by Maribel Verdú. The final scenes with her made me genuinely tear up (who can’t relate to missing someone so profoundly and wishing you could spend just one more moment with them?)

I also found the use of Michael Keaton’s version of Batman to be well done. I am not a big fan of Batman 89 (I know shocking) but I didn’t grow up with it and watched it for the first time in 2016 before Batman v Superman. I particularly found anything with Vicki Vale to be annoying and Jack Nicholson’s Joker to be quite vanilla for a supposedly legendary villain.

All that said, Keaton is personable and charming as as eccentric, off-his-meds version of Bruce Wayne and they used him a lot more than I thought they would. This isn’t just a glorified cameo but an actual role with an arc and story to his character. His bond with both Barrys is sweet to see and feels earned.

They also do the set-up of the multiverse in a pretty convincing way. Many have compared The Flash to No Way Home, and I suppose that is natural but No Way Home had the advantage of being the 9th Spider-Man movie where The Flash is essentially his origin story (I realize he is in Justice League but only briefly). It’s easier to call back to favorite memories when there are actually movies to call back to. This pays homage to lots of DC films but it feels clunkier when they are all part of such wildly divergent franchise entries. Still, the actual plot machinations to get Barry in the multiverse was well done.

And now on to the negative. The main problem with The Flash is it took so long to be made that it feels derivative of a barrage of similar superhero movies we’ve gotten recently. I realize many of those films like No Way Home, Doctor Strange 2, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Across the Spider-Verse and others are based off the Flashpoint comics this is based off, but it doesn’t feel like this movie version is adding anything new to the conversation. It leaves the viewer with a feeling of ‘that was fine but bland…”

This is particularly true towards the end when the multi-verse world is fully embraced and we get a long video game inspired sequence of ‘remember this…’ from the past. Sure we get a lot of cameos and reminders of favorite characters but unlike Keaton nothing interesting is done with them so it’s like looking through someone else’s old yearbook rather than a compelling story. (Also I thought one of the legacy cameos was in poor taste but I won’t spoil it for readers.)

I know some people don’t want to see the film because of Ezra Miller’s criminal history over the last few years. That’s fair and we aren’t required to see any movies so make your choices but as someone who loved them in The Perks of Being a Wallflower I enjoyed both their performances here and it’s refreshing to have an awkward, physically non-perfect human as a lead in a film like this. I certainly like The Flash much better than either of the Shazam movies and they both strive for similar tones.

Without any spoilers I do find the use of General Zod to be very strangely done in this film. It’s like they want us to feel warm and cozy about the throwback to Man of Steel but also completely change the narrative of that film. I am not a fan of Man of Steel but honestly the way they handle Superman in general in The Flash is very strange and Henry Cavill being missed and Zod being defeated in a very different kind of way is a choice I’m sure Snyder fans will be upset with. It was weird.

It is a little baffling how a movie with over $200 million budget could look as cheap and underwhelming VFX-wise as The Flash. Especially with how much time they had it’s hard to believe they went with some of the fake babies and CGI blur-fests they go with. In that sense, The Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and even the Snyder DC films look much better than this entry.

In the end, the emotion of The Flash wins the day and certainly people who have more nostalgia for the Keaton Batman films will probably enjoy it more than I did. It’s no comic book masterpiece like we recently got with Spider-verse but if you’ve seen that a couple times it’s fine. Barry and his Mom gave me enough emotion to say I’m glad I saw this (maybe final or is Aquaman 2 the last?) entry in the DCEU.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Also can someone make a superhero movie that’s not 30 minutes longer than it needs to be? They are ALL bloated and are testing my patience!

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