“The Flash” was directed by Andy Muschietti and stars Ezra Miller in the title role. Based on the Flashpoint comic storyline by Geoff Johns, the film follows Barry Allen/The Flash as he discovers his ability to travel back in time using the Speed Force, allowing him to prevent his mother’s death. However, after doing so, he creates an alternate timeline without active heroes to protect it from an imminent threat. Joining forces with a retired Michael Keaton Batman, he must find a way to save this new world before it’s too late.
I’m burnt out on multiverses. Between the Spider-Verse films and the recent MCU phases and that aggressively overrated “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the market has rapidly become oversaturated with this premise. What was originally a unique and inventive idea has turned into a boring and repetitive cameo-fest to make a quick buck.
That being said, I still had a fun time with “The Flash.” It utilizes the multiverse idea well enough to make it feel somewhat fresh and, more importantly, emphasizes a character-centered story about Barry rather than submit itself to the memberberries (at least until the ending).
This is a Flash movie first and foremost, and for the most part it reaps the benefits of that. For the first half of the film, Barry is in every single scene. There’s proper buildup before the chaos, featuring his origin, the tragedies in his life, and the challenges he faces on a day-to-day basis as a superhero. It’s not all pain and suffering though; this film features a lot of humor, especially during sequences when Barry has to regulate his calories or balance his double life. There’s also some excellent banter and one-liners, made even funnier by Miller’s delivery.
The point is, this isn’t just a mindless and formulaic comic book blockbuster the likes of this year’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” There’s actual depth and emotion underlying the momentum of the story, leading to a surprisingly gut-wrenching climax.
As an individual, Ezra Miller is… let’s just say flawed. I don’t need to delve deep into his history of (alleged) crimes and assault charges. Like anyone, I came into this film with a disdain for the actor, but I also went with the ability to separate the art from the artist. If you’re able to do that (and I completely understand anyone who can’t), you’ll appreciate the caliber of performance Miller gives. They’re able to juggle a dual role as the main Barry and a younger, brash version of himself beautifully, making sure each character feels both unique from their differing life experiences while sharing core similarities. Miller is quite likable and relatable in this role despite their history off screen, which is the most impressive feat of all.
“The Flash” also benefits from its excellent pacing. At nearly 2 and a half hours, there’s not a single dull moment, yet it also isn’t just a nonstop roller coaster ride. It moves slow when it needs to let character development breathe and rapidly when it needs to bring the action. However, and this is arguably a nitpick, there’s one scene at the beginning of the film involving the Flash “saving” babies that should’ve been cut entirely. It’s just too goofy and oddly unsettling.
Now let’s get to the enormous, protruding elephant in the room: the CGI. Wow. It is honestly some of the worst 21st century VFX work I’ve ever seen. The worst part is that there’s no real excuse for it. The VFX artists had years to work on it, so it’s not like they had some rushed abusive deadline. The movie had an estimated $300 million budget, so they must have had the necessary resources. The only explanation is simply that the artists and Muschietti, well, failed.
There’s certainly an over-dependence on CGI here, especially in the horrid cameo palooza at the end of the film in which famous faces (I won’t say who) pop up, this time oddly smooth with darting eyes and droopy noses. Some of these actors are still around and still look the part, and as for those who don’t: fine, just don’t put them in the film. This leads to the first atrocious aspect of the CGI: the digitally constructed faces. Think the baby from the “Twilight” movies times a thousand, as such disturbing faces appear in almost every scene. Whether it’s the aforementioned cameos or Michael Shannon’s awkwardly inserted face into a CGI Zod body or the digital babies or the laughably rendered fake Ezra Miller face for scenes between the two Barrys (of which there are many), there’s almost always someone grotesque on screen.
The second major instance of hideous CGI is how the Speed Force is designed. As Barry moves back in time, we see images of past events, except instead of real footage, they’re digital renders straight out of a Playstation 2 cutscene. Then, besides these two darting CGI disasters, the majority of the remaining CGI simply doesn’t work either. The computer generated character models are all too noticeable and the action sequences, while entertaining, are unnaturally dynamic. Overall, it comes down to Muschietti’s over-reliance on CGI, the attitude of “they’ll fix it in post,” that sucks the realism and credibility out of the film. He’s clearly a stellar actor’s director and a master of balancing tone, but he must learn for future DC projects to use practical effects whenever possible.
Ultimately, “The Flash” is a much needed win for DC. It’s full of heart, entertainment value, and exciting characters. It’s not just another formulaic conveyor belt dumpster fire; it’s what comic book movies should return to. Of course, it’s certainly imperfect. The CGI will go down in the history books as a lesson in what not to do and the cameos at the end are unearned, but it’s still a great time at the movies. Strong recommendation from me.