3.5 out of 5 stars

After running in circles for years, The Flash arrives as one of the last drips to be squeezed from the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) masterminded by Zack Snyder (Batman v Superman) to mixed success. The highs of Wonder Woman (2020) and Shazam! (2019) were always weighed down by the lows of duds like Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) and Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023), but The Flash is at least good enough—or perhaps simply marketable enough—to avoid getting nixed like Batgirl ahead of James Gunn and Peter Safran’s DCU reboot. But is that because a low bar is easy to vault over?

Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) accidentally zips back in time whilst emotional over memories of his mother’s unsolved murder, which his father’s been wrongly imprisoned for, finding himself able to change his family’s unfortunate past. A humble can of tomatoes is the catalyst for Barry successfully changing history, resulting in a new timeline where his mother Nora (Maribel Verdú) is alive and his dad Henry (Ron Livingston) is a free man, but his metahuman friends like Wonder Woman and Aquaman don’t exist. Complicating matters, this new timeline contains a more immature teenage version of Barry whose personality hasn’t been shaped by tragedy, who must gain his own speedster abilities now that Kryptonian terraformer General Zod (Michael Shannon) has come to conquer Earth and there’s no Superman to protect mankind. Soon, both versions of Barry realise they need help from the only superhero who still exists in this reality: an aged and retired Batman (Michael Keaton).

Taking inspiration from the popular 2011 comic-book story “Flashpoint”, this time-travel plot was a perfect opportunity to provide a solid reason for the disharmonious DCEU evolving into the DCU. So it’s strange it avoids using the big red reset button, even opting to end the story with a crowd-pleasing gag instead of an exciting tease of what a clean slate has in store.

It also doesn’t help that The Flash (2014-2023) TV series already did the Flashpoint story rather well in its first season (to more heartbreaking effect), so even the source material isn’t fresh ground for live-action. And we’re now waist-deep in multiverse storytelling from the likes of Marvel Studios and even Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), so the thrill of seeing alternate versions of iconic characters isn’t as exciting as it may have been when The Flash started development.

Nevertheless, The Flash leans into its bag of tricks to provide an engaging and amusing second act with Barry hatching a plan to defeat Zod without assistance from his Justice League teammates. Ezra Miller (Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore) embraces the chance to play two versions of Barry Allen, and while his younger Barry is intentionally annoying because of his braying laugh and ’90s-Pauly Shore-esque idiocy, it’s fun seeing our comparatively solemn Barry rise to the occasion and become an ‘older brother’. Even if some of his leadership responsibility is eventually ceded to Bruce Wayne, in the guise of Michael Keaton (Batman).

I don’t know if seeing Keaton back in the bat-suit appeals to anyone who wasn’t around for ‘Batmania’ in 1989—but, for the over-30’s crowd, it’s a treat seeing Keaton reprise this role again. And despite his age, he still has the chin and lips for the job. It also helps that stuntmen can pull off the amount of acrobatics and fight choreography Tim Burton’s more grounded films weren’t interested in, and photorealistic CGI doubles help make the 71-year-old Keaton into a plausible physical threat.

The Flash‘s main issues lie with its somewhat chaotic and unconvincing scene-setting opening, which doesn’t do enough to anchor the emotional bedrock for Barry with flashbacks to his mother’s death, despite a relaxed and charismatic turn from Maribel Verdú. The odd-couple comedy with the two Barrys is more successful and delivers a few big laughs, if maybe a few too many Back to the Future (1985) references, as they go on a mission to save the world and fix their timeline. And their quest is made more entertaining with the addition of the ’89 Dark Knight, complete with Danny Elfman music cues and recognisable iconography.

The third act slumps into rudimentary comic-book action in the desert against Zod’s super-minions, hampered by ambitious CGI the VFX team didn’t have time to perfect (although I’ve seen worse). And it’s a shame the intriguing arrival of Supergirl, Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle), comes so late that the screenplay can’t dedicate enough time to fleshing her out. Calle does her best with the limited material she gets, as a saviour figure who was mistreated in Russia and doesn’t instinctively want to protect humanity, but she’s mostly overshadowed by everything and everyone around her.

Andy Muschietti (It) deserves credit for landing this film after so many years and delays, and he gets a lot right in terms of balancing comedy, emotion, and action. The Flash is easily the funniest DCEU film (no surprise) and the set-pieces are mostly a thrill because they evoke the feeling of watching a frivolous Saturday morning cartoon. The opening dilemma over newborn babies falling from a collapsing building as Batman roars around on his Batcycle is enjoyably bonkers, Keaton’s Caped Crusader is given a fantastic sequence breaking into a secret Siberian research facility, and moments in the dubious third act land a punch. It’s no surprise Muschietti’s been hired to direct the DCU’s new Batman film, Brave and the Bold.

Overall, The Flash isn’t as terrific as it could have been with such an iconic story like “Flashpoint” to feed off, and it sometimes feels like the addition of Michael Keaton was thrown in to generate interest from fans perhaps not sold on Ezra Miller’s take on Barry Allen and the DCEU’s current form. Superhero films usually start well and end decently, but struggle in the middle, but the opposite is true here. The second act is where the story feels the most relaxed and the goofiness of two Barry Allen’s building a friendship and partnership mixes well with the delight of seeing Batman ’89 on-screen again.


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Cast & Crew

director: Andy Muschietti.
writer: Christina Hodson (story by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein & Joby Harold; based on characters from DC.)
starring: Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Michael Keaton & Ben Affleck.