I have to warn you now that this review is wrong. It’s not just aesthetically wrong but, by all accounts, it’s morally wrong. I can’t begin to express its wrongheadedness. But it is what it is: a review that disagrees with nearly every other review that’s out there. Let’s get on, then, with being wrong.

The easiest bit of this to explain is the moral problem. You see, I went to see The Flash based entirely on the trailers. I knew nothing about the production, the star, or even the superhero. Admittedly, whilst not a huge Marvel movie fan, I have a soft spot for the darker grittier DC universe. Yet I never watched The Flash TV show, and I certainly don’t ever recall watching Ezra Miller. My only verdict on him was that he seemed annoying in the trailer. I wanted to see the movie for Batman (more about him later) and Supergirl (a lot more about her later). The Flash himself was the least of my considerations and absolutely no thought went into the lead actor.

I saw the movie on Wednesday, release day, and emerged from the cinema grinning like a fool. The film had surprised me in so many ways, tickled me just right on my nostalgia bone, and done a whole manner of other clever things. I gave it a ridiculously high mark on my IMDB account which I’ll probably revise if I go to see it again (which I might). I opened my phone and tweeted as much. Somebody then asked me if revelations about the star did not cause me a few reservations about supporting the movie. I said I didn’t follow celebrity gossip. Another person then pointed out that they were “not entirely sure a well-documented history of grooming a minor and violent assault charges should be dismissed as ‘gossip’”.

Well, that put a downer on the day. It also taught me not to Tweet whilst outside, to choose my words more carefully, and to establish the moral purity of everybody in anything I ever watch.

Although, there I go again, being glib about something extremely serious.

My problem, though, is that I am a Byronist. I spent years writing a doctorate on a man whose life defines the whole “yes, but should you be lauding him” school of critical queasiness. I do have the capacity to consider a piece of art separate from the artist. Much as I understand the rationale behind hating a movie because Ezra Miller is in it (and having now read up a little about what he’s been up to, I do get it), I can hold a contradiction in my mind. I can loathe the man but enjoy a movie. 

I’m going to draw a line here, then, and say don’t watch this film if you think the studio did wrong casting Ezra Miller in this film. Retrospectively, I agree. He shouldn’t be in the movie. But he is and I can’t bring myself to invalidate the work of many hundreds of people that went into the film, including director Andy Muschietti and screenplay by Christina Hodson.

As a film, however, Ezra Miller is part of why the film works but also the least compelling reason. His performance as Barry Allen (a terrible name for a superhero who also sounds like a brand of Windolene) is okay. He’s quirky and geeky, but a bit too close to the Jim Parsons’ character, Sheldon Cooper, in The Big Bang Theory. And, indeed, it’s worth pointing out that he plays two roles in this film, the other being a younger version of himself who looks strikingly similar to Johnny Galecki’s character, Leonard, in The Big Bang Theory. If there’s a degree of familiarity and likability about the duo, it’s because they’re riffing on a culturally significant and likeable duo from The Big Bang Theory. And, what’s more, it works.

The story (I’d almost forgotten there was one) is centred around Barry whose main superpower is being able to run very very fast. His minor superpower is feeling sorry for himself, with some justification. His mother has been murdered and his father arrested for her murder. Sheldon Cooper… sorry Barry Scott [ed. that’s Ronseal]… sorry, Barry Allen then realises if he can run quickly enough he can reverse time, alter the past, and yadda yadda yadda… You get the picture. His best friend in the present is Bruce Wayne/Batman (played by Ben Affleck’s bulletproof chin) who warns him about messing with time, but he doesn’t listen. It’s one of those time travel movies where the present becomes different because somebody tinkered in the past.

In this case, that tinkering results in him returning to a present where his mother is now unmurdered but Batman is older, has significantly less chin, and is played by Michael Keaton. There is also no Justice League (saving a lot of money on salaries for Wonder Woman, Superman, Aquaman etc.) which is a problem since in this new reality General Zod (Michael Shannon) is reprising his role from Man of Steel to destroy the planet.

The Flash suddenly realises that he has to get the band back together (copyright Elwood Blues), which proves something of a problem since many of the heroes simply don’t exist. Cue a lot of chat about cultural differences, some powers disappearing malarky, and lots of interaction between Allen and his younger (and a lot more annoying) self. Just base a review on these things and, yes, the film is probably middling average.

But then we get to the added value. It starts with Batman who is (and again it’s worth repeating in a high-pitched excited voice) Michael Keaton! This is the old (and older) Batman of the Tim Burton movies. Here’s the proper Batmobile. He’s the amazing Batwing that once flipped so beautifully in front of a full moon. And here too – magnificently – is Danny Elfman’s theme which thunders through the auditorium, so you feel it resonate in your shins.

It’s notable how in the weeks leading up to the film’s release, the trailers were presenting the film as if it were a Batman movie. And that’s how to take it. Also take it as the introduction to a new face of the franchise, Sasha Calle, playing Kara Zor-El (aka Supergirl). She is an utter revelation. Past iterations of Supergirl took the blond-haired cheerleader route: the blue-eyed small-town girl who… gosh… just wants to do right. Calle’s Supergirl is quite the opposite. She is dark-haired, modern, a little bit punk, and with a hint of goth about the way her short hair constantly gets in her eyes. She is immediately iconic and, quite simply, the best addition to the Superman canon we’ve had in a very long time.

Some of the CGI could have been better – there are a lot of uncanny valleys – but that’s balanced by some wonderful set pieces, often put to a well-picked heart-racing soundtrack including The Cult, The Raconteurs, Supergrass, and OK Go.

It would be easy to spoil many of the surprises (it has one of the best uses of the 12A permitted f-bomb which is well worth seeing) but it’s enough to say just this. This film is treading very similar ground to three other recent timeline-altering movies that played around with superhero canon. Those are the two Spider-verse films (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) which earned a lot of acclaim as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home.

All three were decent movies but, personally, left me unsatisfied. The Spider-verse films in particular were masterpieces of graphic art but felt also like masterpieces of cynical marketing: a studio taking the excuse of postmodern playfulness to create a new franchising model. By making all metaverses equal, it undermined what made Peter Parker’s story special. It also opens the door to Peter Porker movies or any from the thousands, millions, even billions of variations.

The Flash takes a different approach. It enters into the intertextual fun of canon, referencing all the other DC characters and actors, but always privileges one world above all others. If we want to get deep into this, Jacques Derrida, father of so much poststructuralist thought, pretty much created a metaverse by recognising that language (and by extension) truth is not singular. It can result in a feeling that nothing much matters. But often overlooked is his appeal to treat one centre as if it were the centre. It means we don’t become disconnected and adrift in a world of millions of Spideypeople, of a franchised madness, which sometimes feels like it’s about to engulf the Marvel universe. Warner Brothers seem to be a little more cautious and that’s to be welcomed. The Flash keeps everything grounded, at least for this film. Supergirl is going to return and she deserves to return.

Forget about Ezra Miller. Go see this film for Keaton who delivers the memories and for Sasha Calle who gives us a taste of something better that’s yet to come.


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