Imagine, if you will, a film delayed so often that putting together an exact timeline of its production, is almost as difficult as watching the final product. A film whose existence is a questionable exercise in the capitalist nightmare that the world is currently entrenched in. A film with a star so scandal-ridden, that its makers are desperate to make you forget that they’re even in the film at all. But also imagine a film that has countless famous faces, even ones who have no tangible connection to the film itself, drowning it with praise on social media months before it is released. No, this isn’t a shoddy episode of The Twilight Zone… this is The Flash.
The latest offering from the DC Extended Universe sees Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen take on his own past in order to save his future. But of course, much like the hopes for a DCEU film that doesn’t make this reviewer lose the will to maintain a love of cinema, things just do not go to plan. In order to prevent his mother’s murder, as well as free his father for a crime he may not have committed, Barry must travel back to day in question and save his family.
Directed by Andy Muschietti who is known for his previous work on the recent It films, The Flash is another entry in a film franchise that has already been signalled for a revolution. Releasing after James Gunn has been hired to revamp and reset the DC cinematic universe, there is a strange sense of limbo that the film and viewer occupy. The bell has been tolled… in so many ways.
The Flash is a character who has long featured in the DCEU, but whose own film has been through many delayed evolutions. Miller has made numerous appearances in the previous films but as rarely more than the comic-relief sidekick. Here they are given their own film which acts as a semi-origin story as well as a slapped together equivalent to a DC shuffle button. Things happen in the film that will not be spoiled here. But then again with the amount shown in trailers for the film, maybe you already know what happens before you even buy the popcorn.
The Flash is quite simply a draining experience. As much as it feels like screaming into a void, the writing of this film is simply baffling. It is an exercise in patience watching scenes follow each other, leaving logic behind, as if the audience is simply checking boxes along the way. As problematic as the production was, the viewer can literally see the marks left by scenes being stitched together akin to a child becoming frustrated with their jigsaw and resorting to gluing random pieces together. Supporting characters exist merely to allow Miller to issue exhaustive exposition and nothing more. To call them one note would be misleading, so maybe half note will do. Characters from DC’s past pop up to remind you of simpler times. Michael Keaton collects his cheque by appearing as an older Bruce Wayne, but one who can still do the things that a younger Batman can traditionally do. Tim Burton must be rolling in the coffin that he probably uses to sleep in.
With all the current talk of artificial intelligence taking over creative jobs, this film feels like a message to say that what is a fear for the future is already a fact in the present. The Flash is trying its darnest to be a reproduction of the superhero films that have come before it. Like AI, it absorbs elements of Donner’s Superman, Raimi’s Spider-Man, and Burton’s Batman to try to replicate it for modern audiences. The problem is that the film flounders in its attempts to become something original. It uses the new phenomenon of “the multiverse” in such a wasteful way that it begs questioning if there was any point in its inclusion that wasn’t “well other movies are doing it!” The trope acts as a distraction from what was once a seemingly human story, but falls flat in its execution.
Speaking of distraction, this reviewer is keenly aware of the modern blockbuster’s issues with CGI and its inability to be problem-free, but the CGI in The Flash is absolutely atrocious. It permeates the film’s entirety but look no further than the film’s opening action sequence where the phrase “Save the cat” has the piss taken out of it. Without giving away too much, the biggest scare this reviewer has had in the cinema this year was the look of CGI babies falling from the sky. There is uncanny valley, but then there is this woeful dumpster fire. For a film to spend so many years in production, to be delayed time and time again only to look like this? One wonders if the budget was swallowed up by something else entirely?
Which brings us to the unavoidable elephant in the room. Ezra Miller has a number of scandals and controversies that, when taken in isolation, would be enough to ensure their removal from a film such as this. In today’s climate, it warrants a certain sense of befuddlement that none of this has happened. Miller stars in and leads The Flash, a film hoping to draw in people of all ages. In case you thought one role was bad enough, they have two. Their performance as both versions of Barry Allen is an exercise in audience tolerance.
The perpetually smirking Allen is a serviceable addition to a double act involving Ben Affleck’s dour Batman, but the majority of the film is subjecting the audience to harmful levels of Miller trying to be the funniest person in the room. When their actions leads to the introduction of a second, younger Barry Allen, the urge in the viewer to have something stronger than cinema Fanta on hand skyrockets. Any hint of the two Allens playing off of each other is extinguished when after mere moments, the two are indistinguishable from each other. When the world at-large wondered what steps would be taken to deal with the numerous allegations levelled against Miller… the world answered by giving them double the screen-time. Watching as the horrid CGI used to allow Miller appear twice in the same shot becomes a blobby mess is an apt metaphor for the crushing banality of the film.
Given the limbo state that the film hangs in, it is an interesting endeavour to salvage the good – or better yet, decent – that the film has to offer. Muschietti’s work on It was a balance of horror as well as humour and there are signs of it in some momentary sequences. The sparse moments of voice is however drowned out by the noise of everything else surrounding it. Sasha Calle’s Supergirl introduces some desperately needed real-world perspective but the choices that the film makes involving her are baffling. A real opportunity spurned by whatever being chose the film’s third act to happen as it does.
It is difficult to imagine having a situation like this occur again. A majorly budgeted attempt at a blockbuster led by a person whose actions should have meant that they were never given this opportunity. A social media campaign of famous faces lavished praise on the film months before it was released. What was it all for? One can only begin to wonder what special effects they were witnessing because what this reviewer saw will stay with him for a long time… in the worst possible way.
Whatever reason you have to go to the cinema is for you to decide. For someone to release this and expect people to forget all about the actions of its star, to forget that this entire endeavour feels like a waste of time given how it is all about to be reset in the coming years, to just accept a lacklustre product… is mind-boggling. Until, that is, one sees it for what it is. A product that a group of people invested so much money into, that they feared going back. They are currently crossing their fingers in the hopes that this breaks even so that they can continue cancelling smaller projects and do it all over again. The Flash is what it deserves to be: the reason that the capitalist bell is currently tolling.