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I thought this was the cousins’ dinner.


The Flash


Okay, sure. By far the best part of The Flash is the hilarious slo-mo falling-dog flash-back during the end credits. Which isn’t to say the picture is otherwise a dog; to hear some of the responses, you’d assume its lambasting was prescribed rather than down to the actual content. Belying its underwhelming box-office, this is a more than serviceable movie. 

That’s despite relying on the every-movie all-the-time multiverse concept that has many people striding for the exits in the space of the time (2017) that Flashpoint was first announced as its jumping-off point. At least, that’s one explanation for its failure. The counter position is one of selective reasoning, since Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a current hit. Another is Ezra Miller, since many found his Barry grating long before his personal account of himself and his coherent-sentences-scrambling pronouns took pole position. As these things go too, the special effects are extremely variable, although that’s unlikely to halt the crowds on its own. So putting aside the financial misery itself, the key question is, can you overcome the often less-than-stellar visuals and star baggage to engage with the main character’s emotional arc? And the answer for me was: yes, quite easily.

Regardless of actual misdeeds of Miller, and whatever Warner Bros feels over his making their movie soiled goods – or using that as an excuse – this is a case of a media-stamped-and-approved persona non grata (the latest of which is Kang the Conqueror demolishing the prospects for Avengers 4). One always needs to consider what is, or what may be, in play when the contrasting legions of the Hollywood damned are protected and given perpetual free passes.

Post-mortems of The Flash’s opening weekend are already out in force, along with those for Pixar poor-show Elemental. These follow the ones decrying “racist” international moviegoers for failing to boost the live-action The Little Mermaid. Similarly to the multiverse one, the exhaustion-of-the-superhero-genre card doesn’t quite wash as a Flash explanation, any more than claiming parents don’t want Pixar preaching the woke gospel to their kids does for Elemental. 

Actually, the latter probably does have some bearing, after Turning Red and Luca, but the counterargument for both bombs is that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a superhero movie doing very well (if more so in the US) and is itself woked up. Albeit, it has the smarts to go stealth woke. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, that rarest MCU movie that isn’t preaching a rainbow gospel, probably because the James Gunn clone wasn’t programmed that way, has also done respectable business. So the lesson, if there is one, is likely less fatigue than making something that looks vaguely like something worth going to see. Beyond its pronoun-prescribing supporting character, Elemental doesn’t even have the decency to distinguish itself conceptually and visually from and Inside Out and Soul. 

Along similar lines, regardless of its actual content, The Flash just looks like a mess from the ads. If it seemed as if Keaton – still alive? He has been busy of late, probably a warning sign – has been shoehorned into a movie aesthetically at odds with his Bat innings, that’s because he has been. What’s Supergirl-boy doing there? Why’s the guy from the Superman movie people were mixed at best on the bad guy? 

This is the multiverse, tried and tested for success, yet failing to sell it in a stylistic (Spider-Verse) or nostalgic (No Way Home) way. You can hinge the blame on Ezra Miller, but expecting it to get bums on seats is likely a problem less because of his rep as a personal-pronoun-defying insaniac – some, undoubtedly will consider this a deal breaker, but the core comic-book audience forgave Gunn with a hand wave – than because his Flash failed to eke out a corner of the DCEU people sufficiently cared about (for what it’s worth, I thought his geeked-out take worked fine in the Justice League ensemble). This isn’t a second-tier hero issue, however, or how to explain Aquabros making $1bn? There clearly wasn’t something that piqued sufficient interest here.

Then there’s that those who do know the character and are fans are unimpressed by Miller’s, shall we say, quirky take. It’s probably unfortunate that his early hailing as a next big thing for The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the overrated We Need to Talk About Kevin quickly led to the franchise chokehold of DCEU and the Potterverse. In context, though, comic-relief Barry Allen arguably provided a degree of individuality and contrast with the rest of the grimdark Snyderverse, particularly when it came to lighter-touch set pieces. Andy Muschietti can handle such action, but he was either content to be the gun for hire, taking on board all the various previz, design and art-direction choices wholesale – cinematographer is Gunn regular Henry Braham, which may have contributed to DC Studios co-head Gunn Clone giving the picture raves – or he was simply overwhelmed by the studio’s constantly second-guessing demands. Always looking over their shoulder, it’s surely no coincidence that the project became multiverse orientated in the wake of Endgame.

Certainly, it retrospectively seems like a wilfully perverse choice to focus the movie on two (well, three ultimately) Barrys, given the star’s self-immolating status. But more than that, there’s no broad cachet to this tale in a No Way Home sense, or even a multiple Batmen one (three of them appear here). It’s been at least several reviews’ sticking point that, to enjoy anything here, you have to get past Miller’s performance tics, and I have to admit I was given pause by 18-year-old Barry, so hyperactive he makes current-Barry – let’s call him 30 – seem calm and collected. Was I going to have endure this grating schtick for 2 hours? Well, yeah, sort of. 

