In Review: The Flash

Review by Tim Robins

WARNING! Spoilers Ahead!

I must confess that I was in no hurry to see The Flash, which was lucky because its release was delayed for years. Directors came and went citing creative differences, plans for the DCEU and specifically this film, changed and its star, Ezra Miller proved less bankable than Warner Brothers must have hoped. Meanwhile, cinema moved on and what would have been the first superhero movie to feature the concept of  a “multiverse” of different realities has become merely one among many others. Perhaps that’s appropriate.

The film immediately feels like you’ve seen it all before and, if you are a fan of the Flash you probably have. The story is loosely based on Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert’s best-selling ‘Flashpoint’, which served as the core of a 61 issue crossover event  designed to reboot the DC Universe. Previous adaptations are a straight-to-video animated film and episodes of the CW TV Flash series. Even so, the basic ideas have been seen in Back to the Future (to which The Flash movie has numerous references) and even Groundhog Day.

When Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), aka The Flash, realises that he can run so fast he can travel back in time, he plans to change the fortunes of his own family, saving the life of his murdered mother and proving his father is innocent of the crime. But one thing leads to another – in this case the creation of a new, teenage slacker Barry Allen (also Miller), the erasure of Affleck’s Batman, Superman’s replacement by a Supergirl – and a world in which the fabric of reality is held together by a can of tomatoes.

That the film makes sense is a testament to director Andrés Muschietti, and the writers clarity of story-telling, a surprising achievement given the way Warner’s plans have changed over the years. We can thank one change for the extended appearance of Michael Keaton as Batman. I understand that he was only supposed to appear at the film’s end, heralding Keaton’s return to the DCEU. It seems Sasha Calle as Supergirl replaced Henry Cavill after he left his role as Superman.

There are also cameo appearances for other past or might have been Supermen, including a fight between Nicholas Cage’s interaction in the role and a gigantic Spider-Thing called a Kryptonia Snatch (you can thank writer Kevin Smith for that piece of spectacular misogyny. Please, don’t come back Kevin, even in CGI form). 

So here is one problem; the film rests on the assumption that you actually care about the DCEU, particularly the Snyderverse. I don’t. The film also assumes that there is unconditional love for Michael Keaton’s Batman. I’m not sure there is. When designer Anton Furst’s old Batmobile makes the scene, all I remember was the crushing disappointment of seeing the monstrosity tear down a street in Pinewood, turn a corner and stop only for Batman to get out and walk off – and that was it. Tim Burton’s movies were a success, in spite of themselves. And, as fun as Keaton’s appearance in this film undoubtedly is, it is a send-off I never needed, and the many fans who hated the actor in the role never wanted to remember.

Of course, Keaton taking the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne was nothing like as controversial as Miller has become over the last two years. So here’s another problem. Just one quote from a much more detailed ‘Insider’ article suggests a cause for concern. I’ll try and make this quick:

“Insider has spoken with 14 people who had recent interactions with Miller in which the actor exhibited frightening emotional outbursts, carried firearms, or left them feeling unsafe. Some people said Miller sought out impressionable young women and non-binary people whom they could isolate from their families and control. In some cases, Miller had sexual relations with these people…” 

There are people who think you can and should separate an artist from their work. I’m not one of those people. I no longer feel any desire to listen to Michael Jackson’s music, revisit The Cosby Show, or try to figure out ‘what it is yet’ from Rolf Harris. And thank you Miller, for becoming a non-binary poster-person for the American far right’s campaign to characterise all LGBTQ folk as “groomers”. It may not be fair, but there it is. And Hollywood itself was geared up to incorporate aspects of Miller’s life into the film.

There are clear, and in context ghastly, attempts in The Flash to connect Ezra Miller’s persona with The Flash himself. In one scene, The Flash appropriates an elderly couple’s clothing, so that Barry Allen turns up at his parents house in non-binary fashion, specifically an elderly woman’s purple blouse and trousers looking like culottes. There are also lines such as The Flash commenting that the Justice League aren’t very good with mental health issues. There’s also an otherwise baffling line where The Flash shouts, ”Let’s go Barbie!” to his other self – made more baffling by a terrible post-production ARD. The actor’s lips don’t even move!

