And Run and Run and Run and STOP!
The Flash: Spoiler Discussion
As we discussed yesterday, The Flash (the 14th production in the soon to be renamed DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe.) is a bit of a mess. Okay, more than a bit. A lot of a mess. It's amusing, in its own way, and I did enjoy it in the moment, but it's also a film that left me feeling more than a little empty as I left the theater. It's light and inessential, lacking enough substance and cohesion to really make me care about the film. When you compare it to the other superhero films are are literally out right now, Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, it's absolutely the weakest of the three.
A lot of the blame, frankly, needs to be laid on the structure of the film. It goes beyond a scripting issue; the flaws really come from its conception. The film is loosely based on Flashpoint, the story where Barry goes back in time to save his mother, prevent her murder at the hands of the Reverse Flash, only to fuck up the entire timeline afterwards. What Barry arrives in is a darker timeline. A timeline where Bruce Wayne died instead of his parents, where Thomas Wayne became Batman. Where baby Kal-El's was taken by the U.S. government, not allowed to be raised by his adoptive parents, the Kents, and was a test subject for decades. Where the Amazons and the Atlanteans battle over the ruins of Earth's cities. Where the Justice League doesn't exist and so there are no heroes to protect the planet. This is a world so damaged that Barry can't help by feel guilty about all the carnage he's caused, but he's still hopeful he can find a way to put things right... and keep his mother alive. He has to make a choice: save her or save everyone else. That speaks directly to his character, and it becomes a key moment for him going forward.
The issue with the movie The Flash is that it doesn't hit any of those major beats the right way. Yes, he travels back in time to save his mother, but there's no Reverse Flash. We never find out who killed her or why, we just find that by changing one small detail in her day leading up to the murder, that crime never happens, she never dies, and his father is never blamed for the death. The timeline changes, forwards and back, though. Bruce Wayne is a different person, and older person. Many of the Justice League heroes don't show up, or are changed so they aren't superheroes. Kal-El never arrives, but his cousin Kara does instead. Things are very different, in ways that don't really make a lot of sense without hand-waving.
Now, as a credit to the film, its hand-waving. is at least creative. The idea that by changing time you cause ripples forward and back that alter everything, that's a fun idea. it doesn't make a lick of sense, especially in the context of somehow altering the DCEU timeline to have some version of the Tim Burton / Michael Keaton Batman running around on the save world where the DCEU General Zod also exists. The film explains it as "the timeline is really just a tangle of cooked spaghetti", and while that holds true for how the film feels, that doesn't stop if from also being way too messy to work.
There are parts of the film I like, mind you. The film is unironically dopey in many ways (right up to Batman flying a Batman shaped kite during a lightning storm to give Barry Allen his speed force powers again, and I laughed hard at that). It's a charmingly stupid film, but it is a stupid film on so many levels. I enjoyed it for what it was, but that doesn't make it good. That's why people are rating it poorly, why critics aren't thrilled. From the perspective of "what makes a good film", even within the superhero genre, this film lacks. It's a messy product that feels like it was workshopped and corporate noted until whatever the film was supposed to be was mangled into this new, "the audiences will love it" shape.
That's really the only way I can explain the absolute cavalcade of cameos that make up this film. Like Space Jam: A New Legacy and Ready Player One, and so many other works Warner Bros. have released in the last few years, this film mostly exists for the WB to remind everyone, "hey, we have all these franchises and films in our library, and we're going to trot them all out all over again." It's a corporate film, and while I have no doubt that writer Christina Hodson and director Andy Muschietti tried to put as much love into this work as they could (both have been tapped by James Gunn to work on the DCU cinematic universe going forward), but that doesn't stop this film from feeling like a corporate product all the same.
So let's discuss the cameos to go over what works, what doesn't, and where this film went wrong.
Act 1: The DCEU
The first part of this film is based in the old DCEU as we knew it. Ben Affleck is Batman, Jeremy Irons is his Alfred, and we even get yet another appearance of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. These cameos feel the most organic to the script because they all come from the universe we know for this franchise. They don't have to be shoehorned in and why the characters are around requires absolutely no explanation. Yes, there's a bit of cringe comedy involving Wonder Woman, her lasso of truth, Batman, and the Flash, and it's nowhere near as funny as the creators probably thought it would be, but at least this part works.
