After years of false starts, delays, a global pandemic, and an (alleged) international crime spree, The Flash is finally here, and it is…just fine. Not the best superhero movie, not the worst superhero movie. Measuring by the rather abysmal track record of DC superhero movies, The Flash is actually one of their best, with a story that makes sense, likeable characters (mostly), and real heart and humor to buoy the more uneven elements of the film. Ezra Miller gives a legit great double performance as Barry Allen, which doesn’t erase any of the off-screen things that have happened but does make it easy to slip into the world of the Flash and the DC multiverse. If only that multiverse were as energetic as Miller’s performance, The Flash might have been onto something.


Picking up sometime after Justice League, Barry Allen is working at a crime lab in Central City, while helping out the Justice League, joking that he is their “janitor”, cleaning up their messes with his super-speed. The opening action sequence involves a collapsing hospital and many falling fake babies, and it is well conceived from a thematic and demonstrative standpoint, emphasizing not only Barry’s power set but his moral compass and sincerity as a hero. It’s just that the fake babies look SO BAD. Fake babies are terrible, whether they’re dolls or CGI elements, everyone should stop using fake babies in movies. Director Andy Muschietti must have some sense of how bad the fake babies look because the scene plays for humor, despite the high stakes, and the end credits poke fun at the fake babies, too, but sheesh. It just takes you right out of the moment when Barry is trying to problem solve and one of those gummy baby loafs appears and kills the momentum.

After the fake babies, though, The Flash finds its footing, for a little while, anyway. Barry is preparing for another appeal on his father’s behalf—his father, now played by Ron Livingston, was arrested for the murder of his mother when Barry was a child. But the evidence he hoped would exonerate his dad is a dud, and Barry seems to hit a brick wall. Some things, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) wisely councils, just can’t be fixed. And this is where The Flash falls apart.


The first act introduces the conflict—Barry can’t get his innocent dad out of prison, despite being a forensic scientist AND a superhero with the hookup to some of the most powerful people on the planet. Thematically, Barry has to reconcile with his limitations, despite being a super powerful person himself. Good stuff! Heartfelt! Moving! But of course, Barry is young, he hasn’t learned the lessons so hard won by Bruce yet, so, in a fit of sad running, he goes so fast he slips through the space-time continuum and into the “Chronobowl”, which allows him to peel back layers of time one by one until he stops running, “arriving” in the past. (Fans of the TV show will recognize this, and yes, the movie is treading the same paths the show did for nine seasons.)

Realizing he can go back and save his mom and thus his dad, too—that he can, in fact, fix it—Barry sets out to subtly alter events in the past. It doesn’t work, of course, because the movie has to happen, and Barry ends up not only stuck in the past, but in the wrong timeline. Here, his mom never died, his dad never went to jail, Alt-Barry, played by Miller with longer hair, is a happy-go-lucky eighteen-year-old stoner, and Michael Keaton is Batman. Confronted with this alternate version of himself and his world, Barry has to figure out how to get back to his own present and see if he managed to save his dad.


Multiverse stories come with a built-in problem, which is that they rarely have any real consequences. They can be like an elaborate dream sequence in which a lot of things happen only to be reset by the end of the film when the multiverse is resolved. That is certainly a problem here, where the bulk of the action happens in an alternate timeline Barry is destined to leave, so who really cares what happens, no one we meet in that timeline will stick around (poor Sasha Calle, doomed to rehash Henry Cavill’s dour, charmless performance in Man of Steel), but The Flash makes another fatal mistake, and that is that it betrays its own theme. 

If the point is for Barry to learn that despite his power, he can’t save everyone, even his own parents, then he does not learn that lesson. There is a lack of thematic gravitas that undercuts The Flash, which has all the parts in place to be a truly great superhero story, only to chuck it all out the window like a fake baby in the name of convenience. Unlike Spider-Man: No Way Home, which effectively punishes Peter Parker for just accidentally touching a multiverse, Barry Allen walks away from his grand multiverse adventure unscathed. His life is either status quo or actively improved by the end. 


I’m not rooting for a doom and gloom story, what works in The Flash is mostly down to a more upbeat tone, Miller’s peppy twin performances, and some very well-done moments of visual humor sprinkled throughout the film (the visual effects are, as to be expected these days, noticeably wonky in several instances, but the practical gags and stunts are unfailingly great). It’s just frustrating for the first act to set the table so well, to introduce a conflict that challenges the hero not just physically but emotionally and morally, too, only to wimp out in the end. 

There is a lot to like about The Flash, though Miller’s off-screen antics may alienate some viewers, but its too-pat resolution holds it back from true greatness. The moments of blatant fan service will undoubtedly make nerds happy, but the story doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and frankly, that fan service is an empty gesture because the multiverse presented here is totally unimaginative. 


Coming on the heels of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, it is an especially poor rendering of the concept. But there are some good action beats and humor, it pushes the right nostalgia buttons, and if you just want to look at something and go, “I remember that!” this is the film for you. But if you expect more from your films than empty nostalgia, skip The Flash and go see Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

This review was published during the WGA strike of 2023. The work being reviewed would not exist without the labor of writers. The Flash is exclusively in theaters from June 16, 2023.