Film Review: The Flash


All good things, they say, must end. Unfortunately for the DC Extended Universe, so too must the messy, mediocre and baffling. A basically entertaining, but flimsy and shallow object, The Flash may not be the final entry in this long-beleaguered franchise, but it might as well be.

In one sense, The Flash – directed by It and Mama director Andy Muschietti – is a triumph of franchise filmmaking: a miracle, in fact, that it has finally limped its way on to screens at all, having originally been slated for release in 2018 and endured endless reworkings and controversies. But, in another truer sense, it is emblematic of an abject failure of too-big-to-fail studios to capture either audiences’ imaginations or any consistent sense of artistic vision. It is the epitome of a failing modern studio system that sees cinema only as a vehicle for brand recognition and IP management.

The MCU, of course, has led the charge with this corporate style of filmmaking, albeit far more successfully. But there is something horribly special about the forever train-wreck that is the DCEU, revamped, rebooted, and reheated by studio execs convinced that each dent in its bodywork will somehow fix the preceding ding. Occasionally – occasionally – we’ve had bright spots: Margot Robbie gave us the screen Harley Quinn; Matt Reeves directed arguably the best Batman film since Burton; James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad put right what once went wrong and Joker was, well…never mind.

The overriding narrative of Warner Bros.’ DCEU has been one of hollow-eyed trend-chasing, creating a fetid gloop of toxic fan culture and bland corporate synergising. And that’s before we even address the actual film in review. The Flash director Muschietti at least manages to muster a sort of shallow, bland entertainment out of the incongruous parts he’s been given, just as long as you’re able to ignore the controversy of its star Ezra Miller’s bizarre real world rampages.

The film opens well enough, with a funny and entertaining sequence with Ben Affleck’s Batman in which the duo take down a heist, stop a pathogen getting into the city’s river, and rescue half-a-dozen infants. It’s a sparky, humorous scene that aptly sets up The Flash as a comedy: a tone in which the film is most comfortable, in contrast to its more perfunctory and unsuccessful moments of straight drama. Miller is a decently charming lead, though (controversies notwithstanding) hardly charismatic enough to carry a picture like this on their own, while the film’s supporting cast feels increasingly wasted as the film spins its narrative plates.

After Barry (Miller) discovers that he can run fast enough to travel through time, he endeavours to travel back to the past to stop his mother being murdered, ignoring Batman’s warning not to mess with the timeline. This being 2023, naturally his meddling opens up the multiverse, and you know that means: cameos! Yet the moderate excitement of seeing (spoilers) Michael Keaton don his Batman Returns threads is small recompense for a second act that goes nowhere and has little idea where to take its cast thematically or emotionally.

Knowing that the DCEU is about to be rebooted renders The Flash – which was originally supposed to set up a new cycle of these films – somewhat redundant as a franchise entry, but that shouldn’t matter in terms of its internal drama. Yet, even on its own terms, Muschietti’s film undermines itself with an emphasis on plot mechanics over story, relitigating a battle we already saw in 2013’s Man of Steel, and a plodding structure that is as predictable as it is laborious.

Across the film’s two-and-a-half hours, little time is given to developing anyone other than Miller’s hero, wasting the talents of Keaton and Sasha Calle’s Supergirl, who has a lot of presence but not a lot to do. It’s a symptom, presumably, of late stage rewrites and reshoots, leading to a rushed and unsatisfying third act that treats these characters not as people but as action figures that we can point and grin mindlessly at with recognition. There’s little rhyme or reason for why anyone is doing anything.

Blue Beetle and an Aquaman sequel are due later this year, while more standalone Joker and Batman films are coming in 2024. But The Flash is fairly explicitly an admission of the end of the road for the DCEU. It is not the worst that this series has offered. It is not even strictly a bad film per se, and in a sense it’s commendable that Muschietti and has team have assembled anything at all coherent from the wreckage of half a decade of studio interference. Rather, its failure is as an emblem of a wider problem in blockbuster filmmaking. Bland, broad and calculatedly inoffensive, The Flash will no doubt rake in the cash, but one remains naively hopeful that perhaps the bubble on this kind of tat is about to burst. With the far superior Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 heading to streaming soon and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse still in cinemas, there really is no reason to bother running to see this one.

Christopher Machell