Review for The Flash
I don’t think I have wavered this much over a film for a long, long time. The Flash has spent a good while in development hell, and COVID and other delays have taken their toll on the hoped for release date. When I first heard of it, it was just another Snyderverse movie for me, and the Snyderverse take on the DCEU has been more miss than hit in my estimation. But at this point, with James Gunn resetting the DC Universe, The Flash is probably the last gasp of the last ten years of DC content (There is Blue Beetle, and the forthcoming Aquaman 2, but The Flash is being marked as a soft reset of the DCU, and those two films are ostensibly set after that point). It was released after James Gunn recast the role of Superman, and as a result, a Henry Cavill cameo was cut from the final film (note that there are no deleted scenes on this disc). There are plenty of other cameos though.
Then I started seeing the trailers, and they were looking pretty good, very good indeed. If at this point, you haven’t been spoiled for the actor playing Batman, you’re probably the last such person on the planet, and you should stop reading now. In a way, The Flash pays homage to the last 45 years of DC movies, not just the Snyderverse, and the trailers really sold that well. Suddenly The Flash was a must see movie. And then Ezra Miller happened. He’s the star of The Flash, and he has had some arrest-worthy personal issues over the last few years. We’re not talking full on #MeToo, but it’s certainly enough to make any studio’s PR department think twice, and also make them grateful that the Fantastic Beasts franchise has appeared to die on its arse.
Unfortunately for Warner Brothers, they’ve already used the Batgirl movie as a tax write-off this year. We’re never going to see that! Two cancelled movies would just be sheer carelessness on their part. They had to wait until Ezra-mania had died down enough to eventually release the film, and thankfully, they had that aforementioned Batman actor to really sell the movie. It was a reluctant purchase two days ago, but suddenly my desire to watch The Flash sky-rocketed, and it moved straight to the top of the pile.
Barry Allen, a.k.a. The Flash is having the typical superhero problems of balancing his day job with his secret identity, but there is added melancholy given that his father’s parole hearing is coming up, and he’s hoping for a bit of Wayne-tech to uncover the evidence to exonerate his father. Given that he was convicted of killing his mother, Barry’s hopes crash when the evidence is not forthcoming. But in his depression, he learns a new level to his powers. He can run faster than light... he can travel through time. He can go back and prevent his mother from dying in the first place...
And now the future has been changed. He doesn’t even make it all the way back, but he does find a happy family, him, his mum and his dad... and then his 18-year-old self shows up. It’s all good, but it would all fall apart if there is a paradox, so he has to make sure that the younger Barry Allen becomes the Flash too; although he doesn’t expect to lose his own powers in the process. And then Zod and the Kryptonians invade, in a world where no other metahumans exist, a world where Eric Stoltz was Marty McFly!
The Flash gets a 1.90:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on the disc, and you get the choice between Dolby Atmos English, and Dolby Digital 5.1 English, English Audio Descriptive, Spanish, Czech, Italian, Mandarin, Polish and Slovakian, with subtitles in these languages and Cantonese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Korean, and Swedish. You can take the quality of the transfer as read at this point. Immersive and impactful audio, and pixel perfect transfers should be standard for modern films, and The Flash doesn’t disappoint.
I can go straight to the whinge about the CGI effects then. I can get past the Flash in motion. They take a page from The Six Million Dollar Man, as the slower the motion, the faster he runs (with added FX). And when it comes to the two Barry Allens on screen, it’s really effectively done. But a lot of the CGI is lowest bidder. I know you can’t endanger infants (Don’t tell the makers of Ghostbusters 2), and a maternity ward collapse scene early on makes copious use of CGI babies... Only it looks like they used the Dancing Baby from Ally McBeal as a model. Some of the Batman action scenes, indeed most of the big action sequences look more like videogame cutscenes than anything tangible. I haven’t had to use my suspension of disbelief this much with a modern effects movie before. Fortunately the story is good enough to warrant the effort.
You get one disc in a thin BD Amaray style eco case, the kind with holes in the plastic. Thankfully there is an o-card slipcover to help keep the dust out. The disc boots to a static menu and you get the following extras.
Making The Flash: Worlds Collide (36:55)
Let’s Get Nuts: Batman Returns, Again (8:51)
Supergirl: The Last Daughter of Krypton (16:00)
The Flash: Escape the Midnight Circus Trailer (1:02)
The Flash: Escape the Midnight Circus (93:43)
The Flash in Session: Escape the Midnight Circus (1:58)
Escape the Midnight Circus is a six-part Podcast series... what in my day was called a radio drama, and you’ll be spending a movie sized chunk of time in its company.
I wrote about this recently, when I reviewed Spider-man Across the Spider-verse, that comic book movies work best when the story is about something personal. The Flash nails this, with a story about Barry Allen, and his family drama. When he was a child, his mother was murdered, and his father falsely convicted of the crime. He lost both parents in one moment, and he’s pursued a career in forensic crime as a means of seeking the proof that would exonerate his father. When he learns that he can run fast enough to travel through time, he realises that he can save his mother; and so a Back to the Future style fracturing of time ensues. Time travel and an emotionally resonant story make for a really impressive and engaging film, and I was glued to the screen for the duration. The two Barry Allens interacting, the original, and the younger version from a timeline where he had a family, also really adds to the heart of the film.
There is the film’s plot though, and by changing history, Barry Allen (the elder), ends up in a timeline where Superman doesn’t exist (hence no Justice League), but Zod invades anyway, looking for the last heir to Krypton, and a planet to terraform, just like in the original Man of Steel movie. Barry goes looking for help, and finds this reality’s Bruce Wayne, a retired Batman living as a recluse. Michael Keaton returns over 30 years after he first donned the cowl, and he’s very much the best thing in the film; still embodying the Caped Crusader with a sardonic wit. It also turns out that while Superman may not exist in this world, there is a Kryptonian on the planet, and it turns out their last hope needs rescuing from a Siberian underground facility. There’s a fair bit of personal conflict and soul-searching on the way leading up to the climax, where we get two Flashes, Batman and Supergirl fighting to save the world from Zod and his minions. But it all pulls back to Barry Allen’s need to save his mother; from the big action set piece to something a lot more personal, intimate, and dramatically far more meaningful.
There’s spectacle, entertainment, a good story, and a quirky sense of humour, which fades as the story gets progressively darker, and then comes back for the conclusion. But there are issues, which become more obvious after the end credits roll, and you spend some time thinking about it. As mentioned, the story’s heart is focused on Barry Allen and his family angst. If you think too much about it, you’ll realise that a whole reality is put through hell for Barry Allen to work through his past and his personal issues. With that in mind, character development for those other reality characters is a little lacking. When you watch the extras, there’s a bit where the director goes off on a tangent about his vision of Michael Keaton’s Batman, and why he’s a recluse at the start of the film. I was left thinking that this should have been in the movie. This is a cool, meaningful back-story, and makes what he goes through more of a redemptive arc. As it is, without this back-story, Batman’s story in the film just doesn’t end on the right note.
Given my up-and-down journey to eventually watch this film, I wound up enjoying it more than I expected, but found it less impressive than I hoped. It is one of the better applications of the multi-verse in live action comic book movies, although not as good as Spider-Man No Way Home, but once again with recent films, I’ve actually found the CGI effects to be detrimental to the viewing experience. I find that I have to suspend my disbelief as much as I did when I first started watching this genre over forty years ago. It’s not as easy to do now; knowing how good special effects can be. No problems with the Blu-ray, other than the lack of deleted scenes (I wanted to see that Henry Cavill cameo).