NOC Review: ‘The Flash’ is Fine but Fumbles Frequently

I think it needs to be said upfront that due to the controversies surrounding Ezra Miller’s criminal record and unforgivable behavior, we at The Nerds of Color believe that accountability needs to be taken into serious consideration regarding their place and future in this industry.

However, as a critic, it is my job to review the content of the film first and foremost, without letting the real-world scenarios skew my judgement of the movie from a story, technical, and performance perspective. And as such, the majority of this review will focus on those elements and not the real life issues. All that being said, admittedly, I still didn’t love this movie. Here’s why.

Yeah, I know. DC and WB were doing everything they could to build the buzz up for this movie. And look, if they absolutely believed in it that much (which I’m sure they did) then good for them. But if I’m going to be honest, as someone who really does love this character, this is not the version of Barry Allen I ever wanted to see. And in fact, the versions I did want to see, I already have, given they were nailed in the early seasons of The CW series starring Grant Gustin, and various animated movies, such as 2013’s The Flashpoint Paradox — a legitimate adaptation of the Flashpoint storyline.

In this version of the storyline, The Flash runs back in time to prevent the death of his mother, and in doing so destroys the fabric of reality, by creating a multiverse of sorts, where timelines are affected by elements strung together from other realities and possibilities. In the new reality he stops at, the Justice League hasn’t been formed; Kal-El never made it to Earth; and General Zod is now planning an invasion. So Barry has to find a way to undo it all.

Now I know there’s a fair amount of love for this movie. Our very own Keith and Swara indicated their fondness for it. And that’s great. But for me, love is an incredibly strong word for this movie. And that’s because, despite it being entertaining enough, everything about this movie feels like the inferior version of what came before it. From the way Barry is portrayed by Miller, to the way things like running, phasing, or hurling lightning looked, to the DCEU version of the Flashpoint storyline, nothing for me felt great about this movie. And I gotta be honest with you, I really, really tried to like it more. I saw this movie three times just to try and get myself to see what it was others seemed to. And it was all to no avail. Because each time I saw it, it just reaffirmed my suspicions that this is a decently entertaining movie, which has some great moments, but also a lot of cringey ones, and overall, it just wasn’t for me.

And the problem is Miller, but not for the reasons you think. Definitely not the real-world issues. But their performance as not one, but two super grating, super obnoxious Barry Allens. The first being present day Barry (who I’ll call “Barry 1”) and his nervous, cornball schtick at the beginning of the movie. The second being an absolutely idiotic, cringe inducing 18-year old moronic version of himself (who I’ll call “Barry 2”), who is also corny and unfunny. I swear to God, listening to Miller doing a stoner laugh for their 18-year old version is like taking a fork to a garbage disposal (or better yet, a fork to my ears to spare me from the sweet relief of not having to hear them do their stupid laugh). And yes, I understand that the character(s) are *supposed* to be that way. That concept is not lost on me. But just because they acknowledge it, doesn’t make it less annoying for me! Maybe I just have a low tolerance for absolute stupidity, or high expectations in how Barry Allen should be played thanks to Grant Gustin. But it simply does not work for me, and we’re stuck with two of them for two-and-a-half hours.

It’s not until Michael Keaton’s Batman shows up two-thirds of the way through the movie that things start to get entertaining. Which mean’s there is a solid one-third of this movie spent on really garbage ideas like catching poorly CGI’ed (more on this later) babies from a hospital window (in what’s one of the most cringe inducing, idiotic scenes in any comic book movie), a scene of Barry 2 running through the streets naked, and a pointless and unfunny conversation between Barry 2’s roommates about Back to the Future that goes on WAY longer than it should. Just thinking about these really obnoxious moments is even getting me angry right now. It doesn’t help that cramming an adaptation of this origin story to show mainstream audiences how The Flash got his powers, where his suit comes from, and what he can do with his powers pale in comparison to how these elements were executed in the Arrowverse series. There was just absolutely nothing for me in this first third of the movie to make me think this was a movie worthy of the unfounded praise and hype it was getting.

Then, thankfully, the movie begins to pick up speed (pun deliciously intended), as Keaton’s Batman comes into the picture. Now does DC recognize that this is all nostalgia porn designed to make you forget about modern DC movies and focus on when DC was actually good? Of course! But that doesn’t mean the payoff of seeing Keaton in the Batsuit and in action isn’t incredible. As the movie starts to veer into the need to prevent the apocalyptic world Barry creates by messing with time, it finally starts getting interesting and pretty exciting. Keaton’s scenes as the Caped Crusader made you really miss him. He’s charming, and badass! And the fight scenes are far less stilted than they looked in 1989 (partially thanks to CG and stuntmen I’m sure). They rely a little too much on “member berries” here and there, but it’s still a fun time seeing him kick ass.

