Despite being in development for years, the Warner Bros. Pictures release The Flash landed with more of a thud than most would have guessed. It centers a beloved DC Comics character in their first solo live action outing, utilizes a critical storyline within the established lore, and brings back to cinemas Michael Keaton’s cherished iteration of Batman. But then lead actor Erza Miller began causing indefensible chaos, COVID-19 caused delays, and the entire DC Extended Universe (created by producer/director Zack Snyder) was fully demolished with a brand-new cinematic universe set to be built under the guidance of writer/director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy series) and producer Peter Safran (Aquaman/The Suicide Squad). With several long-gestated DCEU projects hitting theaters — Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023), The Flash, and Blue Beetle (2023) — a question arose as to whether their existence mattered in the larger scheme of WB’s focus on interconnected stories over singular ones. Couple this with the numerous multiversal stories hitting theaters and all the tragic behind-the-scenes issues, is it worth showing up for director Andy Muschietti’s (It) The Flash? The answer is mixed because, for all the interesting things that the film does and the wild things it breaks regarding larger continuity, The Flash ultimately contradicts its own emotional message in service of a larger master, rendering unto audiences frustration instead of excitement. However, the home release edition (if you select the right iteration) possesses a great deal of behind-the-scenes secrets, enabling fans of the film to learn exactly how everything was pulled off.
Since the events of Justice League (2017), metahuman speedster The Flash (Ezra Miller) and the rest of the Justice League have been actively operating wherever crime occurs. But despite the public awareness, none of them use their clout for personal gain, leaving The Flash’s alter ego, Barry Allen, to use the legal system to fight the continued murder charges that keep his father, Henry (Jon Livingston), in prison for the murder of Nora Allen (Maribel Verdú), Barry’s mother. That is, until Barry starts to consider whether his speed gives him the ability to travel years into the past, thereby preventing tragedy from ever ripping his family apart. Theories are one thing, but it’s the practical application that proves the most daunting and unexpectedly devastating for Barry in this and any other timeline.
If you’re interested in learning about The Flash in a more spoiler-free context, head over to EoM Contributor Gabe Lapalombella’s initial theatrical release review. Moving forward, we’re diving into the Speed Force without hesitation to explore all we can about the film and its bonus features.
There’s a great deal of potential in the screenplay from Birds of Prey screenwriter Christina Hodson, itself from a story conceived by writing team John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) and Joby Harold (Transformers: Rise of the Beasts): if you possess the power to change the outcome, should you use it? That’s a tantalizing idea with plenty of ways to twist and change the known in order to investigate all the good and bad that comes from making use of such a power. As Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne warns Barry when the latter brings up having the ability to possibly change the course of events, the things we’ve been through define us and make us who he are. Bruce specifically refers to them as scars, referring to the shared trauma of having lost a parent at an influential age. But where Bruce had Alfred (Jeremy Irons) to lean on, as well as financial resources, Barry effectively lost both parents when his father was accused of murder and had no one to fall back on. This isolation elevates his social awkwardness, makes his joy at finding like-abilitied heroes charming, and enhances his growing frustration at still not feeling whole because he can’t help his father clear his name. As with the original 2011 Flashpoint comic event from which the film draws inspiration, it’s this well-intentioned selfishness that up-ends Earth. Here, it means that Barry is gifted with the ability to know the future, but, because of his choice to save his mother, all of it goes horribly wrong, leading to the deaths of humanity’s only defenders against the invading forces of General Zod (Michael Shannon). So if it wasn’t enough for Barry to learn to appreciate what his powers can enable him to do through teaching his Man of Steel-era counterpart how to use them, realizing that it’s this counterpart’s inability to come to terms with the outcome that makes the “villain” of the story should. In the moment when Barry comes to know that the “evil speedster” that threw him out of the Speed Force early is actually his counterpart tarnished and gnarled by refusing reality, only for his counterpart-present to jump in the way of a death blow, is when all of this should solidify the lesson of the film: the past is past and it’s better to come to terms with it than to wallow in what you can’t change. Except Barry still does change things. He can’t help himself and makes a small change to clear his father’s name, even if it means his mother still has to die so that there can still be some version of a Justice League to protect Earth. Yes, The Flash was going to be used to begin a new era of DC Comics films at WB, but doing it this way just means that Barry didn’t learn a damned thing. Up until that moment, long in the tooth though the film is, the journey added up to an emotional wallop — which just gets farted away.
The other odd thing about the film is how it establishes clear rules and breaks many of them. A small thing that may be able to be hand-waved away is the calorie count meter that opens the film as a reason for Barry’s sluggishness. Now every iteration of speedster has had to deal with this issue, often the live-action ones making it quite amusing when it occurs early in their career (I’m old enough to have seen John Wesley Shipp pass out as Barry “live” in 1990), so it makes a certain sense to use that to instill a little bit of chaos in the opening, creating the opportunity for hilarity. Problem is that outside of a few instances of watching counterpart-Barry stuffing his face multiple times and passing out only once (during his initial on-boarding period), the calories don’t matter. You can’t tell me that fighting Zod’s forces and jumping back and forth through time to attempt to prevent the deaths of Bruce and Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle) and defeat Zod didn’t require refueling, yet, as far as we can tell, neither of them ate a thing and counterpart-Barry is meant to be at this for untold years in order to become the grotesque speedster that Barry must confront. Look, comic books have their own rules to follow and I can abide by hand waving, but it’s been heartily established that speedsters must consume an excessive number of calories to maintain their bodily functions and what occurs here feels impossible even by regular comic book standards.
