A Theatrical Film Release
Worlds collide as the much-anticipated big-screen superhero flick THE FLASH starring Ezra Miller is finally coming to theaters, but will this film save the DC Cinematic Universe or are we spiraling toward another crisis?
This summer’s blockbuster line-up has undoubtedly signaled Hollywood’s return to the multiplex. All the studios have had major tentpole releases with many hitting their mark, both with fans and critics. Among the myriad of offerings that are coming to the big screen are returning franchise favorites including the latest installment from the Transformers series, the live-action interpretation of the Disney classic The Little Mermaid, and taking another stab at legendary status is Harrison Ford reprising his role in Indian Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Among the line-up of films, the one that has caught everyone’s attention without a doubt must be The Flash with Ezra Miller suiting up as the super speedster in his own solo full-length feature. The film and its star have been the focus of much controversy recently, as it passed several hands in production before finally landing on filmmaker Andy Muschietti from a screenplay by Christina Hodson. Both inherited a film and story that was in much disarray, and it didn’t help that actor Ezra Miller was caught in several serious offenses that easily could have jeopardized the entire effort.
Warner Bros. the studio that has backed and been lauding the project and its star for nearly a decade (the feature was announced as part of an extended cinematic universe of films in 2014 meant to rival that of Marvel Studios), is likely keeping a close eye on how The Flash will be received by fans and audiences when it hits theaters on June 16. The new heads of DC Studios James Gunn and Peter Safran are also curious — after all, only the fate of the DC cinematic universe is at stake! But is it really? Gunn and Safran have already announced their plans to retcon and retrofit the DCCU.
So what consequence, if any is there in the success or failure of this film? Probably little.
In its two and half hours, The Flash loosely adapts the “FlashPoint” story arc, published in 2011 and written by heralded comics writer Geoff Johns. The story infamously rebooted the DC publishing universe in 2011 giving new readers an easy way into long-established mythology by simplifying or obliterating most of any. The maneuver was called The New 52 and it didn’t last very long, ultimately leading to a “rebirth” and most recently a new “dawn”. When an imprint like DC has had a successful impact on popular culture for upwards of 80 years, occasionally a redo comes with benefits.
The long-anticipated full-length feature, The Flash is unfortunately lacking in any momentum that many had been hoping would be part of the lead-up to its release. Notwithstanding Miller’s interpretation of the titular hero, since his [proper] introduction in 2017’s Justice League, the actor has taken to playing Barry Allen as an awkward, uncomfortable around people, individual, who is above all determined to make good on finding out who murdered his mother, Nora (Maribel Verdú) and clearing his father Henry (Ron Livingston replacing Billy Crudup) of the crime.
Certainly getting struck by lightning and inheriting super speed, comes with its perks, and having a league of allies makes life a lot easier, if not more exciting for Allen, who is toiling in Central City’s Crime Lab solving cold cases using state of the art forensics and the occasional superpower. Still, even after saving the world from an interstellar invasion, The Flash isn’t treated as little more than a Justice League second stringer. Even if in the context of the film universe Barry is still taking his first few steps, Ezra Miller has often played the hero with a touch that feels more like Wally West, the one-time side-kick that eventually steps up and assumes the mantle of the Fastest Man of Alive. It just doesn’t sync up.
This Looks Familiar
Ezra is endearing, and an incredibly capable actor, but there is just something that feels off and his decisive quirks are distracting enough that he doesn’t ascend to the stature of a hero that has more than often represented hope. The cracks in the character’s flaws are magnified and appear far more centric to differentiate this Flash from any that audiences have seen before. In 1990 John Wesley Shipp portrayed an ably experienced and seasoned CSI investigator that isn’t entirely comfortable in his superhero role and in 2014 Grunt Gustin worked overtime in the lab, but when he is struck by lightning and becomes “the impossible”, he embraces his new gifts and aspires to be his best!
