The Flash (2023) – Review
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle
By Roger Crow
There was a time when we just got superhero movies, with one protagonist; one villain; epic set pieces and an actual story. But then the need for more meant two villains, maybe three, and one hero. And an actual story. And as the genre mutated, fans wanted even more. They wanted a reminder of how good the previous movies were, so we got the multiverse. Yes, other versions of Spider-Man for example could co-exist, and fight super villains, even if they were killed in other movies. The enormous success of the last few Spidey movies (animated and live action) meant Hollywood backers knew there was safety in numbers, so as long as there’s a handy explanation of the multiverse, then anything goes.
I’m sure there are plenty of fans of DC Comics’ hero The Flash out there, and given the seemingly random moment in Batman vs Superman (2016) when a hint of what was to come was included in that epic letdown, DC bosses have been planting seeds for The Flash movie for some time.
(Suicide Squad and Justice League also boosted the hero’s profile, and not to be confused with TV’s The Flash, which is apparently a different thing altogether).
“A game of two halves”
This film is a game of two halves. On the one hand is the fact that Michael Keaton’s Batman is back for the first time since 1992, which is a cause for celebration. On the other is a weird Big Bang Theory-style sitcom which plays out with hero Barry Allen (Ezra Miller). ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if there were two of them, like in Keaton’s clone comedy Multiplicity, and one was really annoying?’ Well, sort of. In fact both Barrys are pretty annoying, but on the plus side there is one of those amazing set pieces when the lightning-fast hero attempts to save a load of babies, and a nurse, and a therapy dog, from a collapsing building. It’s basically a revamp of those bits in the X-Men movies when Quicksilver did the same sort of thing.
Anyway, we know what Barry can do, and like all great heroes, he suffered a loss at a young age. But what if you could run so fast that you could turn back time and prevent that tragedy from happening? How would that change things?
Well, as we all know from countless similar movies like Back to the Future (which features a clever Eric Stoltz rather than Michael J Fox nod), it creates a paradox, aka alternating timelines. Except in this reality, Barry and his alt-version, the super annoying one, can co-exist.
Following cameos from Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, we eventually meet up with Keaton’s Batman, who is now a shaggy haired, bearded recluse in Wayne Manor.
“A hot mess of alt timelines”
For a hardcore Batfan like me, the recreation of 1989/1992 era Batman is a joy, from the suit, the HQ and the toys to Danny Elfman’s sublime, albeit revamped score. It’s just a shame Bruce moves like a 20-year-old stunt double and looks like a superbly weathered pensioner.
So both versions of The Flash team up with Batman 89/92, and break the alt-Supergirl (Sasha Calle) out of prison. In this world there is no Superman, as 2013-era General Zod (Michael Shannon) explains. Yes, the ground zero of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is revisited again, like it was in Batman vs Superman. Can old Batman and The Flash stop this version of Zod?
Naturally there’s an epic set piece in which our heroes tackle the Kryptonian villains, and the whole thing feels satisfying, like a video game cut-scene. But then there’s a load of stuff in which both Barrys try to change the outcome of the battle, and like a bowl of Bruce Wayne’s ‘exposition spaghetti’ from earlier in the movie, the whole thing turns into a hot mess of alt timelines. And like anyone who saw the 1998 version of Lost in Space, there’s a serious reminder of what obsessive time line meddling can lead to.
I’m a huge fan of sitcom Two Doors Down, so one person I didn’t expect to see in this mega bucks comic book conversion was Kieran Hodgson, stealing the movie from under Ezra Miller’s nose in the first few minutes.
A minute later, the brilliant Sanjeev (Unforgotten) Bhaskar is doing the same thing. Some of the reason is the movie was partly shot in Glasgow, which is one of the go-to places for blockbusters needing ‘American’ streets but without paying New York prices. (See also World War Z, The Batman, and the last Indiana Jones movie).
So while The Flash isn’t as bonkers as the Aquaman movie, it’s so frantic you may need a lie down. It also needed trimming by 20 minutes, and may have been stronger without that loving homage to George Reeves and Christopher Reeve’s Superman. We also get a look at what Nicolas Cage’s Superman would have looked like from the aborted 1998 Tim Burton version.
The Flash is not without merit, and the final gag with a laugh-out-loud funny cameo from a well known coffee salesman is worth sticking around for. It’s just a shame the running scenes still feel so inert, like they did when Eric Idle’s super-fast hero in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen chased projectiles and pulled off amazing feats with differing degrees of success back in 1988.
Ideally there’s a version of this movie where The Flash is barely in it; a blur if you like, and given Miller’s headline-grabbing issues in recent years, morally that may have been the best option too.
As fun as bits of The Flash are, I’m not desperate for a sequel, unless Michel Keaton and that other guy from the finale turn up and dominate the movie, then count me in.