In the superhero world, everyone seems to have a sad backstory. Batman lost his parents young, a burglar did Spider-Man’s uncle in and Captain America can’t get a girlfriend because he’s immortal and they always die. It’s a bit like The X Factor, only with more spandex.
Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the peppy alter-ego of lightning-fast crime-fighter The Flash, has a similarly miserable tale to tell. In his self-titled solo debut, a flashback shows his mum getting murdered by a mysterious stranger while he’s just a few rooms away. To top it off, Barry’s dad is blamed, then carted off to prison and he’s left to grow up on his own.
Skip ahead a bit, to where the film begins, and a twenty-something Barry is struggling to balance his working life as a forensic chemist with his other life as Gotham City’s speediest supe. He can nip to the bathroom mid-convo at parties without anyone noticing, which is useful, but if Barry isn’t wearing his shiny-red, heat-resistant suit he’ll burst into flames – and he somehow manages to still be late to work. He can’t hold down a relationship either, because of all the secrets he keeps.
Things get even trickier when Barry discovers he can sprint back through time. Should he use his powers to change history and save his parents? Or, as his buddy Bruce Wayne advises, is it too risky to meddle with the Multiverse? A funny, action-packed and, of course, fast-paced adventure follows – with a surprisingly moving emotional centre.
One of the things that makes The Flash good is how well the timey-wimey stuff works. Superhero movies often use time travel to solve some vague, universe-collapsing problem (Doctor Strange) or as an excuse to cram in actors from different series (X:Men – Days Of Future Past). The Flash does do a bit of the latter (more on that later), but it focuses on a personal and much more relatable motive. Who wouldn’t want to stop their mum from dying? Throw in a couple of headbanging music moments paired with some seriously cool CGI and the potentially dull sci-fi element becomes the film’s strongest asset. Trust us, you’ll want to watch Barry zip about to the indie stylings of Supergrass forever.
If none of that gets you going, then The Flash also has some not-so-secret weapons. Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot are back, briefly, as Batman and Wonder Woman. And once Barry stumbles into a different reality, Sasha Calle is unveiled as Supergirl, whose alternative Kryptonian shares her cousin Superman’s sombre disposition and powerful punch. The best slightly-more-than-a-cameo though has already been marketed extensively. Michael Keaton last played the World’s Greatest Detective 30 years ago in Tim Burton’s 1992 sequel Batman Returns, so when it was announced that the Keaton Krusader was pulling on the cowl again for The Flash, a portion of Millennial Twitter creamed its Batpants. He doesn’t disappoint. Playing the wise old father figure to Miller’s Flash, he smirks and scowls his way through all the classic lines (“I’m Batman”, “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!”), while swooping out of the shadows to nail goons with his famous Batarang. The film would still be good without him, but a bit of Dark Knight dynamism doesn’t hurt.
Oddly, The Flash being so brilliant actually gives DC a bit of a headache. The studio’s new head honcho, James Gunn, is currently planning a much-publicised reboot of its comic book movie universe that may not include the Scarlet Speedster. Throw in Miller’s even more publicised personal problems and a poorly received film could have provided the perfect opportunity to have him (and the bad press) jog off into the sunset. Given the critical buzz and potential box office bump, that looks unlikely now. The Flash’s future is starting to look a lot sparkier than his past.
- Director: Andy Muschietti
- Starring: Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle
- Release date: June 14 (in cinemas)