Ten years ago, Superman returned to our screens in Man of Steel, as DC fought a losing battle to keep up with the Marvel juggernaut. To say the studio’s output has been variable in quality since would be an understatement, and that’s why this version of the DC Extended Universe is soon to be rebooted. It’s the job of The Flash to bring things to a close, and to go out with a bang, and to do so, the studio looked to the past – in particular, the greatest-ever version of its most iconic hero, Batman. However, there was one aspect that DC couldn’t rely on the past for, and that was how to address the truly unique situation they faced leading up to the film’s release. Due to lead star Ezra Miller garnering media attention for troubling behaviour in their personal life, the film’s promotion relied on endorsements from notable figures. Ranging from Stephen King to Tom Cruise, they boldly proclaimed the film as the greatest superhero film since The Dark Knight. The end result is, like much of DC’s output, soaring at times and underwhelming at others, although this film, fortunately, lands more in the former camp.
Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is juggling his time as the Flash with his job and an appeal for his father, who is wrongly imprisoned for Barry’s mother’s murder many years ago. Barry learns that, if he runs fast enough, he is able to travel back in time, and despite warnings from Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), he decides to return and prevent his mother’s death. His actions create a new reality in which Barry’s mother (Maribel Verdú) is still alive – but, as discovered by him when General Zod (Michael Shannon) invades Earth, no meta-humans. Teaming up with a younger and more immature alternate version of himself, Barry learns that there is still one hero in this world – but, as he discovers on a trip to Wayne Manor, this hero is not the same man he was before.
Given how annoying Barry has proven in other DC films, it is genuinely astonishing that Miller’s performance carries The Flash. Due to the swathe of bizarre headlines created by Miller’s troublesome off-screen behaviour, this film may not be for some, especially given that they pull a double-duty as two versions of Barry. Yet, I was surprised by how engaging I found them. They’re funny, forming an excellent double act with themselves, and there were even moments of genuine emotion in their performance. Credit must be given to the effects team for executing the duality convincingly, but it couldn’t have been sold without Miller.
Keaton breathes life into Bruce Wayne, as does Affleck – these are two actors, truly having moments in the sun as the DCEU reboots itself, and they’re fine notes on which to sign off
For me, the real attraction of the film was the return of Michael Keaton as Batman. When I was a kid, Keaton was the essential Batman (and, to my mind, still is). He slips back into the role like a glove – although he is essentially a supporting character, he is the standout of the film. Keaton breathes life into Bruce Wayne, as does Affleck – these are two actors, truly having moments in the sun as the DCEU reboots itself, and they’re fine notes on which to sign off. The rest of the supporting cast gets less to do – Shannon looks bored as Zod and Sasha Calle doesn’t get nearly enough screen time to make an impression as Supergirl.
There are good elements in the film – the opening hospital sequence, and a captivating prison break mission featuring Batman and the Flashes. There’s also a scene at the end that moved me to tears – I was not expecting to be hit as hard as I was. But these elements come sandwiched between a number of set pieces that don’t work, and which drag longer than they need to, resulting in a very uneven experience. By the third act, matters devolve into a large and ropey CGI mess that kickstarts the cameo parade, but these appearances are fleeting and, in some cases, too obscure. Elsewhere, the final villain doesn’t get anywhere near the time necessary to feel like an actual antagonist – I’d completely forgotten about them by the time they appeared, which is never a good sign.
The Flash is intended to reboot the DCEU and, as last hurrahs go, this isn’t a bad one. It’s been a sketchy run of films, and this is certainly one of the better ones, helped in no small part by a surprisingly strong lead performance and the return of one of cinema’s most iconic superheroes. It’s at its best when it focuses on the heart that underpins Barry’s journey, and his interactions with the Batmen who guide him – it’s a shame, then, that it needs to do all the bland superhero stuff when there’s a fundamentally strong story to be told here. For a story about a hero who can move incredibly fast, it’s often those quieter, slower moments that really bring out the best The Flash has to offer.