Knowing how long Warner Bros. has been trying to make a Flash movie and how many directors came and went, I’m now curious what the nitty gritty of script problems were specifically and why it just never seemed to work out for many years until now. There are some details out there, but also I certainly can guess: making a movie about a superhero whose main power is “runs fast” doesn’t really seem like the most exciting thing in the world. Look, before you start yelling at me on Twitter, my favorite superhero is The Flash and I’ve been reading the books since I was a little kid and still read them to this day. And knowing what I know about The Flash, even I kind of thought, yeah, I’m not so sure about this. I’m not sure audiences will be riveted watching The Flash fight someone like the Mirror Master or Captain Cold. (I’m fairly sure one of the many scripts over the years was about Barry Allen, or maybe it was Wally West, just solving crimes around Central City. I’m not sure how you sustain just that for the course of a movie. And I guess the final answer with that one was you can’t.)
The movie loosely adapts Flashpoint. The problem with Flashpoint is it’s too weird for a movie. There’s no Bruce Wayne, in Flashpoint Batman is Thomas Wayne (long story). And maybe these were always the problems: trying to make it too faithful to the book. But at its essence, Flashpoint is a very moving story about Barry Allen trying to save his mom and in the process mucking up the whole universe. In DC Comics, this was done to reset the universe as DC does every few years. It’s their way of explaining why Bruce Wayne isn’t 120 years old right now. (Marvel doesn’t really do this and just kind of ignores the whole age thing.) But what’s interesting about The Flash movie is it wasn’t intended to really reset much. But, now, with DC movies rebooting with James Gunn’s leadership team, it does now kind of serve that purpose.
What makes Andy Muschietti’s The Flash a great movie (written by Christina Hodson, who also wrote Bumblebee, and has a knack for turning big-budget summer movies into stories with heart) is it’s not about saving the universe. Well, it sort of is, but that’s kind of secondary to Barry just trying to save his mom. Personally, I can’t really relate to saving a universe. It’s such a big thing, it doesn’t really matter. But as the movie gets deeper into Barry’s love for his mother, this is something, as humans, we can relate with and turns The Flash into a surprisingly heartfelt and emotional movie.
In the present, Barry Allen (Ezra Miller, who, yes, we all know has had some troubling behavior and I truly don’t know what I could add here to any of that in a movie review) is still grieving his mother’s death and the fact his father has been wrongly convicted for her murder. (In the book this involves Reverse-Flash, but the movie doesn’t get into that aspect.) In a fit of rage and sadness, Barry runs as fast as he can. As Barry approaches the speed of light, time stops, as it would under the laws of physics. Barry then realizes as he runs faster than the speed of light, time is now going backwards.
Barry confides in Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) this new ability and Bruce makes it clear going back in time to save parents is a very bad idea. Barry comes up with the idea if he makes a slight change that would prevent the murder that day, that’s all that would be needed and Barry wouldn’t need to actually save anyone personally. Well, that slight change did wind up saving his mother but screws quite a bit up. First, Barry isn’t going to have his Flash powers because his younger self wouldn’t be in the right location when lightning strikes a bunch of chemicals that gave The Flash powers. Then, as in Man of Steel, Michael Shannon’s Zod shows up. But this is a universe with no Justice League or Superman. So there’s no one to challenge Zod. But there is a Batman (Michael Keaton returns to the role for the first time in 31 years) so the two Barrys travel to Wayne Manor to try and enlist Batman’s help.
People wonder how much Keaton is in this movie as Batman and it’s probably more than you think. I’d compare it to Han Solo in The Force Awakens — there in the middle of The Flash there’s a pretty great 90-minute Batman ’89 movie in there, and Keaton looks to be having a great time. The plan to stop Zod rests on trying to find out whatever happened to this universe’s Kal-El, so the trio takes off on an adventure to look for him.
The final showdown with Zod does feel a bit redundant and the movie, for a bit, turns into another CGI glob — I wish we could have just skipped all that. That’s not what this movie is about. At its heart, this is a movie about Barry’s love for his mom and that Barry would literally sacrifice the entire universe to save her. And why nothing he tries can quite do that and how Barry needs to learn to, once and for all, just let go. And I think anyone who has lost anyone we’ve loved might entertain the thought of what Barry does, if we had the ability to run faster than the speed of light, which none of us, to the best of my knowledge, do.
This feels like the definitive Flash movie. (I know people enjoyed the CW show. I tried. I watched a full season, but for whatever reason I just couldn’t get into it.) To the point, I’m not sure how you make another. The Flash races again time and space itself in an attempt to save his mother. Well now then come for the sequel where The Flash fights the Weather Wizard! I mean, sure, a sequel could explore the Reverse-Flash aspect that isn’t touched on at all here. But with all the other, let’s say, “off the field issues” with this movie, I’d be pretty surprised if we ever see another one. But this is a great superhero story. And between this, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and Across the Spider-Verse (The Flash has a lot in common with Spider-Verse), it’s been a rare run of great superhero movies after quite a few that didn’t really work. But the thing all three have in common is they are all about the main character’s love for someone. Miles wants to save his dad. The Guardians want to save Rocket. Barry wants to save his mom and his dad. Those stakes all actually mean something. Oh, as an added bonus, a rarity for this summer so far … The Flash actually has an ending.
‘The Flash’ opens in theaters on June 16th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.