REVIEW: The Flash (2023, dir. Andy Muschietti)

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 144 mins

UK Distributor: Warner Bros

WHO’S IN THE FLASH?

Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Irons, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Rudy Mancuso, Luke Brandon Field, Ian Loh

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Andy Muschietti (director), Christina Hodson (writer), Michael Disco and Barbara Muschietti (producers), Benjamin Wallfisch (composer), Henry Braham (cinematographer), Jason Ballantine and Paul Machliss (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Barry Allen (Miller) inadvertently alters the universe when he travels back in time…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE FLASH?

It’s been an extraordinarily bumpy run for The Flash in their journey to finally make it to the big screen, and for a brief moment it looked like it was finally about to run out of road. The movie had already been subject to a hellish development cycle, with writers and directors over the years coming and going at the same speed as the titular superhero before It director Andy Muschietti and Birds of Prey writer Christina Hodson were finally locked in, and the pandemic-inflicted production didn’t help much either.

But then, more and more reports came out about lead actor Ezra Miller (who uses they/them pronouns) and their wildly unhinged and harmful private life which were just too significant to simply ignore, causing Warner Bros to reportedly consider three options regarding the film’s future should Miller’s actions worsen.

The first option (and the one they seemingly went with) would have been to release the film as intended, with Miller doing very little press for it; the second would have still seen it be released, but have Miller do zero press and then recast them going forward; and the third, and perhaps the riskiest, would have been to scrap the $200 million feature entirely –  similar to how they axed the near-completed Batgirl – since Miller was too present on-screen in not one but two major roles for them to do any reshoots.

What the studio was perhaps too oblivious to see, however, was that The Flash has many, many, many other problems beyond its lead actor, so much so that it’s almost flabbergasting that they didn’t go for that third option, because there’s nearly nothing salvageable about this obnoxious, cynical, and utterly embarrassing excuse of a final product.

As you might expect, the film follows Barry Allen (Miller), the forensics investigator and part-time member of the Justice League as his speedy superhero alter-ego The Flash. When he’s not helping Batman (Ben Affleck, looking and sounding just as bored as he was in Hypnotic) capture criminals or saving horrendously CG babies from a falling building – trust me, I’ll be talking about that later on – Barry is haunted by the murder of his mother Nora (Maribel Verdú), which his father Henry (Ron Livingston) was wrongly sent to prison for. He soon discovers that his speed powers can also grant him the ability to run back in time, and so he uses them to make it so that his mother was never killed, ensuring that she’s alive and well in the present.

Unfortunately, this minor alteration of the past ends up creating a universe where the Justice League doesn’t exist, making it incredibly easy for Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) to put his plans from Man of Steel into motion, forcing both Barry and the younger version of himself (also Miller) to put together their own makeshift superhero team, which includes fellow Krypton survivor Kara Zor-El aka Supergirl (Sasha Calle), and a reclusive Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) who once, of course, roamed the streets of Gotham City as his universe’s Batman.

It’s immediately obvious that this film, as with many of the more recent DC outings, has a much lighter tone to counteract the much darker and less appealing nature of Zack Snyder’s earlier movies in the franchise, which is perfectly fine for it to have. However, whereas films like Aquaman, Shazam! and even future DC head honcho James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad all managed to keep a consistent tonal balance while still being hugely entertaining, The Flash immediately overcompensates with silly humour that quickly becomes very annoying. You’ll have scenes where characters, mainly one or both of Miller’s dual roles, are mugging and overacting while delivering pause-for-canned-laughter lines in the middle of some heavy exposition, ending scenes with an irritating laugh that would even make Tom Hulce in Amadeus shudder, and immediately following some intense action with projectile vomiting for no real reason.

You can definitely do this kind of low-brow humour well if the rest of the writing is solid enough to support it, but the script – credited to Christina Hodson, but more likely compiled from all those previous drafts over the years – is an assortment of messy nonsense, one where plot consistency, character motivation, and emotional attachment hardly exists, giving you even less reason to care about the story or any of the people it’s following.

