Just last month, The Flash series on The CW came to an end after being on air for nine seasons since October 2014. Around that same time, Warner Bros. cast Ezra Miller in their feature film version of The Flash and confirmed that this would not be connected to Grant Gustin’s TV adventures as the Scarlet Speedster. Since that announcement, The Flash has seen arguably one of if not the bumpiest public development path for any comic book movie, going from Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) to Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Lego Batman Movie) to director Rick Famuyiwa (Dope, The Mandalorian) to Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Game Night, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) and then finally to Andy Muschietti (Mama, It) who then had to delay production of the film due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, after a slew of release date changes, The Flash (2023) is here at last. With Ezra Miller’s reprisal of Barry Allen in the lead role, the film also features the long-awaited returns of both Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton as their respective versions of Batman, Additionally, The Flash features Sasha Calle donning the cape of Supergirl as well as an exciting appearance from Michael Shannon as the infamous General Zod from Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. All of this, of course, connects through a script written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee, Birds of Prey) that is inspired by the famous Flashpoint comic by Geoff Johns.
We follow Barry Allen as he travels back in time to prevent the murder of his mother, which subsequently traps him in an alternate reality without metahumans. He enlists the help of his younger self from that universe, Michael Keaton’s Batman, and Sasha Calle’s Supergirl in order to save this universe from the returning General Zod and return to his timeline. The Flash has already been touted by many within Hollywood as an unmissable experience, from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav calling it the best superhero movie he’s ever seen to James Gunn declaring it as one of his new favorites of the genre. While some of these reactions have been criticized for being hyperbolic, it’s hard to disagree that The Flash is honestly a sensational blockbuster, tying elements from various franchises and weaving them into an enjoyable narrative that has high-action stakes with excellent payoff.
Across the board, the performances in The Flash are generally great. Ezra Miller does a top-tier job of not only bringing new dimensions to their own interpretation of Barry Allen after their first appearances in the franchise but also when playing their younger doppelganger. They successfully capture a unique, fully-fleshed take on Barry within the multiverse, creating two separate characters that surprisingly bounce off each other really well. Whereas the original Barry acts more experienced and prudent when trying to solve the mess of time travel at hand, the younger Barry is more reminiscent of the hero’s appearance in Zack Snyder’s Justice League as more fresh-faced and excited about being a superhero for the first time ever.
Michael Keaton perfectly slips back into the role of Batman, bringing a great performance that will find no trouble delighting audiences and giving them what they came for. Once Keaton finally appears in costume and Danny Elfman’s iconic theme plays, you’re left wanting more in the best ways possible. Unfortunately, where Keaton’s Batman does suffer is in his dialogue. The classic caped crusader is given not enough emotional weight within the story and is often reduced to recognizable one-liners from his previous films. This often makes Keaton’s Batman look reductive and feel like an action figure rather than an actual three-dimensional character with a legitimate purposeful reason for coming back after three decades aside from the current trend of multiverse stories and legacy reprisals.
Sasha Calle as Supergirl dominates The Flash whenever she’s on screen. For this being one of Calle’s first major performances, she ensures to make an impact on the viewer by delivering a fantastic performance full of love and anger. The only complaint comes with her noticeable lack of screen time. However, key moments like her standoff with General Zod showcase that Supergirl is arguably the most memorable character in The Flash. All that can be said is that if Sasha Calle isn’t allowed to reprise Kara Zor-El in the planned Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow movie for the DCU, then this would be a major mistake by DC Studios Co-CEO James Gunn.
The Flash has a shining roster of smaller supporting characters as well. This includes Kiersey Clemons as Iris West, who shares a handful of entertaining interactions with Ezra Miller‘s Barry Allen, and Michael Shannon’s return as General Zod. Shannon is an intimidating antagonist as always, albeit this is more to the credit of Man of Steel as the threat of Zod only works for those who have at least seen that film. Ben Affleck delivers the same superb performance as his Batman per usual. What’s even better are his scenes as Bruce Wayne, sharing heartfelt words with Barry that really make you appreciate all that Affleck has brought to the role over his tenure. A special shout-out is warranted for Maribel Verdú as Barry’s mother Nora Allen, who brings perhaps the best performance of The Flash in the limited scenes she appears in.
Where The Flash falters is in pacing. Like the titular hero himself, the film often speeds through the development of its characters and plot points, leaving us with little time to digest. Certain emotional beats are impacted by this, where we’re expected to react with emotional uproar or sadness but everything has so quickly ran to this point that there’s not a satisfying connection with the characters in question for you to feel anything to what’s going on. Furthermore, the pacing often shoves Michael Keaton and Sasha Calle to the side with their character development happening off-screen. While Barry Allen should always be the main focus, the supporting roles still act as pillars in maintaining the narrative. By not properly developing Batman or Supergirl’s arcs, a lot of the emotional payoff does not land as successfully.
Visually, The Flash is ambitious in the best ways and the worst ways. Andy Muschietti creates the first true comic book epic on the big screen since perhaps Avengers: Endgame. Many set pieces are a feast for the eyes, especially the Batcave which looks like the best live-action design we’ve ever seen for the location. Other visual concepts like the Flash’s superspeed from one location to another are innovative and exciting, forming something that is unlike anything audiences will have seen before. On the other hand, the VFX and CGI, especially within the film’s back half, lack proper polishing. This problem never gets to the point of it being distracting, though some sequences towards the end look visually bland when compared to the rest of the awe-inspiring images that came before. This makes the third act of The Flash feel rather derivative of other superhero titles.
Where the film truly shines is within the biggest emotional beats with Barry. Christina Hodson and Andy Muschietti combine forces in such a splendid way for these sequences that are written with such heart and directed with a loving passion. As mentioned earlier, there are some scenes that are intended to be emotional to the audience but fall flat due to the nature of the pacing upending any sense of stakes, however, the scenes that do work as some of the best from recent comic book adaptations. Pivotal moments between Ezra Miller and Maribel Verdú, as well as Ron Livingston as Barry’s father Henry Allen, are core examples of this effectiveness. Even if The Flash fails in building up the supporting cast around Barry Allen, Miller’s shared chemistry with Verdu and Livingston sell the entire viewing experience.
It’s no surprise why big Hollywood names across the board have been hyping up The Flash. It’s a true comic book epic with palpable stakes and a heavy cinematic weight that comes with (most of) its visuals. When the problems of pacing and establishing the supporting cast arise, these issues are often squashed by the pure power of the emotional core of this film. The Flash may not get everything right, but it does succeed in flourishing a superhero tale filled with heart… more than plenty of other comic book movies that’s for sure. And, sometimes, all you need is a good story that tugs on the heartstrings.