Okay. So… The Flash.


Just… wow.

All right, let’s be honest: Yes, the film has its faults. And I’ll get to those in just a bit. But for the moment…

When you’ve a guy who spent most of his first sixty revolutions around Ol’ Sol subsisting on a fairly steady diet of superhero comic books and TV shows and movies and related novelizations and tie-ins… when your earliest childhood memories are of sitting on your daddy’s knee at the age of 3 watching episodes of the original ABC network run of Adam West’s Batman… When you’re one of those who all but gave up reading new comic books after around, say, 1995, because they were all just too darned dark and not so much fun anymore, but spend more time and money than your wife thinks wise tracking down old copies of Pureheart the Powerful and Super Goof… When you’ve spent the better part of the past quarter century defending George Clooney’s portrayal Batman (even against Clooney himself) while wondering just what it is about the classic DC superheroes that people like Zack Snyder just don’t get… 

When you’re one of THOSE guys - like me, f’r instance - and you reach an age when you begin to worry that maybe you really are the dim-witted nerd some of your high school classmates always accused you of being and wonder why you still care, and then something comes along that reminds you why all this stuff still matters to you - well, when those moments you just can’t help but smile and fight off the urge to get up and do a happy dance right there in the middle of everybody.

There is such a moment near the end of The Flash. A moment that made me smile so hard I could feel my dentures slipping. A moment that resurrected that childhood joy to such a degree that, walking across the parking lot to the car after the movie, I found myself lifting my arms toward the sky in elated jubilation like Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption and forcing myself not to scream ecstatic spoilers about what I’d just seen into the night sky, celebrating like a certain horny 15-year-old classmate I knew back in high school after his girlfriend finally let him touch her boobs for the first time…

…A moment I wish I could tell you more about but won’t, because I don’t want to be the one who spoils that moment for any other guy like me. This is spite of the fact that there are probably some of those other guys like me who will not go see the movie and experience it for themselves, because they’re allowed all the clickbait naysayers and saboteurs color their expectations buy decreeing a bomb well before it was even released - thus creating a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy when the audiences do end up staying away, thereby giving the naysayers and saboteurs the freedom to thump their chest in self-exultation and proclaim, “See, TOLD you so.” 

We’re already seeing the same thing happening with the new Indiana Jones movie, and I don’t mind admitting that it kinda cheeses me off.

But I digress…

The point is, there is that moment late in The Flash that makes everything that came before - the good and the bad - worth having sat through in order to get to it. A moment that, in a metaphorical sense, wraps its arms around your inner child and holds it close and says THIS is why you love this stuff.” Because it is, it truly is. And anyone who grew up with that kind of loves deserves to experience this same moment of rekindling that I did, just to remember what it was like once upon a time.

You owe it to yourself. Screw the naysayers and saboteurs. They may know dollars and cents, but they don’t know pure joy. You do, if you're like me. Go remember what it’s like to experience it, faults and all.

As I said earlier: yes, the film has its faults. And yes, sadly, the title character is one of them.

Even putting the matter of his much-publicized personal baggage aside (understandably difficult for some, I know - for me, too), the simple truth is that Ezra Miller can not hold a candle to either John Wesley Shipp or Grant Gustin when it comes to portraying Barry Allen. (For one thing, neither Shipp or Gustin had to assume some weird ballet-yoga pose before launching themselves into super-speed - what the heck is up with THAT?)

Miller does come off slightly better here than he did in most of his previous outings as Allen (I’ll note the one exception in a moment), perhaps because he is playing two versions of the character. But those two versions really aren’t all that different from one another, and even after everything he goes through during the course of this movie this Barry Allen doesn’t seem any more likable at the end than he did in whichever of the SnyderVerse movies it was that he first appeared in. The versions portrayed by Shipp and Gustin were both characters I could see myself being friends with in real life; Miller’s Allen reminds me of that pesky tag-along little brother who wants to hang out with the older kids, but all the older kids wish would go away because he tends to be annoying and more often than not just gets in everybody’s way. (As the oldest of three siblings growing up, I do have a little experience with that line of thinking…)

Maybe it’s just Miller’s acting style in general that turns me off; I’m trying to think of something else I’ve liked him in, but the only thing that comes to mind (and that “one exception” I mentioned in the last paragraph) is Miller’s brief “Flash Meets Flash” cameo alongside Gustin in the TV adaptation of Crisis On Infinite Earths a few years back. (It’s a pity they couldn’t have worked in a reference to that moment in this movie, now that I think of it…)

And yes, at the end of the day this IS still a “SnyderVerse” movie - although I will admit (somewhat begrudgingly) that director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Christina Hodson do manage to soften, ever so slightly, my overall dislike for Snyder’s interpretation of the DC superhero mythos, which I’m told has become somewhat legendary among some who can be crouching among the shadows in certain corners of Facebook. (Up to this point the only bright lights in the SnyderVerse for me have been the first Wonder Woman movie and the two Captain Marvel…. er, “Shazam!” films, the second of which I apparently liked better than even most of the “Restore the SnyderVerse” crowd, which I find a little amusing.)