But it does begin to pay off. It has the effect of making goofy Barry a mentor figure (divested of his powers, while younger Barry is encumbered and impetuous with the same) and offers some effective contrasts of character. Raised in a balanced household (you know, trad mother and father figures, anathema to Hollywood I know), this Barry has no problems with confidence or girls or hanging out. But he also lacks the restraint, insight and empathy that outsider-ness and social awkwardness have imposed on 30 Barry, hence the scene where 18 Barry kills Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) and refuses to give up on saving Supergirl and Batman from an “inevitable intersection”. 

Miller plays these sides with range and conviction, imbuing the Barry variants – including older Dark Flash – with substance. If there’s one part of the movie that IS visually seamless, it’s anything with 18 Barry and 30 Barry together. Which is quite a lot of it. Miller makes it matter that annoying 18 Barry sacrifices himself. More still, he makes the scene in which – Kirk in City on the Edge of Forever-like – 30 Barry removes the timeline tampering tin of tomatoes from his mother’s trolley, so ensuring she dies as written, resonate emotionally. If Miller’s baggage, be it as Barry or as “They”, gets in the way, that’s understandable, but it’s a strong performance(s) and it grounds a movie that would otherwise be a crash-and-burn barrage of iffy effects and underdeveloped cameos (on the pronoun front, for a gendering refusenik, it’s curious they are manly enough not to shave their chest hair. Very un-Hollywood. I say “they” there, because this applies to both 18 and 30 versions).

30 Barry: We can’t bring you back, can we?
Bruce Wayne: You already did. You already did.

I don’t follow the Critical Drinker avidly – his After Hours chats tend to be much more personable than the rather dyspeptic solo reviews – but his The Flash review seemed particularly in-line with the consensus, while partial both to generalisations and obsession with plot holes when it suits him (which is to say, such things only really tend to matter if a movie doesn’t work, while Drinker reaches instantly for them as a crutch). So yeah, I agree that Zod does take his time to terraform the planet, meaning the Barrys can both bond with Bruce and bust out Supergirl (Sasha Calle) before the deed is done. On the other hand, it’s made very clear why Supergirl is in this rather than Superman himself (Drinker professed the movie’s ignorance). There’s also the palpable doom found here that isn’t simply Snyder Kool (a touchstone might be Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story Inferno). This altered world is a particularly bleak place, possibly similar to the one Donald got a glimpse of, and there’s ultimately no glimmer of hope. Batman dies. Supergirl dies. Zod wins.

Bruce Wayne: I don’t call myself SuperBatman.

Keaton? “Let’s get nuts” is unnecessary and rather cheap. I have no great nostalgia for the Burton Batmans. I liked the second one more, but it doesn’t work well structurally, such that it tends to sit there undramatically. Burton was a quirky comedy director attempting to tackle ostensible action movies, which meant they ended up showcasing ponderously inert art direction along with some humorous character doodles. 

And while I like Keaton as a performer, I never thought he was an especially successful fit for the part. Offbeat, but he didn’t get to do much with it, that being the nature of the beast. Which is to say, he’s still leaps and bounds preferable to any other big screen incarnation. His stuntman does great work, obviously. God knows what shape his batknees are in. Which serves to emphasise, for all Nolan’s misplaced emphasis on realism, there’s an undeniable coherence in keeping a non-super-powered superhero away from those with actual superpowers (Matt Reeves knows this too). But if he’s ill-fitting for a Zod scenario, that is at least rather the point. And the thing is, Keaton’s a breezy, confident performer who slots in without making waves.

One must also consider here that Batman’s at variance because he does not, per se, encompass the Luciferian ideal of the superhero. In direct contrast to Superman (and Wonder Woman), a pedestal above lowly mortals, he is not a god and does not therefore embody our own creeping encouragement to strain for such apotheosis, most commonly through transformation (transhumanism). Cyborg is the most overt depiction of this among the Justice League; in The Flash, Barry, and then Bruce, by association, encourages such attainment in others, firstly through creating his other self and then his attempt to regain his powers (enlightenment through a lightning bolt, in Frankenstein-ian fashion). When the initial attempt fails, it’s Supergirl who hoists Barry aloft and helps him ascend. 

Of course, Bruce gets squeamish along the way, and 18 Barry is shown to be ill equipped for the power thrust upon him. When 30 Barry sets things right again, he still hasn’t set things quite right, which might lead one to conclude that such apotheosis is not a good thing. Naturally, there are those – Supergirl, Wonder Woman – who show it off in a “positive” light (that’s the sugar-coating), but then there are those who nurse the opposite intent…

Shannon complained his return to the Zod role offered him no actorly nourishment, but let’s face it, it was a Khan-lite version of a better original even in Man of Steel. However, there’s a certain sense to having him as the bad guy here because, while his is hardly an iconic presence, what else would there be to draw on as an “If it had all gone wrong” touchstone? The later Snyder pictures present their own issues. You could come up with something new, but the shorthand here allows the focus to remain (largely) on Barry’s journey. 

