Ezra Miller and Michael Keaton in The Flash (2023)

‘The Flash’ movie review: Michael Keaton’s Batman returns to the DC universe

NOW STREAMING ON:

Barry Allen runs back through time and turns reality into spaghetti in The Flash, which opens in Prague and cinemas worldwide this weekend. The multiverse fatigue is real, and this one comes right on the heels of the similarly-themed Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, but The Flash is still a great-looking (especially in IMAX), well-crafted, and largely satisfying comic book adventure on most fronts.

The Flash is even unexpectedly deep and even spiritual, dealing with themes of loss and grief and acceptance of one’s fate. In a world where comic book superheroes can travel through time and multiverses, however, it doesn’t quite know how to resolve all the issues it raises, and isn’t nearly as satisfying as the latest Spider-Verse film… and in fact, it argues the opposite moral perspective.

Odd choices are a recurring theme in The Flash, which opens with a scene featuring a half-dozen newborn infants hurtling toward the ground as the skyscraper that housed them collapses. Barry Allen (Erza Miller) will save them all in super-slow-motion before they hit the ground, of course… as long as he can hit up the airborne vending machine on the way.

But while a dark comedy a la Deadpool might have gotten away with a scene like this, it feels irresponsible to see these infants threatened by shards of glass and steel beams and blowtorches, and even stuffed into a microwave, in what is otherwise a serious-minded big-budget blockbuster. It’s never distressing — the infants are all cartoonish CGI creations, and their fate never in doubt — but it feels wrong to be drawing entertainment value out of these images.

When he’s not saving the day alongside Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Barry is working on freeing his father Henry (Ron Livingston) from prison; dad was wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife and Barry’s mom some 15 years back. For all the fan service The Flash does in bringing back actors from previous DC adaptations, it’s somewhat jarring to see Billy Crudup, who played Henry Allen in Justice League, recast in this minor role.

Frustrated at his most recent setback in his dad’s case, and still dealing with the loss of his mother, Barry goes out for a run — and runs so fast that he discovers he can turn back time. “Our scars make us who we are,” Affleck’s Bruce Wayne tells him, warning him not to mess with time and space. But messing with time and space is exactly what Barry does.

The result finds Barry in another dimension that includes a younger Barry (also played by Miller), an older Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton, returning to his iconic role from the Tim Burton movies), and even Superman’s cousin, Supergirl (Sasha Calle). But worst of all: Eric Stoltz was never recast in Back to the Future in this universe. And Man of Steel‘s General Zod (Michael Shannon) is about to blow up this world, without a Superman to stop him.

Keaton’s Batman is not a featured cameo, but The Flash‘s second lead after Miller’s Barries. And nostalgia aside, he’s wonderful in the role of a grizzled veteran who didn’t find much solace after cleaning up the streets of Gotham, but discovers his fire rekindled by the chance to get back into action. For whatever other faults feature in The Flash, the chance to see Keaton take one more swing at this role with tenderness and affection is irresistible.

Most of those faults rear their head during the climactic confrontation with Zod, as the film ties together its themes of acceptance. But as Barry comes to terms with the loss of his mother, he also comes to accept things that perhaps he really shouldn’t.

The Flash is not as flippant in its multiverse happenings as Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and takes its otherworldly happenings seriously. But the film’s climax is unusually dark for a comic book film, and destined to tick off a lot of fans, even if it is more interesting than the usual stuff.

While the story is likely to divide audiences, especially coming after Across the Spider-Verse, The Flash is well-assembled by director Andy Muschietti, and like Shazam: Fury of the Gods, it looks great. Unlike a lot of recent blockbusters, it largely takes place in broad daylight at real-world locations, and the visual clarity is appreciated.

The Flash is a good-enough superhero movie, and one of the better DCEU films after Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League. But Keaton’s presence turns it into something that really shouldn’t be missed.

The Flash

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

One Response

  1. Utter trash, this one rang the death knell for the DCEU. Keaton was the ONLY good thing about the movie, but even his charm gets lost in the nostalgiabait.

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