Combustible Celluloid Review - The Flash (2023), Christina Hodson, based on a story by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, Joby Harold, Andy Muschietti, Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Irons, Temuera Morrison, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Rudy Mancuso
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With: Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Irons, Temuera Morrison, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Rudy Mancuso
Written by: Christina Hodson, based on a story by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, Joby Harold
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity
Running Time: 144
Date: 06/16/2023

The Flash (2023)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fast from the Past

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The long list of bizarre, violent, threatening, and sometimes illegal behavior by Ezra Miller — who, in truth, simply comes across like a spoiled, entitled, rich brat — hangs like a pall over The Flash, and it should be acknowledged. Each viewer interested in seeing it will need to decide for themselves how much to forgive or forget. I found that I was able to set things aside long enough to enjoy the movie as lightweight fling.

One reason I was able to approve was that Miller plays two Barry Allens here: the current one we know from Justice League and its painful director's cut, and a younger version from an alternate timeline. The younger Barry is, for all intents and purposes, a spoiled, entitled brat, and the older Barry is constantly checking his behavior. Wouldn't it be great if Miller themself learned something from this role?

In any case, this is the first "multiverse" movie in the DC saga, and, predictably, it's not as thoughtful or as involved as the Marvel "multiverse" stories (so far: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse). And, in fact, this entire timeline, with all its characters and cameos, amounts to little more than a lesson for Barry: sometimes there is no answer.

Working as a forensic investigator, Barry hopes to get his innocent father (Ron Livingston) — accused of murdering his mother (Maribel Verdú) — out of prison, but there's just no hard evidence, and hope is dwindling. Then, helping Batman (Ben Affleck) deal with a catastrophe in Gotham City, and saving a bunch of babies, a dog, and a nurse from falling to their deaths, the Flash learns that he can run fast enough to break the time barrier. His first thought is that he could travel back in time and prevent his father from having to go to the store for an extra can of tomatoes, and thereby stop his mother's murder.

After fiddling with the past, Barry finds himself in an alternate timeline, and slightly earlier in time when he's still a college student. He meets himself, and also learns that General Zod (Michael Shannon) has invaded the planet. Barry realizes that it's the exact night that he got his powers. Barry One takes Barry Two to the lab where the fateful accident occurred, and before long, Barry Two has Flash powers, and Barry One has somehow lost his. So Barry One decides to round up the Justice League, but also discovers that, in this universe, they don't exist.

After some searching and coercing, and a daring rescue/escape, they recruit another Batman (Michael Keaton, returning to the role more than thirty years after Batman Returns) and Kara Zor-El — more popularly known as Supergirl — played by Sasha Calle in a memorable feature film debut. The climactic battle against Zod interestingly turns into something more internal, as both Flashes keep traveling back in time to re-jigger the outcome.

Directed by Andy Muschietti, of It and It: Chapter Two, The Flash is bright and fleet-footed, continuing DC's welcome departure from the leaden, sluggish, grayness of the early entries, but it suffers from those stiff visual FX that mar the fight scenes — especially the daylight ones — making the characters look like video game avatars. Their action involves simple, straight lines rather than fluid, organic movement. Plus, I keep pondering… would this 144-minute movie have moved faster if it were shorter, or would it have suffered from less character development?

The movie's many Easter eggs are fun and will either be instantly familiar, or will thoroughly test the trivia knowledge of comic book and superhero nerds. (Who in the audience has seen reruns of the black-and-white George Reeves Superman TV series from the 1950s? Or what about a much-talked about but never filmed 1990s Superman movie?) And, of course, fans will want to stick around for a funny sequence at the very end of the credits.

Finally, and the main reason I ever wanted to see The Flash: it's a huge thrill to see Keaton occupying the Batman role, my favorite of the Batmen. But, after a few shout-outs and callbacks, we have to wonder why this kind of nostalgia is so powerful. Why do we still want to see Tom Cruise's Maverick or Stallone's Rocky or Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones so many decades later? Maybe it's a visit to our own multiverse, or a way of connecting with the people we were back then. Or Maybe it's simply a reminder that we're all still alive.

On August 29, 2023, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment released the film on an excellent Blu-ray. Sound is superb and video is very good. But the bonuses are terrific. It includes a 37-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, "Making The Flash: Worlds Collide," that was surprisingly engaging. It's not a generic EPK; it actually has tons of footage from the shoot, showing how greenscreen FX were done, and showing everyone's head exploding (not literally) while working with Keaton. There are two more featurettes focused on Batman and Supergirl, and an entire 90-minute audio podcast, "The Flash: Escape the Midnight Circus," as well as a trailer for the podcast and a short behind-the-scenes video. A digital copy is also included. Recommended.

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