The Flash has become another victim of James Gunn’s takeover of the DCU, but he’s not the only one to blame for the abysmal excuse of the two and half hour tragedy that was released into the theaters.
It would be a mistake not to blame David Zaslav and James Gunn for the colossal failure The Flash has turned out to be. One of the first things Zaslav did upon ascending the Warner Brothers throne was to scrap an already completed Batgirl movie because it wasn’t the quality he expected from the studio. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone. After a series of bad choices, Zaslav hired James Gunn, still promoting his latest Guardians of the Galaxy movie, to head the DC movie universe. The first thing Gunn did was to scrap everything that occurred in DC movies before his reign. Which meant the movies still being released under the last administration wouldn’t connect to anything Gunn has planned for his DC movie universe reboot.
In the comic book universes Marvel and DC, to a much lesser extent, have created connections are everything. How one movie connects to another movie that connects to another movie that connects to the overarching story is paramount to the fanbase. They’re almost fanatical about it. When the connections are severed there is zero incentive for the fanbase to waste time and money for a storyline they know is going nowhere. Case in point, Black Adam. The movie that was going to shake up the hierarchy of the DC Universe didn’t even rattle the box office. More people were interested in the Dwayne Johnson vs Zachary Levi beef than were interested in seeing Shazam: Fury of the Gods and, finally, the latest victim of Gunn pulling the carpet out from everything is The Flash. However, it would also be a mistake to blame Zaslav and Gunn for the failure of The Flash.
THE SET UP
The American justice system is not infallible. It often makes mistakes at the cost of innocent people spending years or even decades in prison. Getting a case reversed on an appeal or through any other legal means is practically a Sisyphusian effort. Henry Allen’s (Ron Livingston, Office Space) murder conviction of his wife rested solely on the idea that a video of him shopping at a grocery store for canned tomatoes could not be proven to be him. We’ll never know why during the original trial defense lawyers didn’t question employees or customers who could have all placed Allen in the store at the time of the murder. It’s logic taken right out of a bad Law and Order episode, but the conviction and subsequent appeal is what prompts Barry to run back in time to “set things right.”
By “setting things right” Barry, the Flash, runs back in time to save his mother from being murdered. The idea that time is a racetrack you can run forward or backward on is not as ridiculous sounding compared to the set up for the rest of the movie. Present Barry, or course, runs into Past Barry which causes damage to the timeline. Upsetting time is not an original idea as it’s been seen in countless time travel movies that have come before it. Like those movies, explanations are few and far between. Why would Barry saving his mother cause Aquaman never to be born or Victor Stone never becoming Cyborg or Bruce Wayne becoming a Howard Hughes like recluse. It’s one of those time travel things the audience is meant to accept at face value. It’s also a very weak setup for a lot of nostalgia and un-funny moments like Thomas Curry being married to the complete opposite of an Atlantean queen. Ha ha ha.
A Story of Two Flashes
The Flash is the story of two Flashes. Neither Flash is considerably better than the other because the same actor is portraying both characters, of course. Present Barry Allen is treated like a second rate, special needs Peter Parker who doesn’t seem to know the basic concepts of human interactions. At least Peter Parker had friends. Instead of friends, Barry has two co-workers who pick on him. Apparently, the forensic sciences attract a lot of bullies and not adults conducting real science. The Past Barry Allen doesn’t fare well either. A lot of us were goofy as teenagers, but Ezra Miller cranks the goofiness up to eleven. Like much of The Flash it’s a schtick that gets old rather quickly.
The interactions the two Barrys have with each other border on sitcom level comedy. Either Andy Muschietti, the director, or one of the many screenwriters honestly thought it was funny or they had no idea what they were doing. Both options are on the table. By the time we get to any serious moments in the movie the previous gags are still hanging in the air. The serious moments, though few and far between, never land the way they were intended. Even as these moments are occurring, Past Barry is making a joke, a wisecrack, or acting like a clown in general. The damage is done and to fix it Muschietti doubles down on the silliness.
The one serious moment in the movie doesn’t land flat because of bad jokes, it fails because the movie hasn’t done anything to make the audience care. Past Barry seems to care a lot about Supergirl and Batman dying multiple times. Unfortunately, none of that transfers to the audience because we’re never really invested in Supergirl. The audience may be invested more in Batman but only because we know Michael Keaton Batman from the Tim Burton movies not from anything this movie has done. The bigger question is why Past Barry cares so much to run back in time multiple times to save their lives. Nothing that has happened before has given us any indication that he cares about them because he’s been too busy making jokes.
The Multiverse of Silliness
What should have been at least a two part movie, like the last two Avengers movies, is crammed into two and a half hours.The Flash tries to be something grander than what is on the screen. Questions of the multiverse, fate, doing the right thing, and “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” are asked and only briefly answered, if at all. It could have possibly worked but too much time is wasted on bad comedy and nostalgic set pieces.
It’s the multiverse Muschietti seems to dedicate all his energies to, it’s why the movie exists in the first place. Supergirl and Batman fighting Zod is just set dressing for the time Flash spends inside the speed force, multiverse thing. Die hard fans may rejoice at seeing past iterations of Superman, including Nicolas Cage who never played Superman in a movie, and Batman. More observant viewers will notice Batman from the 1940 serials while others will notice the absence of Brandon Routh’s Superman. It’s inside this time sphere where Barry learns his lesson and the past two and half hours of nonsense is wrapped up under a tidy bow.
You Can’t Reverse Bad Filmmaking
The bad acting and the bad special effects aside, The Flash is treated like a joke. From the opening scene of Wonder Woman saving Batman to the very end scene it’s all one big joke. A lot of what happens in movies can be forgiven if the rest of the movie does the heavy lifting. Gangs of New York is a far from perfect movie, but it has Daniel Day-Lewis to make us forget about the pacing issues and the other actors’ floating accents. There’s nothing in The Flash that can save it from itself, not even a cameo from George Clooney.