In fact, we get some really good material between Miller's Flash and Affleck's Batman. It's not just the rookie and mentor role we saw in the Snyder/Wheddon Justice League; it's almost a real friendship. I wish we could have had more of these kinds of friendships in the previous films; I want more of Affleck Batman and Miller Flash just being pals and talking about life. These are easily the best scenes in the movies because they just feel natural. Unfortunately Barry then has to travel back in time and fuck everything up, and we won't ever seen the Affleck Batman again.
That then leads us to...
Act 2: Flashpoint
Once Barry travels back in time, everything changes. First, he gets knocked out of the timeline by a Savatar-like being (who turns out to be a future alternate version of Barry, although we're get to that). Then he meets the younger version of himself on the day he was to get his powers. There are some interesting dynamics mined from the older Barry who lost his mother and the younger, more entitled Barry who's had everything he ever wanted. I like the older Barry falling into the mentor role for his younger self, and I think the film could have explored just this dynamic to its fullest while the two battled a threat that was actually meant for the Flash. You know, like a Reverse Flash, or a Zoom, or a Savatar or... something. But not what we actually got.
Look, I enjoyed having Michael Keaton's Batman back even if his inclusion in the movie doesn't make a damn lick of sense. The original Flashpoint used an older Thomas Wayne as the Batman because that made sense in the context of a changed timeline. Changing the timeline directly leads to the death of a friend that Barry holds dear. That's much more of an emotional crux than, "I changed the timeline and now my friend is an older, different person who still acts like my friend deep down." That lacks the gut punch Barry needs to realize he fucked up. Even the film struggles with it.
And why this Batman? As others Online have pointed out, we're easily five on screen Batmen removed from Michael Keaton's Batman. Val Kilmer, George Clooney (who cameos, but we'll get to that), Christian Bale, Ban Affleck, and Robert Pattinson have all donned the cape and cowl since. Obviously the Keaton Batman is the one older people will recognize, he's their Batman, but for everyone else that was born after 1990 (which is many adults as well as all the kids), Keaton's Batman is just a dude. Bale or Pattinson would have made more sense in context, but even then, it's a silly change to make that lacks that emotional weight we needed. In the context of the film we really should have had Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Thoma Wayne as Batman, but that would have required people to remember that Batman v Superman existed and, well, no one wanted that either.
This section of the film is fine, if silly, and for a film tackling a frankly dark storyline (which the film has to pivot to awkwardly in the third act), this lightweight second act doesn't make much sense, tonally.
Act 3: Supergirl and Zod
One thing the film does right is it relates Barry's story to the whole of the DCEU in Batman v Superman we saw that Bruce Wayne was there, in Metropolis, for Zod's invasion. This film then shows that Barry, having just recently gained his powers, tried to help out in Metropolis as well. This is good character development, and it hold some strong emotional weight. It makes sense in the context of the film, and the greater mythology, and I appreciated the thought that went into it.
The film's big issue is that it keeps hitting that well afterwards. Zod comes to Earth for Kal-El, to get his genetic code so that the General can rebuild Krypton on Earth. His attack on Metropolis, whether motivated by a need to strike at Kal-El or not, does impact the hero because, well, Metropolis will eventually be his home. But without Superman in this film, attacking Metropolis doesn't make as much sense. It's a weird detail, a point of parallel continuity, that the film never explains.
The movie also introduces Sasha Calle's Supergirl as our stand in for the captured Superman. Kara's pod goes down on Earth and lands in Siberia (marrying Flashpoint with elements of Red Daughter of Krypton). She is then the subject of experiments until Keaton Batman and the Flashes come to save her. And Supergirl is great. She's played well by Callie (for what little screen time she's given) and I would watch a whole movie with her in the lead.
But the film goes through a lot of contrivance for her character. To start, now instead of Kal-El having the genetic code for all of Krypton, a key plot point motivated by his daddy, Jor-El, and the need to save his son, Kara holds the code. This doesn't make any sense at all, but the film needs it so it can have her in the role instead of Superman. It's weird and dumb and it means that Zod basically gets to go through the exact same motions he went through in Man of Steel, with absolutely no character development required.
