Steering clear of spoiler landmines and stepping into a screening of The Flash with just enough information to know its bare bones, there were only two broad expectations: an inventive but warped live-action take on the popular Flashpoint storyline that was so good that Warner Bros. decided to go all-out in production, promotion and crisis-control, or a fanfare theme-park ride that will do some justice to the angst of the DC Entertainment Universe fans. And like Barry Allen, who has a penchant to create his own way, The Flash manages to grow above and beyond these expectations for at least its major parts. It does truly “get nuts” in places; somewhere in the first 40 minutes, you might pause for a second and wonder, “We get all this cool stuff and Michael Keaton’s Batman?”
The Flash is a superhero spectacle that sets the stage for a new level for the DCEU, strives to tell a grounded story about a mother and son, and dishes out loads of harmless fun, callbacks, and fan service, only to drop the sticks before the drum solo we’ve been waiting for all along. But first and foremost, a lot is happening in this film even before we arrive at the conflict.
The Flash (English)
Barry Allen a.k.a Flash (Ezra Miller), cleaning Bruce Wayne a.k.a Batman’s (Ben Affleck) “bat-mess”, has a suit that pops out of a ring to show off, has learned to phase through objects, and can run fast enough to leave after-images (how he gains these three powers was explored superbly in the three DC’s The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive comic issues, the official prelude comics to The Flash movie, a much-recommended read). He even goes on to realise that he can time-travel, a discovery that makes him wonder if he can weed out the deep-rooted sorrow of losing his mother Nora (Maribel Verdú) and witnessing his father Henry Allen (Ron Livingston, replacing Billy Crudup), who was accused of murder put behind bars.
Despite Bruce dissuading him, Barry zips back in time and prevents the event that kills his mother. However, in the Chrono-Bowl — the time-travel chamber which looks like a Colosseum of memories — Black Flash, a mysterious speedrunner, punches Flash back onto the new timeline he created. There, Barry meets his 18-year-old self (let’s call him Barry 2), a goofy and annoying college-goer who somehow has scored a date with Iris West.
Having two Barrys with one goofier than the other paves the way for good comedy throughout while also sobering up Barry 1 as the solemn protagonist who is out of his depths in this emotionally-charged journey. Meanwhile, General Zod (Michael Shannon) has arrived with his World Engine to terraform the Earth and to search for Kal-El (Superman), who holds the key to Krypton’s resurgence. But contrary to the events of Man of Steel, Kal-El is not to be found and Barry realises that he might have messed up; this timeline may or may not have some of its superheroes!
Batman, however, is alive. But if you are expecting Thomas Wayne in the Bat suit, let me remind you that The Flash is only partly inspired by the Flashpoint storyline and a lot is bent and moulded, quite deftly, to suit the story of the movie. This world has an older Bruce Wayne/Batman, starring Michael Keaton, reprising his role from the 1989/1992 films. The two Barrys (one with a refashioned 1992 Batman suit), a grey-haired, stiff-cowled Batman who carries a measuring tape to calculate thrust and still kicks ass, and Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle) — Kal-El’s cousin, a lightweight Supergirl who shows tremendous resolve — band together to stop Zod and his army.
Unfortunately, The Flash loses a lot of its steam when the emotional strings snap out (except for a tearjerker of a scene at a supermarket) and the forced ending makes no justice to the idea of what could have been a stirring, lasting showcase of the scars that made Barry who he is. Because The Flash ultimately is a story about how Barry Allen learns — by fighting a doomsday event or with the help of another version of himself — how time can “heal” one’s internal and external wounds.
Even how the film bends the Flashpoint story to its whims might get comic fans’ approval, but for all its rousing set-up and grandeur, the movie doesn’t know how to make up for all that was lost due to the falling out of the DCEU and the eventual shutdown post the takeover by James Gunn and Peter Safran. The third act feels rushed, and it also renders Supergirl quite inconsequential; it’s also baffling how Iris West finds shockingly little space in the film. Instead, a cameo, an anti-climactic finish and a mindless post-credit scene are served to ensure that fans leave the halls with some cheer in the end. The fan service works, but something is amiss.
We might never follow this version of Flash again — Ezra Miller might never reprise their role due to the infamous series of misconduct allegations they are facing (something that does pop up in mind when they play an innocent, empathetic youngster who can’t ask someone out). But we will also never see Henry Cavill’s Superman fight Darkseid. We will also never see Deathstroke fight Batman. We will also never see the Knightmare storyline that Zack Snyder had set up. By now, we are used to it.
Still, The Flash reminds one of what the DCEU could have been. It still manages to pull off some impressive feats, stands tall as a Flash solo movie, plays its cards right, and doesn’t oversell itself. Maybe a spectacle that comes out strong despite some bullet holes is, after all, a befitting conclusion to the saga.
The Flash is currently running in theatres