The same goes for the really strong performance of Sasha Calle as Supergirl/Kara Zor-El. From the moment we see her floating in the sky about to engage soldiers in a fierce battle, she really takes command of the screen as a very damaged and embittered version of the character. I bought her performance in every scene, from her speech about hope, to her anguish at finding out the truth about Kal-El. It really is a great debut and I hope they keep her around.

In fact the action in the film overall is pretty strong. The Batman scenes for both Affleck and Keaton are spectacular and feel like they’re ripped out of splash pages from the comics. Kara’s rescue in Russia is also terrific. And the final war with Zod’s forces was nicely executed as well. So there is a bit of fun to be had with these stand out set pieces.

I also have to comment on Andy Muscietti’s direction. I like him as a filmmaker, and I honestly don’t blame him as the movie’s 1,000th director who actually didn’t drop off the project. So the mess isn’t entirely his fault. However, there are some *really* silly choices he makes here. For example, the look of The Flash running is incredibly silly. He looks like a cartoon character floating through the air towards a pie cooling on a window sill with his toes twinkling. I mean the movement of the character’s legs look like he’s floating slower than he’s running. It makes no sense, and I realize it’s a choice. But it’s a stupid looking choice, especially compared to superior speedster scenes like Makkari’s standout scene from Eternals or Gustin’s speedster scenes from the show. There’s also some sloppy continuity in the movie. One scene, Supergirl flies around beating up soldiers to save Barry 1 and Barry 2. The next scene Barry 2 seems surprised that Supergirl can levitate. Uh… what? It’s not liked he was knocked out while she was saving their lives. So how the hell did he not seem to remember she can freaking fly?

The other thing I need to criticize the movie for was the unnecessary use of Easter eggs. Again, these choices seem very pointless. Take for example the crisis scene with the multiple callbacks and deep-faked cameos. They didn’t add anything to this movie. It was more hollow “member berries,” but with hollow eyes. It felt like DC was cloyingly asking us, “remember when we made good movies?” Well DC, I remember when your good movies didn’t look like garbage. Then just forcing every line Keaton’s Batman utters and every prop from the 1989 Batman into the movie without real need to (not the Batarangs, but the Batmobile and the Joker bag) for the sake of nostalgia. Nostalgia with purpose is a powerful tool. Just look how Spider-Man: No Way Home utilized Peter 3 and Peter 2. They were there to provide guidance to Peter 1 when he was lost. And the “member berry” of having Peter 3 save MJ serves the purpose of fulfilling Peter 3’s character arc. Nothing like that really exists in The Flash. And it’s disappointing for that reason.

I also have to comment on the visual effects of the film. They are really bad. I’m sorry to say. I have no idea how a CW show on a shoestring budget managed to out perform a $200M film. But everything from the speed scenes, to the chrono bowl, and the crisis on infinite Earths scene and snippets looked really awful. It makes me wonder what the hell these studios do with the money. It also calls into question what some of the other reviews out there saying this was one of the most visually stunning superhero movies ever were referring to. The VFX here are on par with the CG mess of Quantumania. In fact a lot of the climax reminded me of the February release’s climax. That’s not a good thing. Perhaps they should have delayed this a 200th time to actually make it look appealing.

That being said, what Muschietti excels at is the emotion. The emotional core of this movie — the relationship between Barry and his mother — is actually very strong. And to its credit, it’s set up in the movie from the very beginning, and it stays the heart of the movie throughout the entire run (really hammering in the puns here). But it does make the emotional beats of the movie feel earned and effective, even in the simplest of moments. To squeeze all that emotion out of a can of tomatoes (see?) was smart and sincere. And I think this is actually the best thing about the movie that isn’t named Michael Keaton. And it actually got some folks in the theater crying.

And there’s the rub. For as bad as this movie looks, as annoying as Ezra Miller’s terrible interpretation of Barry Allen is, and for as questionable as the directorial choices are, the action and emotion, as well as the strong performances of Keaton and Calle, make the movie actually pretty entertaining for most of its runtime. It’s just unfortunate that we have to sit through a really rough first act to get there.

There’s a good movie somewhere in this CG mess of confused ideas, cringe moments, and overacting. Enough to keep one engaged for two-and-a-half hours. But overall, the highest compliment I can give this one is it’s the third best superhero movie of the summer (out of three).

Overall Score: C+

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