An even greater reason not to get too involved with The Flash is because it is just as unappealing on the outside as it is on the inside. This is a very ugly film to look at, not least because it features some of the worst visual effects within a major studio blockbuster in recent years. Remember that scene I mentioned earlier with the falling babies? Get ready for that to haunt your nightmares, especially with its close-ups on so many of these horrifically rendered CG infants that are straight out of the uncanny valley, nearly giving the creepy star baby at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey a run for its money.

At least Stanley Kubrick’s terrifying foetus had artistic merit, not to mention cinematography that was worth a damn; here, a lot of the scenes are shot with a bland hue of dreary colours that make a lot of these environments feel much more artificial, though that might be due to all the blatant green-screen being used in numerous scenes (which is most prominent whenever you can tell that two actors were clearly not shooting together on the same day). It is not interesting to look at in any real way, nor does it feel like director Andy Muschietti was really allowed to bring his own voice to the material as he did on the It films, as his filmmaking here is rarely utilised to make any of the scenes, whether they’re action-packed or meant to stir up emotion, flow naturally.

The horrendous CG extends to just about every major set-piece, turning it into a poorly-rendered cartoon that takes you out of the action every single time, but none more bafflingly and slightly tastelessly than a late sequence (no spoilers here, because even though this movie sucks, I do still want you to know as little as possible going in) where the nostalgia runs far too heavy for anyone’s liking. It’s not as though the film beforehand was above relying on fan service – after all, one of the main characters is Michael Keaton’s Batman, who incidentally it’s somewhat cool to see back on the big screen – but the stuff that it throws at the viewer is beyond pandering to the pop culture-infused masses.

Certain figures will show up just so that audiences can burst into applause at their appearance, even though there’s more terrible CGI being used to bring them to “life”, and though their presence doesn’t add to the story or the protagonist’s journey in any meaningful way. It’s all just there for easy nostalgia, and that might be enough for some people, in which case I cannot take that away from them even if I wanted to, but for me it felt incredibly unearned, not to mention alarmingly cynical and even the tiniest bit self-indulgent.

Inevitably, though, perhaps the biggest issue with The Flash is Ezra Miller themselves. Now, I know it’s popular to hate on them (and for good reason), but I genuinely went into this wanting to simply judge them from an objective standpoint, and leave any pre-conceived notions about their real-life scandals at the door; after all, it’s unfair to drag down an entire movie that a lot of people worked on just because the lead happens to be a pretty reprehensible figure. However, the fact is that Miller is objectively miscast as The Flash – and has been ever since they were first cast, to be brutally honest – and their twitchy, socially-awkward (possibly autism-coded) approach to the character does not feel like a natural fit in this universe. Their performances, as both the main Barry Allen and the slightly younger version, range from unnecessarily wired to obnoxiously excitable, which often aggravate and leave you less likely to warm up to them as the plot moves along, especially since their lack of compelling screen presence leaves little to be desired in other areas.

This makes it extremely hard to enjoy being around their company, which for a superhero movie in this day and age is kind of a big problem because you actually have to at least want the hero to save the day, but you end up caring so little for this character and the performance being given that you’d rather anyone else be upgraded to protagonist status, such as Sasha Calle who does fine as Supergirl but is barely given enough of a chance to make the most of her role (hopefully she’ll be brought back for the announced Supergirl movie that will be part of the newer DC Universe going forward).

As for this soon-to-close DC Extended Universe (with only the upcoming Aquaman sequel left before the big revamp), it’s been an extremely uneven cinematic journey, with more failures than successes, and all but no thorough direction that has made a complete and utter mess of things in comparison to the competition over at Marvel. It only seems appropriate that it more or less wraps up with The Flash, a film with no discernible voice, a collection of wildly miscalculated decisions, and almost zero actual enjoyment that will make you want to rush back to it any time soon.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Flash is an embarrassing coda to the current DC cinematic universe, which mixes an obnoxious lighter tone and some truly awful visual effects into a soulless studio blockbuster that relies all too cynically on easy nostalgia, all of which is unfortunately led by a miscast Ezra Miller whose dual performance both irritates and depresses in equal measure, as does the movie as a whole.

The Flash is now showing in cinemas nationwide

Click here to find showtimes near you!

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