The Flash–Bits of nostalgia and fun make it worth streaming now on Max

Review by C.J. Bunce

After all the bad press, studio shake-ups that resulted in the deletion of an entire Batgirl movie, and the selection of a new set of players in front of and behind the camera going forward, this year’s movie The Flash will probably surprise you.  That may be because of incredibly low expectations, but whatever your mindset, if you’re a subscriber to Max you get to watch it without the cost of a movie ticket, and that makes it easy to swallow.  You’ve already heard of all the cameos and more, and they all make this a fun entry for the characters in Zack Snyder’s pantheon of DC movies.  Ezra Miller could have used better direction as Barry Allen in a dual performance, but that’s on newbie director Andy Muscietti more than him.  A lot of how you’ll react–your movie-watching experience–will depend on what you think of the decision-making behind the scenes.

Why did the studio select a newer director for a big budget movie like this?  Why did the producers select this script?  Why this cast?  A fundamental problem with every DC Comics adaptation–with the exception of the Shazam! movies–is why this story when there are 80 years of stories in comic books to tap?  Why did DC think it needed a multiverse story when Marvel seems to have exhausted the trope?

The closest you might compare to the execution of this movie is the Black Adam movie in the DCU or X-Men: Dark Phoenix in the MCU.  Why this story?  It’s unfortunate that The Flash falls so close to the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, because as a starting point this feels like a knock-off, even down to having its lead character change from a smart guy to a dumb guy in order to adapt to the flimsy story.  The core story is Barry Allen going back in time to save his mother and father from a disastrous event, which is the long story arc of the TV series.  That series feels like it just happened, so why would DC make a movie with the exact same story?

Then there’s the choice of actors.  Grant Gustin earned his way, making 184 appearances as the character over an entire decade.  There’s no reason not to let him star in this movie.  Or give us another Flash movie and have it star John Wesley Shipp.  Val Kilmer is still acting, so why not have him instead of Nicolas Cage, which required no speech?  Actually, the Nicolas Cage cameo is great, it’s the CGI that’s not handled well enough to really sell the scene.  How about letting Terence Stamp play Zod again?  Sure, he’s an older actor, but it seemed like all Michael Shannon provided was a digital image projected inside a helmet for his scenes.  Or better yet, how about finally letting Cage play Superman in his own movie?

Billy Crudup previously played Barry’s dad in the movies, but he was replaced this time by Ron Livingston.  Office Space is forever a classic, so any excuse to see Livingston again is a good one.  But the casting of Barry’s mother, played by Maribel Verdú, doesn’t quite work.  Ezra Miller was already established as the lead, but he doesn’t have a speck of Latin heritage, and the plot depends on his bond with his mother, who clearly couldn’t look less like Miller.  Verdú resembles Spidey’s aunt in the MCU, which only further adds to the movie feeling like it is trying to mirror Spider-man for some reason.

Other cameos tug on the nostalgia strings, but just like the movie’s climax in the courtroom, you can’t help thinking all of this is fake–more fake than comic book fiction–the kind of fake as in faking security camera footage or using AI to digitally add anyone to your movie, whether they are alive to agree to it or not, like George Reeves, Adam West, or Christopher Reeve.  A cameo of Reeve and Helen Slater tugs at the nostalgia in us, but is the tech ready yet?  Should it be?  Effects-wise, the uncanny valley shows itself in all the cameos where a living actor wasn’t used.

There’s the concept of a live-action speedster.  The pace was set by Evan Peters as Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but mainly his scenes on X-Men: Days of Future Past.  No single speedster scene matches the handling of Peter’s action scenes in his movies.  Don’t forget that the live-action grandfather of all speedster action if Lee Majors as The Six Million Dollar Man.  The general thought is that audiences want improvements in their visual effects over time, but the effects in The Flash aren’t that different from the slow-motion of Majors in the 1970s.  Also, the electric currents fill the screen too much and too often.  The TV series did it better, saving that flash of lightning for the high action points.

The beginning of the movie starts slow, and feels a bit like the Captain America movie.  No, not that one, the 1990 one.  But it quickly improves once Miller starts playing Barry of the present and Barry of the past.  Director Muscietti has fun with the dual role scenes, adding some much needed fun to a plot that depends a lot on an adult not able to get over an event of his youth.

The return of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Batman is fun (the 1989 Batmobile may be even moreso), although his makeup and hair at first is bizarre.  You can’t help wish–if they could sign Keaton to play Batman again–why not film The Dark Knight Returns instead of something done before?  But if you’re a fan of nostalgia, you take what you can get, right?

The other major component of the movie is Sasha Calle as a new Kara Zor-El.  At times she evokes the Kara of Michael Turner’s Batman/Superman comic book series, which is a really good thing, and it doesn’t matter if her hair color is different.  But that also begs the question: Why can’t we see that comic book series adapted to film instead?  Pushing that aside, Calle is a fresh new Kara that works for this movie, even if this is an entirely new timeline of continuity from the perspective of the DCU as a whole.

Ultimately The Flash is a mixed bag, but it leans on the side of being better than the DC superhero movies with Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot.  There’s a little too much drama, but enough fun to make it worth waiting around for.  Catch The Flash, now streaming on Max.

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