Movies & TV Shows

The Flash Triumph: The DCEU Hits the Mark at Last

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In a remarkable twist of fate within the history of the DC Extended Universe, one of the most troubled films in the franchise has emerged as one of its finest. After nearly a decade of setbacks, including director and writer changes, the impact of a pandemic, the decline of the DC cinematic universe, and the personal struggles of its star, The Flash has finally arrived onscreen—and it is absolutely exhilarating.

Directed by Andy Muschietti (known for It: Chapter One and Two) and penned by Christina Hodson (credited for Bumblebee and Birds of Prey), The Flash embodies everything that has been lacking in many DC-based movies over the past decade. It is swift-paced, character-focused, and, most importantly, deeply reverent towards the source material and its iconic superheroes. The film captures the electrifying energy and sense of wonder that leaps off the vibrant pages of the comics. Even though it stumbles at times with an excess of CGI effects and convoluted plot twists towards the end, it ultimately triumphs with its unexpectedly poignant and nostalgic moments.

Much of the film’s success hinges on the extraordinary performance of Ezra Miller, who effortlessly portrays two distinct versions of Barry Allen. As the insecure and inexperienced young geek, Barry’s acceptance of his life as a lightning-fast superhero never overshadows his unwavering love for his murdered mother, Nora (touchingly portrayed by Maribel Verdù), and his wrongfully imprisoned father, Henry (portrayed by Ron Livingston).

Addressing the elephant in the room—the red-and-yellow-suited elephant, to be precise—Miller’s personal and legal troubles have been extensively documented and are genuinely disconcerting (the actor has reportedly been seeking treatment for “complex mental health issues” since last August). However, Miller’s performance in the film is nothing short of fantastic, making it difficult to reconcile their exceptional talent with the actor’s tumultuous personal life and potential legal consequences.

It’s understandable that some viewers may struggle to separate Miller’s real-life struggles from their perception of The Flash, perhaps opting not to watch the film altogether. Additionally, some fans may hold a preference for Grant Gustin’s acclaimed portrayal of the character on television, or have envisioned a different actor for this beloved and enduring comic book character. Nevertheless, within the context of this film, Miller delivers a sensational performance, striking the perfect balance between emotion, empathy, zany humor, and the profound joy and anguish of being a superhero in both iterations of Barry.

But how does the film present these two versions of Barry? As the story begins, several years have passed since the events of Justice League. Barry now works as a forensic investigator in Central City and dedicates his spare time to working on his father’s appeal. He also serves as a backup for his mentor, Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (played by Ben Affleck), ready to assist whenever trouble arises. Interestingly, Jeremy Irons makes a cameo appearance as Alfred, hinting playfully that Barry is often the third option on the call list, after Superman and Wonder Woman, if they are available.

Describing himself as the “janitor” of the Justice League, Barry, nonetheless, showcases his heroism in a fantastic opening sequence. He saves a literal “baby shower” that spills out of a collapsing hospital’s maternity ward and provides Batman with assistance in stopping terrorists from contaminating Gotham’s water supply. Afterward, he speeds back to Central City just in time to grab his breakfast sandwich from a disgruntled server.

The Flash

Running late for work and his father’s seemingly hopeless appeal in court, a frustrated Barry runs so fast that he breaks through the barriers of time, discovering his ability to travel to the past. Despite Bruce’s familiar warning not to meddle with past events (“Our scars define us,” Affleck solemnly states in a brief but well-deserved return to his portrayal of Batman), Barry goes back to the day his mother was murdered and alters the course of events, saving her life. However, this action propels him ten years into the future, to the day he becomes The Flash.

Barry finds himself in a radically altered life due to his own actions. He encounters his 18-year-old self, an immature and carefree individual who still returns home from school to do laundry. The level of impulsive confidence displayed by his younger self rivals that of Aquaman, who, as the older Barry soon discovers, does not exist in this altered reality.

Furthermore, it appears that Superman and most of the other members of the Justice League are also absent. When a Kryptonian ship lands on Earth, releasing General Zod (portrayed by Michael Shannon) and his sinister plans from the events of Man of Steel (2013), Barry realizes that he and his alternate self may be the only ones capable of preventing humanity’s destruction. He also learns that at least one other superhero exists in this reality: Bruce Wayne, who is still Batman but significantly different from the one Barry left behind.

The middle portion of the film, reminiscent of Back to the Future (complete with a brilliant joke referencing the film’s cast), showcases The Flash at its finest. Barry navigates this alternate universe, grappling with the consequences of his actions, all while engaging in a humorous yet poignant exchange with his younger self, who remains unaware of the tragedy that led the older Barry to this point.

Michael Keaton, known for his iconic portrayal of Batman, delivers an outstanding performance in his long-awaited return to the Bat-cowl after more than 30 years. As Bruce Wayne, he grapples with rediscovering his superhero identity, and for fans of a certain generation, it’s an absolute thrill to see the Batcave and Batmobile from the 1989 film in action alongside their owner. Keaton’s return is just the beginning of a series of cameos from past DC characters, although they are mostly concentrated in an extended climactic sequence. However, it is Keaton who gets the opportunity to reprise his role in a meaningful way, providing a satisfying conclusion to his character’s arc, much like how Spider-Man: No Way Home did for Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.

On the other hand, the introduction of Supergirl, portrayed effectively and powerfully by Sasha Calle in her impressive feature debut, is somewhat underutilized. She doesn’t receive the screen time she deserves. Additionally, the arrival of another character towards the end of the film may not be clear enough for non-fans, especially considering it comes after the mind-bending journey through DC’s past and the lengthy climactic battle.

Similar to many superhero movies of recent years, The Flash does suffer from a somewhat convoluted final act. The heroes teeter on the edge of being lost in the customary CG chaos, and the climactic battle takes place in a desert background devoid of any other presence. Explosions and Barry’s attempts to alter reality become overwhelming at a rapid pace, posing a threat to the coherence of the entire movie. However, it is saved by an exceptionally emotional ending, with Ezra Miller once again delivering an outstanding performance. The film also pays homage to the various iterations of the DC universe that have come before.

Heart, humor, genuinely likable characters, and a genuine affection for the source material shine through in The Flash. These elements have been sporadic in the DCEU over the past decade, but here they come together to create immensely entertaining results. While the MCU and Sony’s recent Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse may have beaten DC Films to the multiverse concept, The Flash still manages to explore the theme of reconciling with the past and moving forward in a way that feels fresh and relevant, given the real-life drama surrounding the film.

It is unfortunate that Miller is unlikely to reprise their role in future DC projects, as the actor needs to focus on their personal life and make amends for any harm they may have caused before considering a return to their career. Nevertheless, Miller delivers one final perfect line, concluding the film with a joke that left the audience in our screening amazed and delighted. And yes, there is a post-credits scene hinting that this version of the DC universe still has more to offer. However, even if it were to conclude here, The Flash serves as an exhilarating and memorable highlight in the history of superhero films.

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