The Flash certainly doesn’t rehabilitate the SnyderVerse as a whole to the point that I want to go back and watch the movies in that series which I detest a second time. The good news is, even though there are a few references to those earlier films, a person can come into this one without feeling like they’ve missed something by not having seen the earlier entries. That’s a definite point in Muschietti and Hodson’s favor, in my book.

Of course they go and ruin it at the very end with their Marvelesque post-credits scene involving Barry and (nope, no spoiler here, go see for yourself), which really served no useful purpose other than being a lame attempt at being funny…

Which brings me to the other major “negative” for me in The Flash - its humor, which seems a little too forced at times, and all too often results in scenes that run much longer than they should. 

A good superhero movie needs humor, and the best of them - the first Reeve/Superman and Keaton/Batman films, The Rocketeer and a handful of the Marvel films come immediately to mind - are able to strike the right balance. But there comes a point where a scene meant to be humorous stops being funny and becomes a textbook example of simply milking something well past the point of proper milking.

In humor, timing is everything - and there are moments in this movie where Muschietti and his editors could have benefited from reviewing some of the better films of Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello or The Marx Brothers. (Or, as Mr. Spock once so memorably deadpanned: “Ah. The classics.”)

And, to be perfectly honest, one of those “humorous scenes” wasn’t all that humorous to begin with - and could very well result in some kind of response from child advocacy groups and PETA activists, in spite of the fact that it was all obviously CGI and that no actual infants or therapy dogs were harmed in any way during the making of this motion picture. (I don’t mind telling you, my wife did NOT like that sequence - or its mostly dog-centric reprise during the end credits - at all.) 

On the positive side:

• The movie made me smile. A lot. Starting with the opening credits, which featured (appropriate, given the time travel nature of the story) a historical montage of the various logos for both Warner Brothers and DC Comics used throughout the years. It was really cool seeing the classic pre-1970s “DC bullet” logo on the screen, and I’ll admit I felt a rush at the inclusion of the mid-‘70s Warner logo (the black square with the slightly rounded corners and a single “W” in the center) which so memorably graced not only the original Chris Reeve Superman film on its original theatrical release, but also such films of the era as Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze - not to mention a fair number of the paperback science fiction, western and adventure novels published under the Warner Paperback Library imprint that I bought during my teen years.

• This movie finally - FINALLY! - gives us an inkling of the kind of Batman that Ben Affleck COULD have been had he been working with someone other than Zack Snyder. If thus does prove to be Affleck’s last outing as the Caped Crusader, he has acquitted himself pretty well; he’s probably the best thing about the whole first half hour of the movie, and for the first time I found myself wishing that he might get one more solo movie of his own just to giving us a better taste of what should have been.

• It was also nice to see Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman show up again - albeit ever-so-briefly, like her similar cameo in the second Shazam! movie. Overall I enjoyed Godot’s portrayal of Princess Diana far better than I originally expected I might when she was cast in the role, and her first WW solo film has actually come to be one of my favorite superhero movies in general; I’ve said more than if the studio were to go back and re-edit that first solo film - removing the prologue and epilogue sequences that cement it so firmly within the SnyderVerse - it could have been the single best film of the series. 

(I’ll admit that to feeling a certain disappointment over news reports that a scene featuring Lynda Carter’s version of Wonder Woman - along with two of Adam West’s special guest villains from the 1960s - ended up not making the final cut. But, hey, that’s why God created “Special Features” sections on the DVDs and Blu-ray discs…)

• By the same token, I’ll admit that I am adding my voice to those hoping to see Sasha Calle’s Supergirl show up again at some point. Granted, it would take some doing, given that (no spoilers! no spoilers!), but there’s bound to be some way a good writer can work around that little obstacle and give this iteration of Kara Zor-el another moment in the spotlight. She’s certainly proven she deserves it, in my opinion.

And then there is Michael Keaton…

I remember the outcry that erupted back when it was first announced that Tim Burton had cast his Beetlejuice star in the lead role for 1989's Batman. People were aghast; “Mr. Mom as Batman? Is he crazy?”

