‘The Flash’ Review

Has cinema reached its nadir? This is a question critics and film lovers have been asking for years, as the industry shifted towards an infantilizing obsession with nostalgia and remakes and reboots. Long before AI was sentient enough for Hollywood to greedily force a writers’ strike over, films were feeling tailor-made not to tell a good story or even capitulate to humanity’s baser instincts (action, feel-good, titillation, etc.), but to scratch the itch of the vocal minority of fanbases online who wanted their childhoods recreated shot for shot.

For years, I have pushed back against this line of questioning. After all, Marvel films may mostly be average, but they at least have a story to them. Hell, most of them never dip below a B-/C+ in terms of quality. But after seeing The Flash, the potential new leaf for DC’s burgeoning filmography, I may have to jump ship. Leave aside any qualms you may bring into the film about Ezra Miller’s troubled personal life, or the fact David Zaslav threatened to destroy an entire studio on behalf of this one film. Even without this baggage, The Flash is a soulless waste of two-and-a-half hours, perhaps amongst the worst I’ve ever spent at a cinema.

Barry Allen (Miller) just can’t catch a break. Not only is The Flash considered by most to be the joke of the Justice League (Batman and Wonder Woman mostly use him to clean up their messes), but he also can’t solve the one case that’s actively destroyed his life: the death of his mother (Maribel Verdú) that saw his father (Ron Livingston) wrongfully incarcerated almost twenty years ago. However, when Barry discovers he has the ability to run so fast that he can travel back in time, he realizes he has a chance to change history and save his mother.

The plan works, but it leaves him in an alternate universe. It is a world where his younger self is a stoner/slacker. It is a world without the Justice League. It is a world where General Zod (Michael Shannon) remains unthreatened by Superman in his quest to destroy the Earth. So in order for Barry to stop Zod and save the world, he’ll have to team up with the few heroes he can muster. This includes a younger version of himself (also Miller), Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle), and an older version of Batman (Michael Keaton, reprising his role from the 1989 film).

The Flash is not so much a film as it is a fan fiction story to feed fans their ‘Member Berries. There is no plot, no semblance of a story. It is a threadbare series of events designed to take you from pointless cameo to pointless cameo. Keaton shows up and says his famous lines from the Burton movies solely because they are now Internet memes. There’s no setup to them; they don’t even work in the context of the scene’s dialogue. But audiences allegedly want it, so give the piggies their slop. Moments and characters and reveals don’t so much as occur naturally – or even dramatically – so much as are presented with a musical cue to indicate the times audiences are meant to clap.

The series of unnatural events drags on, slower and slower, as the film strains at its own logic in order to provide fan service. It’s all so soulless that they eventually dig up the corpses of Christopher Reeve and Adam West through the hateful dark magic of CGI to further their vile agenda. That’s not a bit, they actually conclude the movie by digitally recreating the deceased actors. And if you’re now thinking to yourself “Wait, did The Sacred Wall just spoil a big secret about a film in its review?” the answer is yes. I’m breaking my own rule for the same reason Gene Siskel once spoiled Friday the 13th: because the film is so immoral that it must be spoiled to prevent any poor readers from succumbing to the temptation of witnessing it for themselves.

Lest you be concerned I’m letting personal biases against IP culture permeate my thoughts on the film as a whole, don’t worry. The Flash is also pretty intolerable in every aspect of filmmaking. I don’t so much blame the actors, who do their best to make the heinous material sound natural, as I do director Andy Muschietti, who saw upwards of seven writers quit under his watch. The end result feels like writer Christina Hodson (the scribe behind the far-superior Birds of Prey) was forced to create a Frankenstein’s monster out of several writers’ scripts, with no two lines feeling connected to each other.

Much hullaballoo has been made about the negative ramifications of Joss Whedon’s impact on culture. His glib, self-referential style was catchy and unique on Buffy and the early Avengers films, but as his style became the building block of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ultimately destroyed 2017’s Justice League, his personal brand became a curse upon the blockbuster as a whole. Still, while more negative critics have branded many a blockbuster with the Whedonian Scarlet Letter, from The Rise of Skywalker to the works of Taika Waititi, no film has been as forced or shameless in its hackery as The Flash.

You’ll long for the days of “Well, that just happened once you hear Ezra Miller unironically declare “Holy Speed Balls!” You’ll long for “They fly now? Yeah, they fly now!” once you hear the actor accidentally admit to being an incel. Hell, the only time I remember anyone in the theater laughing was young Barry, upon realizing he has superpowers, attempting the Speedy Gonzalez pose. Perhaps this dialogue would be forgivable if it offered any semblance of insight into the characters’ decisions. Alas, it never does; characters change their minds and motivations solely at the whim of the plot, even if it goes against their nature or interests.

The only thing worse than the script are the special effects. Every single bit of effects work, from characters flying to the time-stopping effects of super-speed to the most basic of backgrounds, possess all the life and digital mastery of a computer screensaver circa 1995. Every single effect looks worse than films that came out twenty years ago, dragging onwards for the longest two-and-a-half hours of your entire life. Within thirty minutes, you’ll miss the visual appeal and creativity of even Zack Snyder. At least he possessed an artistic vision in his filmmaking, regardless of quality or morality.

The most shockingly bad CGI moment comes in the first ten minutes, during a setpiece in such poor taste my jaw physically hit the floor. In it, Barry must save a group of CGI babies falling out of a hospital window. This is not a typo. The opening of the film features a hospital exploded by villains for…reasons (it’s never explained in a satisfactory manner), and a group of babies flung from the window and put in death-defying scenarios – underneath a series of blades, splashed with chemicals, falling directly into a fire – with each infant rendered with less realism than the Ally McBeal baby. It takes real courage to put the most despicable scene in the first ten minutes and not expect audiences to walk out, so kudos to Muschietti and company, I suppose.

The Flash speaks to a level of soulless, inept filmmaking I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered on this scale before. I truly don’t know which is: the film as a whole, or what it represents. For while it is a failure on almost all fronts, what it signifies feels even more damning. This is the most surefire sign that studios have totally given up on original thought, interested only in showing your favorite characters, alive or dead, long enough for the hogs in the audience to clap like trained seals. Who needs writers or actors or directors when you have AI and IP? It’s the most depressed I’ve felt about the industry in my entire career as a film critic, and it’s enough for The Flash to be the evilest film I’ve ever encountered, if not outright the worst.


The Flash opens tomorrow, June 16th. Speed force run away from it as fast as you can.

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