It’s not that cut and dry with Ezra’s Flash, and the filmmakers aren’t really picking a lane either.
Many of The Flash’s best bits have already been largely revealed in its marketing campaign. It co-stars Michael Keaton reprising his role as the Caped Crusader he introduced in Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster, Batman and it also incorporates aspects of Zack Snyder’s cinematic universe, with something of a twist. Ben Affleck is present as Batman, Gal Gadot’s amazing Amazon, Wonder Woman, and Jason Mamoa as the King of the Seven Seas, Aquaman, also make an appearance. And in their appropriation of the “FlashPoint” story, the narrative reimagines one major component.
Most favorably Supergirl played by Sasha Calle rounds out the main cast, filling in for the missing Man of Steel — remember, The Flash has altered events, and in this version of the past Kara Zor-El (Calle) arrives in the place of her cousin Kal-El after they are both rocketed away from their ill-fated home world. She is immediately captured and imprisoned in a Russian black ops site and has never seen the outside world until she is freed by our heroes. With the arrival of General Zod (Michael Shannon reprising his Man of Steel role) the “big battle” is engaged!
Sadly against the stark desert backdrop, the melee plays flatly and as little more than a CGI mess; there’s no texture to it at all making it feels like a video game with good guys vs. bad guys on a playing field. There’s nothing elegant, cinematic, or orchestrated in this scene, which is the biggest battle of the film (a directorial failing), but it leads into the final and most gratifyingly emotional moment with our main hero. Miller does his best work in the final act and climax; it’s unfortunate that it includes an inauthentic appeal to DC cinematic nostalgia, with bits and pieces of stolen (and purely executed computer-generated antics) meant to strike at every fan’s heart.
It doesn’t… The Flash trip through the multiverse feels arbitrary and false. You’re left half-wondering given the production gaps in the finalization of The Flash why wouldn’t the film’s director have consulted with Greg Berlant or Marc Guggenheim — two of the creators closest to successfully pulling off the ultimate multiverse incursion over the course of a decade in primetime with the Arrowverse, and its recent adaptation of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” (which Miller made a cameo appearance in). It’s not fan service, it’s blatant clueless director/ambitious writer pandering to the studio service.
Yup, I said it!
It’s a Reboot!
With perhaps the exception of Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman none of the DC Extended Universe features have had the “gravitas” of Zack Snyder’s three-part indoctrination into a connected narrative, especially after the filmmaker was afforded the opportunity to revisit Justice League and properly deliver the epic masterpiece (retconning the Whedon release) he had always intended. Many of the DC in-universe films that followed including Aquaman and the two Shazam! films are much lighter in tone. James Gunn’s reimagining of The Suicide Squad (2021) is a flat-out comedy much in the vein of his Marvel Studios films offerings.
Although The Flash benefits from not taking itself too seriously, or rather not as seriously as the Snyder-verse, it’s unfortunate that the film appears to bank on playing for laughs. It appeals to the strength of Miller as a creative player, but it doesn’t necessarily lend to the critical seriousness of what Barry is attempting when he alters the timeline and the resulting effect it has on continuity. It never feels urgent (mostly a parody), until the secondary characters are brought into the picture. Batman and Supergirl, alter the tone and raise the stakes, especially with the arrival of the Kryptonian militia led by Zod. We trust the motley crew that’s been assembled to save the day, but…
The audience should have as much faith in Barry, but perhaps that in itself is the turn in the character’s heroic journey that makes the third and final act of The Flash the far better part of the film. It’s a balancing act The Flash doesn’t even try to get right, and if this film is the predecessor “course correct” for the vision that Gunn/Safran have in mind, then their vision of a redesigned DCEU can just start fresh. This iteration of The Flash has likely run its course.
Get your #FansEyeView of THE FLASH trailer here:
THE FLASH | starring Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck, Sasha Calle, Kiersey Clemons, and Michael Shannon, directed by Andy Muschietti is in theaters June 16, 2023.