Fans of the more serious Bat-comics of the day were afraid that casting an actor best known at the time for his comedic roles would move Burton’s production backwards into Adam West territory - something they were just dead set against. Fans of Adam West - and West himself, according to some interviews he gave at the time - were upset that Burton didn’t simply cast West in the role, allowing him to portray an older and wiser Batman more along the lines of the older Bruce Wayne who turned up years later in the animated series Batman Beyond. (West reportedly wrote up a treatment for such a movie at some point, but nothing ever came of it.) 

I am on record as having been one of the few Bat-fans who stood up to the anti-Keaton crowd at the time and say “Wait a minute - let’s give this guy a chance. He’s proven he can play serious roles, too - look at Clean and Sober, why don’t you? - and it’s precisely that blending of dramatic and comedic talent that make just help make the idea of a guy who goes around fighting crime dresses like a bat a little more believable for some people.”

History bore me out, so much so that today - more than 30 years after Keaton first uttered the words “I’m Batman!” - there are a couple of generations of fans out there who feel strongly that he is the best of the serious live-action interpreters of the role. (West will always be my favorite Batman, simply because he was my first Batman, but after him it’s Keaton who stands atop the list.)

Acknowledging Keaton’s appearance in The Flash stopped being a spoiler some time back - Warner’s pretty much built their advertising campaign around him in the final months before the film’s release, for Pete’s sake - but when his Bruce Wayne finally makes his first appearance on screen it happens in a way that I, for one, wasn’t expecting. That proves to be for the best, really, because it lends an additional bit of gravitas and even poignancy to his version of the character in general and this story in particular.

When Keaton arrives, it becomes a whole different movie - one that is less about a young hero trying to fix his latest screw-up, and more about an aging warrior who has mot come out of retirement long enough to stand up one more time for what is good. And as such it becomes the perfect coda to that specific iteration of the character, much as Shipp’s final appearance as the Flash in the aforementioned Crisis On Infinite Earths adaptation provides his character with an appropriate “final chapter.”

My son Josh and I are having a bit of a friendly disagreement when it comes to Keaton’s return as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Where I see The Flash as being the long-awaited third chapter in a trilogy that began in 1989, Josh sees Keaton’s role here as an alternate version of his character in Batman and Batman Returns, and bases this belief on the way Keaton’s Wayne defines the concept of a multiverse in a crucial scene. There is certainly an argument to be made for that point of view, given certain other aspects of the film’s story, and I’ll concede that the "spaghetti" scene (hope that’s not too much of a spoiler) is one of Keaton’s best moments in The Flash

But until someone can prove me utterly wrong, I’m afraid my son and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this one… for my money, this film not only marks the return of Keaton’s Batman from the two earlier films, but confirms once and for all my long-held theory that the Schumacher Batman films featuring Clooney and Val Kilmer are in fact set in an alternate reality (possibly two) than that of the two Burton-Keaton films. Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, and don’t let anyone tell you any different: the Multiverse lives!

In any event, Keaton’s arrival takes a movie that was starting to look like just one more hit-and-miss SnyderVerse entry and turn it in a glorious, bona fide superhero epic. And it all leads to that wondrously emotional moment I wrote about at the beginning of this already overly-long review, which still takes my breath away and gets my head to spinning all over again as I sit here thinking back at it. The sheer scope of that particular sequence, coupled with the fact that Ezra Miller DID turn up in that TV Crisis episode - which is itself part of a larger mythical tapestry, the likes of which I could scarcely have dreamed of as a kid reading my comic books under the blanket with a flashlight at night - has served to reignite a personal love for that kind of storytelling that had fallen dormant for too many years, and had only started to reawaken thanks to my discovery of and love for TV’s Arrowverse. 

Oh, Zack Snyder, why couldn’t your stuff have been more like Greg Berlanti’s…?

(The only thing missing from the whole multiversal extravaganza of it all was a way to work in one or more of the Marvel characters - and yet I can’t help feeling that, someday, that might still happen. There’s a great film adaptation of that wonderful 1976 Superman Vs. Spider-Man comic book waiting to be made some day, now that the web-slinger has been given his own cinematic multiverse to play in...)

And then the big payoff, at the very end - one last cameo, one which had been rumored but which I barely dared hope might actually happen, and which at long last provided me as a lifelong fan with not only a strong bit of evidence in support of a certain argument I’ve been making about the Batman movies for years, but also the chance - for the first time since seeing my support for the original casting of Michael Keaton justified all those years ago - to understand how good it feels to the one for a change thumping my chest and proclaiming, “See, TOLD you so.” 

Feels good.

Feels darn good.

(Copyright © 2023 by John A. Small)