Brimming with a plethora of beloved characters and a heartfelt core, “The Flash” serves as an ode to past DC superhero movies. However, the film finds itself caught in a whirlwind, struggling to harmonize its various elements.
Directed by Andy Muschietti, known for his work on “It,” this multiverse-hopping time-travel adventure shares similarities with Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” and the recent “Spider-Verse” films. “The Flash” embarks on a quest reminiscent of “Back to the Future,” with Ezra Miller reprising his role as the speedy protagonist who must set things right. Along the way, a host of familiar faces reappear, including Michael Keaton donning the Batman cape and cowl once again, and Sasha Calle making her debut as Supergirl. Coupled with its clever humor, “The Flash” lives up to its anticipated buzz. However, the film’s attempt to incorporate so much leads to a perplexing and convoluted climax that may leave audiences scratching their heads.
Barry Allen (Miller), a restless and perpetually famished individual, toils away at the crime lab while also cleaning up the aftermath left by his friend Batman (Ben Affleck). Despite his abilities, Barry has been unable to assist his father Henry (Ron Livingston), who has been unjustly imprisoned for the alleged murder of his wife Nora (Maribel Verdú). However, when Barry realizes that his superhuman powers grant him control over time, he takes it upon himself to alter history and avert his mother’s untimely demise. Determined to rewrite the past, Barry sets out to reshape his destiny, using his extraordinary abilities to save his mother’s life.
Barry’s risky gambit proves successful, but not without consequences. As he alters the timeline, he becomes trapped in the past and unexpectedly encounters a younger version of himself, the college-age Barry (also portrayed by Miller). This alternate reality presents a stark contrast, as this younger Barry never had to mature prematurely or cope with the loss of both parents.
After a botched attempt to get main Barry back home, he and his younger self seek out Batman only to find a retired old guy (Keaton) who’s been out of action for 20-plus years. And to combat Zod, their search for Superman finds instead his cousin Kara Zor-El (Calle), imprisoned in an old Cold War military base and not loving humanity all that much.
The early part of “Flash” offers a fun scrappiness, and it really cooks when the two Barrys are forced to coexist and the high-stakes bigger picture is set aside to focus on their relationship. Miller’s legal troubles might discourage some from watching, and nothing’s concrete about his DC future, but as for what’s onscreen, the actor is a standout conveying a wide range of emotions and expressions as he plays essentially two different characters.
Affleck’s small part reminds that he never really got a good shot at making the Caped Crusader his own, while Keaton hasn’t lost a step since 1992’s “Batman Returns,” again proving he’s the best Dark Knight of them all. And Calle pulls off a hefty character arc in limited time with her complex heroine. With James Gunn and Co. now resetting the DC universe, and a solo Supergirl film integral in those plans, it’d be a true injustice if Calle isn’t cast because she’s great in the role.
“The Flash” arrives at a real flashpoint for the DC movies after a decade of ups and downs. This superhero universe has so far failed to figure out the same interconnectivity that rival Marvel did long ago, and the struggles still show: Without saying too much, “Flash” loses its way in the end by bending over backward trying to link a ton of disparate elements.
Meanwhile the movie’s stronger underlying themes, like the importance of living in the present and learning to let things go, are overshadowed by the multiversal gymnastics. And as much good stuff as the “The Flash” features, including a nifty scene where Barry slo-mo saves a slew of falling babies in entertaining fashion, the film can’t help but get tripped up by the same old hurdles.