Is The Flash one of the greatest superhero movies ever made? Warner Bros.’ PR department would certainly like you to think so. Reacting to Ezra Miller‘s laundry list of abuse allegations and criminal charges, the studio has waged a publicity war on two fronts: Persuading audiences that The Flash is a unique masterpiece, and positioning Miller as a talented but troubled star who is now on the road to recovery. On both counts, the only reasonable response is: You sure about that?
Director: Andy Muschietti
Release: Theatrical, followed by Max
When the Flash (Ezra Miller) travels back in time to save his mother’s life, he accidentally creates a different timeline, and must work with an alternate version of Batman (Michael Keaton) to defeat the villain of ‘Man of Steel’ (2013). Peppered with fanservice cameos, this amusing DC franchise crossover arrives several years too late to make an impact.
Ethically speaking, I have little patience for these attempts to speed-run a public rehabilitation arc, because they transparently prioritize The Flash‘s box office viability over the well-being of the people Miller harmed. And on the topic of this film’s artistic merits, well: It’s fine.
Comparing favorably to its Zack Snyder-era peers in the DC franchise, The Flash functions as a time-travel crossover with Man of Steel (2013), benefiting from a zany sense of humor and Miller imbuing the title character with a ton of energetic, twitchy personality. Otherwise, it’s a boilerplate superhero flick, from its emotional motivators (a dead mom, a dull villain and a dubiously-plausible love interest) to its generic visual style.
It also arrives with cataclysmically poor timing, because The Flash shares a similar plot and narrative themes to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse… and Spider-Verse is more sophisticated in every regard.
Like Spider-Verse, The Flash is a genre-savvy dive into multiversal storytelling, where different versions of the same characters exist in parallel timelines. Both films involve the hero traveling to other dimensions and interrupting his own destiny, and both examine the question of whether a superhero can exist without their tragic origin story.
In this case, the Flash (aka awkward CSI technician Barry Allen) discovers that his super-speed can be used to travel through time, prompting him to go back and prevent his mother’s death. In doing so, he winds up in a new timeline alongside a hilariously airheaded version of his 18-year-old self, leading into a buddy comedy starring two very different Barry Allens. They team up with an elderly version of Michael Keaton’s manic 1990s Batman; a drastic change from Barry’s original timeline, where he’s in the Justice League with Ben Affleck’s dour Bruce Wayne.
Ordinarily characterizing himself as “the janitor of the Justice League,” Barry is now faced with a more high-stakes problem: Forming a new team to defeat Kryptonian supervillain Zod, who is about to unleash his apocalyptic attack from Man of Steel. You may recall that the MCU already did its own version of this idea, when Avengers: Endgame (2019) traveled back to the events of The Avengers (2012).
While viewers don’t actually need to know all the related lore here, this film is heavily connected to Zack Snyder’s DCEU, which gels rather oddly with Keaton’s Batman. Keaton is as fun as you’d expect (his eccentric take on Bruce Wayne is one of my personal faves), but his role is shallow and director Andy Muschietti makes no attempt to engage with the tone or aesthetic of Tim Burton’s Batman movies.
This is where The Flash truly pales in comparison to Spider-Verse, because this movie has no visual personality. And like most superhero films, its final battle sequence is a dreary letdown compared to the more lightweight, character-focused material early on, like Barry frustratedly trying to assemble a super-team while dealing with Young Barry’s stoner roommates.
Arriving after the peak of the multiverse trend (two Spider-Verse movies, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Everything Everywhere All At Once and Loki), The Flash‘s alternate-timeline concept also feels rather stale. Unlike the Spider-Verse’s vibrant standalone storytelling, you get the sense that The Flash was constructed specifically to court fandom nostalgia. In addition to Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck’s Batmen, we’re treated to (spoiler alert!) a montage of DC cameos including Christopher Reeve’s Superman—a distasteful VFX resurrection that cheapens his legacy in the role.
In 2023, The Flash arrives several years too late. The fifth multiverse-themed blockbuster in recent memory. A spinoff from a franchise that no longer exists. A star vehicle for an actor who recently detonated their own reputation. In a market that’s already saturated with amusing-but-unremarkable superhero movies, none of this really feels necessary.