The Flash (2023) Review

The title may have been synonymous with supersonic speed but the journey to finally getting the movie released in cinemas is a polar opposite altogether. The Flash was originally scheduled for March 2018 but there were behind-the-scenes woes that kept delaying the project. This includes changes from one director to another. Seth Grahame-Smith, Rick Famuyiwa as well as (future) Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein all signed on to direct the movie, only to be subsequently departed the project due to creative differences. By the time Warner Bros. settled for It director Andy Muschietti to spearhead the long-gestating project, it was already 2019. The new release date was even set for 2022 but then, a certain you-know-what pandemic happened, forcing the movie to delay further.

And so, here we are. The first-ever solo feature-length version of The Flash after the character made his debut cameoing in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The story — credited to Christina Hodson of Birds of Prey and Bumblebee fame — uses the Flashpoint comic-book series as a source for her inspiration to tell a multiverse story in The Flash. A multiverse revolving around Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) planning to travel back in time to save his murdered mother (Maribel Verdú) when he was just a child. He figures that doing so will also free his father (Ron Livingston, replacing Billy Crudup), who got wrongfully accused of murdering his wife.

But despite Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) warning him it’s a bad idea to mess up the timeline, Barry’s reckless action causes ripples throughout his journey. Not only he has to deal with his younger self but also faces a huge threat, where Man of Steel‘s General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his army of Kryptonians are hellbent to terraform Earth into a new Krypton. As Barry can’t do this all by himself, he seeks help from Bruce Wayne. Only it wasn’t the same Bruce Wayne he knows from his timeline.

This brings us to the re-introduction of Michael Keaton’s Batman. It’s nice to see him donning the Batsuit again and even after 31 years since Batman Returns, he still has what it takes to command the screen. His world-weary turn as the older Bruce Wayne/Batman is top-notch. He’s even a scene-stealer, whose otherwise supporting turn sure feels like making Ezra Miller star in his movie instead of the other way around. Keaton’s presence is also accompanied by Danny Elfman’s signature theme, giving me the goosebumps of hearing it again on the big screen.

Michael Keaton reprises his iconic role as Batman in "The Flash" (2023)

So, what about Ezra Miller leading his own movie as the iconic speedster for the first time? Well, his off-screen behaviour may draw a lot of negative reactions and it would be unfair to use that against him to misjudge the character he’s playing in The Flash. Looking solely at his performance alone, Miller’s high-strung portrayal of Barry Allen/The Flash gives me mixed feelings. While he certainly has fun playing dual roles — one’s a cynical older Barry and the other is a cheerfully irresponsible younger self, there are times he tends to overact to the point it becomes cringey.

Michael Shannon is sadly undermined as General Zod, unlike the one seen in Man of Steel, where he gave us one of the best DC villains in the Snyderverse era. Sasha Calle, who shows up later in the movie, delivers a spunky turn as the no-nonsense Kara Zor-El/Supergirl.

The Flash may have marked the first time Andy Muschietti directed a big-budget studio film and a superhero genre. But he proves to be an ace stylist when comes to staging the action sequences, beginning with the elaborate opening setpiece revolving around The Flash and Batman. The action is both dynamic and thrilling without resorting to the jittery cam or rapid-fire editing. This, in turn, allows us to appreciate the choreography while I’m glad Muschietti manages to make the action visceral enough within its mainstream-friendly rating. I guess it helps that Muschietti’s experience as a horror director understands the visual impact of creating tension. Too bad the CGI is uneven for a superhero blockbuster that costs US$200 million upwards. Some of the effects-heavy moments look as if they are either hastily rendered or lack the technology to make them less glaringly obvious.

Going back to the story, Hodson’s screenplay tries hard to toy around with the what-if possibilities that could happen within the infinite realm of a multiverse. The concept was previously well-utilised in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. In The Flash, the story does offer a few meta fun from the 1980s movie references to the aforementioned Keaton’s return as Batman and one of the scenes that you simply have to see for yourself. Let’s just say it’s something that fans have been waiting for. The movie also delivers decent emotional stakes related to Barry’s past and his determination of reversing the timeline by going back in time to save his mother. Miller’s brief but wonderful moments with Kiersey Clemons, who plays romantic interest Iris West is equally worth mentioning here.

The Flash, however, stumbles upon the whirlwind journey that Miller’s Barry Allen/The Flash has gone through at the end of the day. For a movie that is meant to serve as a “reset button” for James Gunn to start over the DC Universe with his upcoming Superman: Legacy, the story seems to undermine the consequences of Barry’s action for altering the timeline in the first place. It just doesn’t give me the dramatic impact or resolution that I’m hoping for. The story also tends to go too far in executing the comedy parts that feel like Muscheitti and Hodson are trying so hard to lighten up the movie.