That's actually a big issue with this whole section of the film (acts two and three). Zod is built up as the villain, but his part of the movie is weightless. We spend a lot of time in the film not dealing with Zod. We have to go find old Batman. We have to go find Supergirl. We have to get Barry his powers again. Zod is there, showing up on screens and demanding "the Kryptonian", but he never really feels like a threat. He's the closest we get to a real villain, though, and the film doesn't really know what to do with that.
And then the film absolved Barry of all of his guilt without him learning anything whatsoever. As the heroes -- Batman, both Flashes, and Supergirl -- go to fight Zod, they run up to a point where Batman and Supergirl both die. So, despite the whole point of this movie being "don't time travel", but Flashes then time travel to save their friends. And that fails, and they do it again. And again. And each time is met with failure. This prompts young Barry to keep going, on and on, while our Barry watches on. He realizes that Batman and Supergirl will always die, that this is a fixed point, and there's nothing he can do. He can't save them, this world is dead, and it's all just time's own fault.
Act 4: Cameo-palooza
Oh, and then its revealed that the evil speedster we saw early on is the younger Barry who has been trying, for decades, to save Supergirl and Batman. He's been looping over and over again, and he can't ever save them. Which... again, doesn't make sense. If he's been making that many changes then all of time should be different and nothing we watched should have happened, at least not the way we understand it. This is, of course, all used as a way to justify the big explosion of cameos we get. Barry realizes that as more and more changes are made by Savatar / Old Man Barry, all the universes of the Multiverse are being forced together. This includes the Georges Revees world of Adventures of Superman '51, the Christopher Reeves / Helen Slater Superman '78 / Supergirl '84, and, weirdly, the never produced Nicholas Cage Superman.
Some will grouse that bringing back the Reeves and Reeves Supermen, since they've both dead, is creepy and weird. And it is, at least a little. But it's also just awkward because adding all these cameos into a film already overstuffed with them pulls the audience out of the film. It no longer feels like a film about Barry Allen but, instead, a giant jumble of "look who's next" moments without context. They exist to exist, to remind audiences of their existence. It doesn't really work. As someone in the know, I was amused at the appearance of Nick Cage's Superman, but would most normies in the audiences understand or care? Not at all.
So Barry decides, "well, if this universe is fucked anyway I may as well go back and not save my mom." Bear in mind that Zod isn't defeated at this point so the villain we were building up towards is basically forgotten. Supergirl doesn't get to survive despite this being her debut. Savatar (I will keep calling him that as it's the best name I have for him) is barely developed and then killed just as quickly. Yes, Barry has to have an emotional moment with his mother before condemning her to die, but he could have had that same moment with her without having to go through this whole adventure. It's all just so pointless.
This is the part I'm having the biggest issue about. If "arry had traveled forward in time, realized that he'd made an error, and then went back immediately and fixed it, that would have just as much emotional resonance as the film we got. It all amounts to the same thing because nothing we saw in the middle acts actually matters at all. Keaton Batman doesn't get to live, Callie's Supergirl doesn't get to travel back with "arry (despite presumably being able to run almost as fast as he can). Zod doesn't die. Nothing that happens here matters at all. It's a closed off pocket that is wiped away just as easily as it was formed. It doesn't matter. And because it doesn't really matter, we don't invest in it.
If the Flashpoint story could have amounted to anything, using it as a way to really explore Flash as a character, that would have meant something. If any changes he made could have carried forward purposefully, that would have meant something. Instead he goes back, undoes his change, accidentally saves his dad on appeal somehow, and then, for some reason, turns Bruce Wayne into George Clooney. It once again doesn't make a lick of sense and, well, it annoys me.
So I can't really recommend The Flash. It treats its runtime like a victory lap for the DCEU as well as all things DC Comics, but it's not earned. And as for "arry himself, he learns little and does even less that really matters. And when you consider that this is all going to get wiped even further away when James Gunn reboots the universe for real... what the hell was the point?
Again, it's a funny movie but a dumb, bad, weightless one. I enjoyed it for what it was, but what it is is cinematic trash. If you want a real superhero movie, there are better ones out there, right now, to choose instead. Sorry, Flash.