“THE FLASH”
Starring Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdu, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Michael Keaton, Jeremy Irons
Written by Christina Hodson
Story by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein and Joby Harold
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Produced by Barbara Muschietti and Michael Disco
Cinematography by Henry Braham
Edited by Jason Ballantine and Paul Machliss
Music by Benjamin Wallfisch

By Matt Neufeld
June 14, 2023

“The Flash,” the new, thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining and recommended movie from Warner Bros. and DC Comics, arrives in theaters on Friday, June 16, 2023, at a most interesting time–the CW television series of the same name, based on the same main character, just ended it’s successful, popular run on May 24, 2023, after nine well-received years. Additionally, “The Flash” arrives in theaters hot on the heels of two other above-average, equally-enjoyable comic book superhero movies that are also highly-recommended, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3” and “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” resulting in a rare triple shot of superior films in this genre playing in quite grateful movie theaters at the same general time.

That’s great news for everyone, of course, but it’s also cause for another round of celebrating as “The Flash” hits theaters with that welcome big bang of pure summer blockbuster movie pizzazz and razzle-dazzle. This movie not only succeeds on a big level in a big way, but the film succeeds in spite of itself, as the movie somehow overcomes and over-rides and stampedes right over the usual limitations and drawbacks of the long-over-used time travel and multi-universe tropes and cliches. With strong, sharp, heartfelt and even moving and emotional direction, acting, writing and production, “The Flash” doesn’t succumb, falter or fail because of these cliches–and that, too, is also another cause for celebration.

Too many movies in recent years and throughout the decades have just fallen apart due to long-time, time-worn time travel and multi-universe cliches–and these gimmicks were tired cliches decades ago already, long before the movie studios rediscovered superheroes as easy cash-cow franchises in crazily-big-budgeted blockbusters. However, it’s the rare movie that, as noted, gets its literal acts together and gets over these cliches and actually makes time travel and multiple universes actually work, makes time travel and multiple universes appear with some semblance of actual sense and actually has time travel and multiple universes appear as an overall understandable and entertaining story and film element. Again, fortunately, “The Flash” is one of those movies.

The movie follows a young adult, Barry Allen, who has the unique superhero ability of being able to move at bizarrely, insanely fast speeds—so fast, he sometimes risks altering the time and space continuum, or the laws of physics or even the laws of comic book superhero universes–and he also risks altering and upending and possibly ruining his various intertwined and overlapping problems in his young, complicated and grief stricken life. Barry’s mom was murdered; his father was falsely accused of her death; Barry tangles, bickers and interacts with various other superhero types, as he can’t quite figure them out and they can’t quite figure him out; there’s some subtle suggestions of young superhero relationships, attractions and possible flirtations; and Barry actually tests, tempts and teases those tender time and space rules of nature through some risky, perilous and somewhat boneheaded, dunderheaded attempts at time travel.

The clever scriptwriter Christina Hodson, working from an equally-clever overall story idea from John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein and Joby Harold, is smart enough to keep viewers’ interest in Barry and his travels and travails despite, well, Barry’s quirky, somewhat misguided and, well, not-so-smart behavior and actions. Barry is repeatedly warned against tempting literal fate by traveling back in time, but he goes ahead and does it anyway. Yes, yes, yes–this is a cliche that we’ve all seen too many times. People in film, television, theater and books and short stories are constantly being warned about the dangers inherent with going back in time, but they go ahead do it anyway. It’s quite possible that if characters just suddenly stopped doing this, there’d be an abrupt emergency dearth of new films, television shows, plays, books and short stories. Barry is also warned about reining in his super fast superhero powers, but he misuses those powers anyway. Same thing–we’ve seen this storyline too many times, too. It’s quite possible that superhero brings have some type of mental intelligence flaw lurking in their overpowered brains that prevents them from using these weird powers in a consistently intelligent manner. It’s not that Barry is dumb or blindly rebellious, it’s that he’s operating on an overly-emotional level on an overly-emotional mission. That’s a mission that won’t be revealed here, but be assured that Barry’s motivations for what he does are rooted in heartfelt, caring and good intentions and purposes.

As Barry embarks on his mission, he encounters all sorts and types of people here and there and seemingly everywhere, including some nasty villain types, of course, and he ultimately must deal with, and figure out how to fix, the Pandora’s box of time, space, universe and physics problems that he’s caused. The specifics of all of this can’t, won’t and shouldn’t be revealed here, but the story’s many multiplying layers are hilariously–and suspensefully and dramatically–presented in an overall consistently entertaining and, at times, mind-blowing, trippy manner.

The special effects are equally mind-blowing and trippy, and kudos need to be sent out to the usual armies of special effects artists who created the high-level, impressive effects.

The lead and supporting cast members all perform well, and there’s a large, diverse cast playing a large, diverse array of humans, superheroes and creatures. Ezra Miller is doubly effective as two versions of Barry–that’s not a spoiler–and he excels at making Barry/Barry strangely likeable despite Barry’s various quirks and his overall edgy, nervous, neurotic personality, or personalities. Miller recalls Jesse Eisenberg crossed with Joaquin Phoenix and a touch of Michael Cena, with a dash of the younger, edgier Gary Oldman. Sasha Calle, who plays a striking, sexy young Supergirl, nearly steals the movie with her sultry, captivating beauty alone. And Michael Shannon is exceptional as an absolutely terrifying, scary and alarmingly powerful General Zod. Yes, General Zod–and that’s not a spoiler.

And, yes, there is Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and that’s not a spoiler, either, since Keaton is all over television in the movie’s trailers and it was long ago reported in the mainstream media that Keaton was signed to play Wayne/Batman in this movie. Keaton is superb–and in a most impressive, somewhat sneaky underhanded way, Keaton nearly steals the movie, too. For the record, Michael Keaton played Batman in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” from 1989, and in Burton’s “Batman Returns,” from 1992.

A warning, and this is not a spoiler, either: There is an incredible, wholly mind-blowing extended scene in “The Flash” that had the entire audience at a recent advance sneak preview react so positively and euphorically that everyone thought their respective heads would explode–and all other moviegoers will indeed subsequently have the same exuberant reaction. This scene arrives as a sequence so powerful, so overwhelmingly pleasing and gratifying, that major congrats need to go out to the writers and director Andy Muschietti for presenting this third-act climax in such a powerful and powerfully moving moment.

For the record, this version of “The Flash” marks the eighth time that the character has appeared in a feature film, going back to 1990. And there were two television series featuring the Flash character–the aforementioned CW series that just ended after nine years, and a one-season series that aired from September, 1990, to May, 1991. So it’s impressive and gratifying to see this 2023 film version succeed so strongly, even after so many previous iterations.

However, please, if you do take away one prominent, teachable lesson from this movie version of “The Flash,” it’s this gentle, kind reminder: If you do get the chance to travel back in time, please don’t. The time-space continuum will thank you.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.