Taking inspiration from DC’s Flashpoint, Andy Muschietti’s The Flash follows on from the events of Justice League (2017), where the Scarlet Speedster has become a full time member of the Justice League.

After revisiting his childhood home and the scene of his mother’s murder, Barry (Ezra Miller) finds out that he has the ability to travel through time. He informs Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) of this ability and how he could use it to fix both their pasts. Bruce discourages him, stating the consequences could be disastrous.

At first Barry seems to take Bruce’s warning on board, but it’s not long until he finds himself traveling through time trying to make things right. At first he seems to succeed, with his mother once again being amongst the land of the living but after a while Barry starts to see how catastrophic changing the past can be.

With the emergence of General Zod (Michael Shannon), Barry and his counterpart from the alternative timeline seek out help from the rest of the Justice League only to find out the changes Barry has made has resulted in a world without meta humans.

Instead Barry decides to turn to the one man he knows he can trust, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton). However, this version of Bruce isn’t the same as the one he knows. In his place is a different, older man who has long since turned his back on his crime fighting alter ego. Even so, it would seem that while he looks different, at his core he is still Batman, and decides to suit up once more and help Barry defeat Zod.

Anyone who followed the production of Muschietti’s The Flash will know that it has had to overcome a serious amount of hurdles on its journey to the screen. Announced almost a decade ago, the original plan was for The Flash to enter production sometime in 2016 for a 2018 release.

The DC extended universe’s (DCEU) take on the character had already being briefly introduced in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2017) before featuring as one of the main character in Justice League (2017), which like The Flash was also a troubled production.

With the groundwork already being laid out and with decades of comic book material at their disposal you would think it would have been plain sailing for a Flash solo adventure. Of course this being Hollywood, nothing is ever plain sailing, with the production going through  a plethora of directors. While several directors were rumored to be interested in helming the project such as Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, it was Seth Grahame-Smith that was initially confirmed as director.

More famous as the writer of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Flash would have marked Grahame-Smith’s debut as director. As usual, creative differences got in the way with Grahame-Smith finally deciding to leave the project for pastures new.

After Grahame-Smith’s departure a search for a new director began, with Warner Brothers settling on Talk to Me (2007) director Rick Famuyiwa. Unsurprisingly, Famuyiwa also left the project, who like Grahame-Smith before him wasn’t able to come to a creative agreement with the studio.

After looking at a range of directors, with a number of unlikely candidates being at the top of Warner Bros list, the studio finally settled on John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. The filmmaking duo seemed a great choice considering their experience with writing superhero movie Spiderman: Homecoming (2017). Obviously with Muschietti finally directing the feature you will have realized that Daley and Goldstein ultimately left the project.

Personally I would have been interested to see what Daley and Goldstein would have brought to the project, as they showed clear skill in the fantasy genre with the recent Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, a film more enjoyable than it had any right to be.

Even with the film in full production under Muschietti, it still had other issues to overcome, which were mostly to do with its leading star Ezra Miller and their numerous brushes with the law during production.

With the amount of money spent on the production it was highly unlikely the film would go unreleased, although the film could have gone through significant changes before reaching the screen. Even though Miller issued a public apology for their behavior, they have been mostly absent from any of the film’s publicity.

With all this background drama, the real question is, has Muschietti been able to overcome these obstacles and direct a worthwhile film? According to James Gunn he has, with him exclaiming that it is the greatest superhero film he has ever seen. It’s a mighty statement, and one that The Flash isn’t able to overcome. To be frank, most films would struggle against this kind of hyperbole and while the completed film is certainly an entertaining blockbuster, the only way you could believe a statement like Gunn’s would be if you hadn’t seen films like Superman The Movie (1978) or The Dark Knight (2008).

Clearly it’s epics like those that Andy Muschietti was aiming to emulate, and make no mistake The Flash is filmmaking on an epic scale. He was clearly the right director to take on the job of bringing The Flash to the screen, with him already showing his skills in the fantasy genre with his adaptation of Stephen King’s It (2017) and its sequel. Personally I don’t think The Flash is on par with his work on those two features, but he still shows considerable skills behind the camera, especially when taking into consideration the multiple obstacles put in his way during The Flash’s production.

Although Muschietti doesn’t always hit his targets, he gives the film a good sense of energy and pace. He kicks things off into high gear with an excellent action scene where Affleck’s Batman chases a gang of terrorists on a motorbike through the mean streets of Gotham City or as I normally call it, Glasgow. At the same time as Batman speeds through the streets, Miller’s Flash is rescuing a group of newborns from a collapsing hospital. It’s a great taster for what’s to come with it almost feeling like a mini Justice League reunion.

Admittedly the first two thirds of the film are more successful than the third. The final third of the film has quite a lot going on to the point that it feels somewhat overstuffed. The action is excitingly staged during the finale, but with the multitude of cameos that are crammed into the main story it ultimately takes away from the on screen drama. The cameos are clear fan service, and I will admit that even I had a grin across my face at the appearance of some iconic faces. Still, as nice as it was to see some of these characters appear, they don’t really add to the overall plot.

Another drawback for Muschietti’s film is that it seesaws between some outstanding special effects work to some of the worst CGI I have known to feature in a big budget blockbuster. This isn’t even an exaggeration. The scenes where Barry begins to travel through time are laughable in how poor they appear, with characters on show looking like poorly rendered cartoons. It wouldn’t be such an issue if the poor effects work didn’t recur through the film. It is especially noticeable whenever two versions of Miller appear on screen at the same time, with one of them clearly being inserted through the use of some poorly realized CGI.

Luckily Muschietti’s skills as a director help paper over such issues. Considering how well the characters were realized in It, it’s no surprise Muschietti gets good performances from the majority of his cast.

Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly a fan of the casting of Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash. To be fair to them, it was more down to the writing, as when he featured prominently in Justice League the character came across as goofy, being used more for comic relief than the bonafide superhero he is in the comics. Sure, Allen was always a lighter character than the likes of Batman, but I just felt the character had changed quite a bit in its translation from page to screen.

This was somewhat rectified with the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) where Miller’s take on the character was given more time to develop, resulting in a more rounded character, even if they were still somewhat removed from the source material.

While Miller’s legal issues may have put something of a dampener on proceedings, they surprisingly make for an appealing lead, with the multiple versions of The Flash giving the actor something to sink their teeth into. Admittedly, the alternative version of Barry Miller plays could be considered annoying but even that version has some interesting dynamics that play an important part in the character’s overall arc.

I wouldn’t say Miller’s performance is definitive, but they certainly put their own spin into the character. It’s uncertain at this time whether Miller will return in future adventures. This isn’t just down to Miller’s personal issues, which could affect their return, but also to do with what the DCU has planned going forward and how, if at all, this version of The Flash factors into these plans.

Let’s be honest though, it wouldn’t have mattered how good Miller was in the lead. Sure, the film is called The Flash, but for most people of a certain age, they’re really here to see the return of Michael Keaton as Batman. Warner Brothers clearly recognized this as well, with the majority of the marketing material being focused upon his return to his most iconic role.

Keaton doesn’t disappoint, with him easily falling back into the role of Batman/BruceWayne. Carrying on from Batman Returns (1992) and ignoring the events of Batman Forever (1995) as well as Batman & Robin (1997), Keaton’s Wayne has become something of a recluse. His version of Gotham has become one of the safest cities in the world, meaning that there’s no real need for a Batman anymore.

Although he is apprehensive to join the fight, you can quickly see that the fight is exactly what he has been missing. Wayne only becomes truly alive again once he dons the cape and cowl. One particularly memorable scene shows this perfectly. It’s roughly only a minute long but it has Keaton patching himself after battle, where he looks at his battered face in the mirror and gives a sly smile, recognizing that this is what he really needs. He is Batman.

Although this is a much older Batman than we have seen on screen before, you wouldn’t know it by how he throws himself into the action. Now I know that the majority of the action won’t be Keaton himself, with his stuntman taking over for the elaborate moves, but it’s great to see this version of the character kicking ass once again, with the film’s best set pieces all featuring Batman.

One particular fight scene during their mission to rescue Supergirl actually had me cheering. While not exactly its equal, it definitely brought back memories of the warehouse fight in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), with Batman coming to both The Flashes rescue and taking down a whole team of mercenaries single-handedly.

I noted that British martial artist Mike Lambert was on board as fight choreographer, and I must say he should be congratulated for making Keaton’s Batman be the complete badass that fans were hoping for. Lambert is no stranger to DC heroes, having previously worked on Justice League. Martial Arts fans may remember Lambert from his on screen appearances in the likes of The Quest (1996) where he played a kilted fighter, or better still, his fight scene against Jet Li in the excellent Unleashed (2005).

The fights that Batman appears in are certainly more exciting than the CGI ones that focus on The Flash and Supergirl. Although their action scenes are well staged, the under par CGI seriously lets them down. Also, nostalgia certainly got in this viewer’s way, as for every time the action focused on either The Flash or Supergirl I was more interested in what Batman was doing.

As most fans will know, Keaton isn’t the only Batman on show. Ben Affleck makes what could be his last appearance as his version of Batman/Bruce Wayne and as a fan of his take on the character I wasn’t disappointed. My only complaint is that there isn’t more of him, with Affleck only really appearing in the opening 20 minutes of the film. If this is it for Affleck, it’s a decent film for him to go out on although I still hold out hope for his return, no matter how unlikely it seems. 

As well as the main cast, there are several returnees from previous DCEU films. As great as it is for them to appear, they aren’t given much to do. I got excited that the filmmakers decided to bring back the awesome Michael Shannon as Zod, but they give him very little to do. His screen time was extremely limited and with that the threat of his character was somewhat diminished. Unlike his appearance in Man of Steel (2013), Shannon never feels like this film’s main villain even if that is how he is built up to be.

However, this could have been intentional, as there are other aspects to the plot that I wouldn’t want to spoil which could be viewed as more important than Zod. Still, it’s a shame to have an actor of the caliber of Shannon and not give him much to do. At least he got dialogue, unlike the returning Antje Traue as Faora-Ul, who I don’t think uttered one word.

With the changes Barry makes to the timeline, this world no longer has a Superman which sadly means no return for Henry Cavill. In his place is Sasha Calle who makes her debut as Supergirl. As an introduction to the character, Calle does well enough but she isn’t given a great deal to do other than act stoic and be full of rage. I’m assuming her character would be developed further when the initial plan was for Calle to feature in further adventures. Now it’s not so clear if she will reappear further down the line.

The Flash creates a series of interesting possibilities that could be followed up on, but its probable this won’t happen. With James Gunn forging ahead with the new rebooted DC Universe and recasting several of the franchise’s leads, it seems the plan is to leave the majority of what came before behind and start afresh. Still, never say never.

Perhaps if I saw The Flash before the much superior Spider-man: Across the Spider Verse (2023) I would be more enthusiastic. Even so, there’s a lot of fun to be had with The Flash. For sheer nostalgia it manages to stand out. If, like me, you were around for Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), you will probably get a lot more out of the film than some casual viewers. Others have certainly enjoyed it more than me and although I can’t say the film is a masterpiece, it is certainly levels above other DC releases like the recent Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023) or the dreadful Birds of Prey (2020).

Plot: 3.5/5
Acting: 4/5
Action: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.7/5


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