It’s taken – in a supreme act of Alanis-ing – so long for The Flash to get his own movie that the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe has changed on several occasions. Now that it has arrived, we should address the elephant in the room: yes, Barry Allen does enter the Speed Force.
There’s another elephant in the room, of course: the off-screen behaviour of the film’s star, Ezra Miller, which has often threatened to overshadow the movie. On the thorny issue of separating art from the artist, your mileage may vary, but purely on a performance level, Miller is excellent here. There was a tendency for the actor in Justice League, particularly the Joss Whedon version, to mug relentlessly as the film’s appointed comic relief. Here, Miller benefits from the decision to have not one, but two Barry Allens, which allows the role of jester to go to the younger, more carefree Barry, while the Alpha-Barry gets to learn and grow and glare contemptuously at his idiotic younger self. We spend much of the movie with this dynamic duo, and they’re a joy together, as Beta-Barry gets to grips with entering the Speed Force, phasing through walls, and running around in the nud.
There’s been a lot of focus on the return of Michael Keaton as Batman, but director Andy Muschietti — stepping away from horror after Mama and both chapters of It — makes sure that this is a Flash movie. The breathless first 20 minutes serve as a mini-sequel to Justice League, bringing Barry and Ben Affleck’s Batman together, before Barry — still hurting from the loss of his murdered mother — hurtles back through time.
Keaton fits right back into the Batsuit again, providing a pleasingly cranky contrast to both Barrys.
Naturally, as Batfleck warns, the cure is worse than the condition, stranding Barry in the past with the dawning realisation that fings ain’t wot they used to be. This includes the morphing of Affleck into Keaton, and much talk of Multiverses (aided by a helpful demonstration involving spaghetti, although they could have just bunged on Spider-Man: No Way Home instead). It’s been over 30 years since Batman Returns, and while there is a tendency to use Keaton to dispense a quick nostalgia hit (Danny Elfman’s Batman theme plays seemingly on a loop), he fits right back into the Batsuit again, providing a pleasingly cranky contrast to both Barrys. That can’t really be said, sadly, for the third superhero in the mix, who is introduced far too late to make much impact.
Interestingly, there isn’t really an antagonist. Although Michael Shannon’s General Zod does appear, Muschietti keeps him at arm’s length, recognising that he has all the conflict he could ever need in his guilt-ridden hero. It’s a blockbuster, of course, and by the end there’s CG carnage aplenty, but refreshingly the emphasis remains on Barry, a boy who has been running from the moment his mum was murdered, and who finally starts to realise that it might be time to stop.