Time travel. Multiverses. Numerous actors in the same superhero costume. Altered reality. Messing up the space-time continuum. These have become the themes for recent superhero movie franchises, including in the 2021 film Spider-Man: No Way Home which set the bar high for these concepts. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has often explored the intersection of various parallel realities and multiverses for some time now. So has DC, and with The Flash, the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) once again enmeshes members of the Justice League and recalls the actors who embodied them over the years.
Barry Allen, also known as Flash, is affable and nerdy. Ezra Miller’s performance reminded me a little of Sam (played by Keir Gilchrist) from the Netflix show Atypical. A forensic scientist working in a research centre, he eats the same breakfast daily and is always late for work. For the rest of the film Barry is absent from his work, so one wonders how he holds down a day job at all, because his main calling, his responsibility, is to help save lives.
Flash considers Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) one of his best friends. They share a common pain of losing parents young. Batman cautions Flash when he says, “these scars we have make us who we are. We’re not meant to fix them.” Barry is a core member of the Justice League and shows up when summoned by Alfred (Jeremy Irons), on behalf of Batman. Barry calls himself ‘the janitor of the Justice League’ who is called on to clean up ‘a bat mess’.
The opening sequence of director Andy Muschietti’s action adventure establishes Flash’s powers with humour, imagination and some iffy computer graphics. In various scenes, Muschietti plays with speeding up and stopping time to illustrate how fast Flash really is.
Minutes after saving a ‘baby shower’ (watch the film to get the pun), we also learn of Barry’s childhood trauma. He’s carrying the pain of his mother’s death and his father’s subsequent incarceration. When he discovers that he can outrun time, and therefore run back into the past, Barry decides to change the course of events, not considering or foreseeing potentially catastrophic effects of his seemingly small alteration. Barry is also unprepared to encounter a distinct version of himself.
While attempting to get back to the present, Barry is thrown out into a different year, where he’s reunited with an older, analog Batman (Michael Keaton) and an evil force ready to destroy the world. Michael Shannon returns as Zod and Sasha Calle squeezes into a Supergirl suit. Self-referencing is intrinsic to Christina Hodson’s script, which is occasionally thoughtful and sympathetic, sometimes over the top and intermittently amusing.
For a film about a very fast man, the narrative is slow at times. The tacky CGI and video game artistry make the experience less immersive too. A number of cameos and Ezra Miller’s performance as both the superhero in the fiery red and gold suit, and his other goofier self, along with Keaton’s return to the bat suit, give The Flash a jolt.
In the end, the message of the movie is summed up by Bruce Wayne when he tells Barry that life experiences, including tragedy, define us. “That pain made me who I am. I’m not sure who I am without it actually,” he says. And though the message is to live in the present, and not the past, The Flash celebrates past costumed heroes from the DCEU, with a post credits scene that plays to the fandom. For instance, in an altered reality, who might have played Marty McFly or Superman?
Udita Jhunjhunwala is a film critic and freelancer.