Supergirl. Well, the Gunn Clone has, by omission, been very rude to Henry Cavill – is he an ex-Cavill, like Gadot and Battfleck? – and they could have had him in the Siberian prison. But to have him fail (as is necessary for the plot) would have merely served to further undercut the character after such a long break. The inexperienced Kryptonian, in over her head, is an effective choice, very different to the amazing-wonder-insert-name female protagonist of the Disney empire, but the ads’ iconography may have been as cumulatively off-putting as They playing theys. Superman’s been ditched and Supergirl’s a Superandrogyne? Replete with boyish hair, broad shoulders, slender hips and super tits? Audiences weren’t sold on that “way back” in Terminator: Dark Fate – minus the super tits – let alone now, regardless of how it plays (which, as it transpires, perfectly fine).

As for the general multiverse fan service, it left me entirely indifferent. Not merely down to the rendering Muschietti has cited as intentional while others have called cheapskate, but because none of them, not even “Nic Cage” versus the Peter Guber Giant Spider, do anything to boost the picture. When Lord and Miller insert cameos, there tends to be a modicum of wit or flair. Photoshopped Christopher Reeve and Helen Slater don’t pass muster.

Bruce Wayne: Time isn’t linear, right. 

Time travel in this movie is… curious. To paraphrase the Joker of Batman, “Where does he get these wonderful time-travel theories?” Well, it seems the answer is Flashpoint (and Hypertime), but the causal logic behind it? It takes 30 Barry some considerable, ahem, time to realise he’s in a different universe, and he comes armed with his own knowledge of ontological paradoxes and Back to the Future. Meanwhile, Bruce’s fulcrum explanation is extremely confident and knowing, and one wonders where exactly he happened upon it. He scoffs in the face of branching timelines – “No time doesn’t work like that” – and insists “New past, new future” with a messy spaghetti analogy – a hot-messy, crap-shooty one – servicing common intersections on the plate.

Per the fulcrum, Barry’s original timeline should still exist, and he should simply be in the wrong one (which he created by going back, and which Dark Flash pushed him into, this older version of 18 Barry offering his own ontological paradox by willing himself into existence). Hence, asked why he’d stay there, he replies “Because you need help” (in contrast to Bruce’s earlier “Pass”). He says something similar of rescuing Supergirl (again, Miller sells these obvious lines). So, come the “shock” ending, where Batfleck is now BatClooney, Barry should presumably be in a wrong fulcrum-shifted universe again? One with its own Barry (this is where you get back into branching timelines and Back to the Future territory, since there has to be a Barry somewhere familiar with BatClooney)? 

The reason for all this is clear enough: you can present entirely different scenarios (per the comic) or call backs (the movie) with minimum fuss. But the question would be why the ripple would work backwards, and I don’t think there’s really a satisfying answer (although, on a causality line, the Seth Material has it that the present not only changes the future but also the past, being as time is something that only appears to function the way we think it functions. That is, causally, from our perspective). 

IGN has it that Barry only travels to another timeline, not another universe, and he eliminates that timeline when he fixes his mistake. But that doesn’t explain how he can BE the Barry he is in either that timeline or the BatClooney one (this maybe why the Back to the Future referencing is apt, as it makes no sense for Marty not to remember his new family if there’s one timeline). In The Flash, that entire multiverse is threatened by this messing with timelines, but it isn’t really clear why (again, other than that it makes for a dramatic device). Does it have limits on capacity of confusion before breaking hopelessly apart? Also on the trope front, the spaghetti multiverse embraces fixed points, per both Across the Spider-Verse and RTD-Who. 

So The Flash simply belongs to an illustrious line of time-travel movies, good, bad and indifferent, that conceptually fall flat on their arses. Like the original Back to the Future, though, its emotional through line carries it (I wouldn’t want to go overboard with comparing the two, however; this is probably closer to the Eric Stoltz version). 

There are a few other elements to note in passing. What was throwing all those babies out of a window for the shits-and-giggles set piece about? Particularly putting a baby in a microwave, the ultimate in bad taste, given there are quite enough stories to be getting on with of pets being put in them. The Zod mission also tenuously ties into this, of dark forces messing with the environment, who require the blood of the young to thrive and who merrily slaughter children (“The infant did not survive”).

It seems the Gunn Clone nixed a shot ending with Calle, Gadot, Keaton and Cavill, which in turn replaced one with Keaton and Calle erasing Cavill and Batffleck from the timeline. Gunn Clone decided Wonder Woman 3 and Man of Steel 2 weren’t happening – because their leads are dead? – and called up Clooney, whom he doesn’t intend to use again, came out in favour of the movie, which he surely doesn’t intend to sequelise, and… Yeah, it makes sense to let this thing crawl away into a corner and die, at least until the Gunnverse is an inevitable bust. Anyway, to come full circle, the dog-end-credits scene is class in a glass.

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