Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
What more can be said about the state of Warner Brothers’ DC superhero films which hasn’t been said already? The conversation appears to be endless and, honestly, could be the basis of an entire doctoral thesis. The creative and business decisions affecting these films are so reactionary that you could literally make a chart showing how every film is a direct response to the previous one, dating all the way back to Superman (1978). In doing so, it’s clear that very few of these films were made because the studio genuinely believed in their potential, but rather because they felt obligated to do so. Which is a shame, because these are some of the most unique and popular characters ever created and they deserved a fair shake. One of the characters who has been treated worst of all is The Flash, who has finally been given a halfhearted live-action film.
Set some time after the events of Justice League (2017/2021), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) AKA The Flash, is living the classic superhero life, juggling his everyday responsibilities with his heroic ones. Following a routine superhero adventure with his teammates Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Barry is confronted with the impending parole hearing of his father Henry (Ron Livingston), who is in prison for the murder of Barry’s mother, Nora (Maribel Verdú). Convinced of his father’s innocence, Barry longs for things to go back to the way they were before Nora’s death, wishing to have his father freed and his mother resurrected. Barry discovers that if he runs fast enough he can travel through time, so he immediately decides to go back and prevent the murder. However, in doing so he completely changes the timeline, resulting in a new reality where there is no Justice League. This is an issue, considering he is stuck in the events of Man of Steel (2013), only this time there’s no Superman to stop the destructive alien invasion. To prevent the end of the world, Barry teams up with his younger self, a retired Batman (Michael Keaton) and this timeline’s resident Kryptonian, Supergirl (Sasha Calle).
Usually it’s unfair to critique a film based on its place as a corporate asset, but in the case of The Flash (2023) it’s completely appropriate, given that everything wrong with the film is very clearly a result of poor brand management. In one form or another, a Flash adventure has been in active development for the better part of a decade, and this has resulted in the final product being a tonal and structural mess. Almost at random, we’ll be thrust into exceedingly dark and tragic moments, only to then be shoved into awkward and bizarre comedy, which ultimately infects both tonal flavours. At points where we are supposed to feel heavy emotion, we can’t help but laugh. In turn, when we’re supposed to laugh, it can’t help but feel inappropriate. There are moments where the correct feeling lands, but it’s not enough to smooth out the messiness. To be honest, this is probably the reason for the film’s horrifyingly awful computer-generated imagery, as story decisions were likely being changed on the fly and the artists only had small pockets of time to constantly make the changes.
On a storytelling level, The Flash deals with similar ideas as other recent multiverse films like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023), Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) and Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), but somehow delivers a morally reprehensible message. For all its thematic posturing, The Flash essentially validates the toxic idea that tragedy and trauma is a good thing and is the reason why our favourite heroes are cool. To be fair, Director Andy Muschietti and his team probably didn’t intend for this to be the film’s final point, but that is basically how it reads once you lay it all out on the table. The film’s main theme aims to be heartfelt and inspiring, but completely misses the mark due to some truly baffling character decisions with pretty dreadful implications. This isn’t helped in the slightest by the film gleefully rehashing the (still to this day) wrongheaded story choices from Man of Steel.
On the plus side, the completely overstuffed story does allow for some genuinely enjoyable elements, such as Michael Keaton’s Batman and Sasha Calle’s Supergirl. Keaton is suited to Batman now more than he ever was in 1989, and he was already a near perfect Batman back then. His inclusion is the most blatant and obvious use of nostalgic pandering, but that doesn’t stop his action beats having the most cinematic verve. Additionally, Sasha Calle clearly cares very deeply about her work here, and is probably the only actor delivering an actual performance. If there’s anything to be salvaged from this mess, it’s her version of Supergirl, which is also a far better (and more appropriate) rendition of Henry Cavill’s dark and gloomy Superman.
Unfortunately, the fan service gets old pretty fast, as it becomes very apparent that it’s all the film has to offer. To be clear, fan service isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and can result in some genuinely memorable moments. Who doesn’t remember the cinema erupting with applause when Captain America lifted Thor’s Hammer in Avengers: Endgame (2019), or when Han Solo and Chewbacca paused for the camera in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)? The problem with DC’s approach to fan service shows a clear misunderstanding of who ‘the fans’ are. There are of course hardcore comic book readers who watch these films religiously (I should know), but that constitutes a microscopic percentage of the overall audience. If you’re going to populate The Flash with wall-to-wall references, they should be built up over the course of the films you’ve been making, not pulled from obscure trivia that only a fraction of your viewership will recognise. The result will leave mainstream fans wondering what these scenes mean, and initiated fans will find the references to be pointless (or offensive) because it has nothing to do with the story they are currently watching.
The sad part is that this film’s failings will likely damage The Flash’s on-screen reputation forever, meaning fans will likely never see their favourite superhero properly represented. For such a beloved character, it’s pretty frustrating to see that Warner Brothers is so committed to this unlikable and annoying version of the hero. For nearly 10 years, general audiences have been trained to think that this idiot is The Flash, so no one is really clamouring to see more of him. This is the first (and so far only) version of The Flash ever put to film, so the lack of fanfare won’t make Warner Brothers realise that they need to change their approach, but rather make them think that audiences just don’t like the character. They’ll probably just shelve the hero instead of doing justice by him, meaning fans will not see a real Flash movie anytime soon. Just think, it’s been 12 years and the studio is still scared to give Green Lantern (2011) another try. This is the most maddening aspect of the film: it’s called The Flash, yet we still feel like we are waiting for an actual Flash film to arrive.
Ultimately, The Flash represents the overall catastrophic experience we have had with the DC extended universe of films. It had no point, nothing to say, was a hodgepodge of incoherent ideas, and was a massive waste of everyone’s time. Not only did we deserve a better result, but (most of) the creatives bringing us these films deserved more to work with.
Best way to watch it: Watch the scenes with Michael Keaton and Sasha Calle. Skip the rest.