The manufacture of Ezra Miller as a “star” exemplifies the way Hollywood creates performers’ identities partly by suggesting similarities between their real lives, their star persona and the role they play on-screen, even if performers’ real lives are  problematic. Robert Downey Jr’s struggles with alcoholism helped suggest his suitability to play the alcoholic Tony Stark (whose flirtation with alcoholism was only briefly touched on in the Iron Man comic). Similarly, Tom Cruise’s real life love of driving fast vehicles and doing his own stunts construct his persona as ideal casting for action adventures.

Here’s yet another problem. I don’t want to be reminded of Miller’s private life. Frankly, their star persona has not been enhanced by their activities. If Rob Lowe (who filmed himself having sex with underage girls) is anything to go by, wilderness decades in minor roles beckons and then belated casting as a villain in some TV show or other. In this context marketing and fans’ fixation on Keaton’s Batman in ‘The Flash’ is a kind of ‘screen memory’ (to borrow a term from psychoanalysis) except it is present day trauma that has led to a bland, unspecific nostalgia for the past except ooh, Batman just said “let’s get nuts!” All is well, just keep your thoughts on how cool the Bat-plane looks descending from the roof of the Bat-cave like…err…a giant Bat! Crazy.

There is fun to be had – some slapstick and a laugh out loud moment where babies are jettisoned from a hospital’s tower. Can The Flash save them all? He can, but the sequence ends with a bewildering baby-in-a-microwave gag. Elsewhere, the effects are ok when it comes to integrating Miller’s scenes with his younger, other self but are sometimes so poor, notably various CGI capes and the Wayne Manor waterfall. The final battle with Zod and his Kryptonian army is mostly staged in long shot and didn’t engage me. Nor did the badly composed face of Michael Shannon as Zod. Some critics have refused to believe that they were watching the completed film and not a work in progress. 

If The Flash can be released in its current state what must Batgirl have been like!? Truly we are living in the worst timeline, one shaped by Warner Brothers continually misunderstanding its properties and desperately cutting and pasting its product to be more like the MCU. Warners’ interference has hobbled their DCEU films, increasing their budgets to the point where they’ll never make their money back.

Finally, for those who think we can separate an artist’s life from their art, “Newsflash!” Miller’s art, at least as The Flash, is not that great. Miller’s interpretation of Barry Allen is not warranted by the comic book character and instead derives from Evan Peters’ interpretation of Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past. And Miller had to cope with the tonal changes introduced by Joss Whedon rewriting entire scenes to no good end. Miller is better in The Flash, but his alternate world self over channels Bill and Ted and his mainline Barry Allen just repeats the ner-but-in-real-life-a superhero trope we have already seen in the Clark Kent-Superman relationship.

In an interview for The Hollywood Reporter, James Gunn, now in charge of the DCEU, has said The Flash is “probably one of the greatest superhero movies ever made.” I can conclusively say, “No it isn’t”. But it’s not one of the worst – not while our timeline contains Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Batman and Robin and Catwoman. So, although I didn’t want to see The Flash, it didn’t make me want to leave the cinema.

Tim Robins

The Flash is in cinemas across the UK now

Categories: Comics, Events, Film, Other Worlds, US Comics

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4 replies

  1. Are you sure about that line ‘the alcoholic Tony Stark (whose flirtation with alcoholism was only briefly touched on in the Iron Man comic)’…?
    IIRC it was quite a big thing in the comics – his 1983/4 relapse went on forever.

    Also – Rob Lowe did have a wilderness decade but he scored a great part in ‘Parks & Recreation’ and gave a much-loved performance.

    But you’re right about the Burton ‘Batman’ – I’ll never forget how crushingly boring and disappointing that film was.

    • I second this.

      Jim Rhodes took over as Iron Man for almost three years while Tony clawed his way back to sobriety. The storyline ran from late 82 to end of 85.

      Tim may be thinking of Tony’s first alcohol story which was short lived in 1979, and is encapsulated in the wonderful “Demon in a Bottle” cover where Tony is staring in the mirror, bottle of drink beside him.

      I think Tony’s since revisited his alcoholism as part of the “Fear Itself” crossover.

  2. Quite a review, Tim! But t strikes me as honest and fair by someone who knows what he’s talking about. Well done.


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