The DCEU cannot be retooled to be better. That’s the somber realization that Barry “The Flash” Allen (Ezra Miller) realizes, but it’s also a sentiment that the audience recognizes on an external level. This first theatrical film for the speedster superhero arrives so late to the party and tries to keep it going with all the bravado comic book fans have come to expect from the character. Try as he might, The Flash cannot save this cinematic universe from its own messy assembly and glaring limitations.
Oh, how this film tries, though! It has a decent start by showcasing Barry as a member of the Justice League, handling a routine chemical weapon heist. Barry is treated more like the clean-up crew for saving those caught up in the collateral damage. The rest of the League has little time to socialize with the awkward Allen, afflicted with Peter Parker syndrome. He struggles to meet deadlines in his forensics job, can’t make friends, has a crush on a girl he might have a chance with, and has lost a parent from childhood. Regarding losing his mom, Barry believes his speed powers could be used to traverse time and undo her death.
Barry’s tampering with timelines leads to some changes. Well, not so many changes as they are casting swaps. The timeline he stumbles into has a younger Barry, still played by Ezra Miller but with a more obnoxious teen tone. Ben Affleck no longer plays Batman but an older Michael Keaton, present to be the ultimate Batman fanservice for those who grew up with the 1989 Tim Burton movie. Superman is tagged out for Supergirl, played by Sasha Calle, in a role that holds little distinction to how Henry Cavill portrayed Earth’s only Krypton. And then there’s the arrival of General Zod (Michael Shannon), holding the same ambitions and look as before.
The film is at its best when it focuses more on Barry and speedy antics rather than supporting elements to clutter his world. Scenes of the speedster traversing time and saving people with precise placements are the good stuff a Flash movie should be. The film falters in assuming it needs so much cinematic universe backup to be compelling. Keaton’s Batman has little personality or room to exude any more charm beyond placing his chin back in the old cowl. Supergirl’s personality is so bland and wastes a great opportunity to present a Kryptonian with more emotions than bitter sadness or violent rage. Not to mention the limited roster of the Justice League present draws so much attention to the fact that this connected universe is no longer connected.
The climax is a mess in terms of setting and its cheap ploys to draw applause from fans. There’s no reason why Zod’s plan to terraform Earth should take place in a deserted field instead of a Metropolis, considering how so much of this plot seems as though it would have to lead back here. The crumbling of timelines leads to a cameo fest that feels less like touching odes and more like a throw-everything-at-the-screen effort to find anything enticing. But considering that my audience clapped for one past superhero reference known to mainstream movie-goers and ended up confused for a slightly more obscure version of the same hero, it’s not as effective. Compare this to a film like Across the Spider-Verse, which never slows down for that awkward moment where the filmmakers expect you to cheer for the reference.
There are so many starts and stops to The Flash that it’s one of the most frustrating DCEU movies and makes a better case for the forthcoming James Gunn restructuring. Everything from the special effects to the altercations of the timeline is such a mixed bag that the great scenes arrive bittersweet for never carrying throughout the film. With such an uneven tone and an inability to make this Flash story stick, little more can be done to repair the Snyderverse. Combine this concerning aspect with the questionable CGI of dead actors and the criminal actions of Ezra Miller, and this film is too unstable to travel down its cinematic road which was already littered with plotholes. Much like Barry’s character arc, this franchise must let go of its continuity and start fresh.