Then there’s the fact that The Flash both takes place within *and* without the DCEU established cannon. Miller was cast by Snyder and appears briefly in the metahuman montage within Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) ahead of the full appearance in Justice League, so one may wonder if Miller had some influence on that aspect of the story, but it’s a weird inclusion nonetheless. Why? Because based on the explanation by Keaton’s Bruce, if changing the past influences both the forward and backward flow of time, then everything about The Flash is screwed before Barry even makes his attempt to travel. Otherwise, Affleck’s Bruce wouldn’t ask Barry if his theory of time travel is based on what happened in Pozharnov, except Barry only time travels in the Zack Snyder version of the film, not the theatrical. This is a big deal because, as far as the DCEU is concerned, the theatrical version is cannon and, therefore, Barry hasn’t time traveled until after the opening of this film when he does it by accident. And, if it is considered cannon to *this* film, why is Barry running backward to reverse time here when he ran forward there? The direction he’s running doesn’t make sense except to visually convey how his direction correlates to time, but it’s, frankly, suggesting that the audience wouldn’t understand if depicted as it always is in comic, television, or film every other time. For each of the things that the script does well (and there are many thanks in part to the performances which make the attempted pathos believable), these inconsistencies frustrate due to the ways in which they flagrantly betray their own rules and intentions.
NOW — that said, there’s no denying the work that went into creating the illusion of the film. From the moment that the Barrys — Miller as Barry Prime, Ed Wade doing the body work for counterpart-Barry — step into Keaton’s Wayne Manor, it’s as if being transported back to 1989. The look and feel of the spaces we get to explore, even if briefly, fill lived-in in a way that modern superhero spaces don’t. Even watching Keaton’s Bruce cook a meal feels exciting, not just for the nostalgia it brings up re: Bruce and Vicki Vale’s (Kim Basinger) first date and how they ended up with Alfred (Michael Gough) in the kitchen, but because of the way Keaton occupies the space with his actions. It’s purposeful and specific, serving the scene’s need for exposition while also telling us something about this Batman. The specificity we see is one of many things the special features invite the audience to learn about. This release isn’t as loaded as, say, Black Adam (2022), but there’s plenty to explore that’ll provide insight into the making of the film entire, while also providing some spotlight focus on the new/returning characters. Unsurprisingly, there’s less Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) in these featurettes and more Wade, Keaton (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)), and Calle, with plenty of Hodson (Bumblebee), Muschietti, producer Bárbara Muschietti (It), DC Comics artist Jim Lee, and others.
However one feels about the film, if you’re planning to snag it, be advised that the format you get it in will determine your special features access. The digital edition appears to be the most complete, including all of the materials listed below minus the Saga of the Scarlett Speedster Amazon digital exclusive. I checked the digital against the Blu-ray and the Blu only includes “Making The Flash: Worlds Collide,” “Let’s Get Nuts: Batman Returns, Again,” “Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton,” and the Escape the Midnight Circus materials. So, if you want to get the full 3-hours 19-minutes worth of materials, you need to at least have access to the digital version. If you’re a physical media fan, this is going to draw some ire as, personally, the gatekeeping of special features is particularly frustrating for those who want to learn as much as they can about a film they enjoy. In the case of this home release review, WB Pictures did provide a Blu-ray edition, so all of the above information related to format restrictions is based on what’s included on the Blu-ray and with the digital copy. If there’s a difference with the 4K UHD edition, I’m unfortunately unable to address that at this time.
Additionally, be advised that whatever disc format you choose — 4K UHD, Blu-ray, or DVD — you only get the one format per purchase. There’s no multi-format option with this release, a recent break from tradition for WB, so if you want more than one physical format, you will have to purchase multiple versions. As someone whose home can only play 4K UHD discs in one room, the inclusion of multi-formats is positively ideal to be able to watch a film in the preferred format in the most rooms, so those like me will have to wait for sales to make this happen.
If there’s a thing to defend The Flash about, it’s the way it’s been presented online during the respective theatrical and digital release windows as folks posted out-of-context videos. The CG work within the space that Barry occupies to travel through time — dubbed “the Chronoball” — doesn’t look great, but it’s consistent when it appears throughout. So, while the scenes with the multiverse characters look horrible and are incredibly ethically/morally questionable, a cash-grab play on nostalgia without any real impact to the story, at least that poorly designed CG style is across the board versus only in the one section meant to surprise of uplift older audiences. Additionally, the sequence of Barry placing a baby in a microwave during the initial action set piece makes sense in the context of the scene and as explained later when Barry is explaining to his counterpart how his speed impacts other objects (including dos and don’ts). Not to mention the folks up in arms over Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) drunk in the end credits sequence seem to forget there’s a post-rescue scecne in Justice League which features him pounding back a bottle before tossing the empty into the ocean and then, later, drinking at a bar with his dad in Aquaman (2018). Arthur drinking isn’t something Muschietti invented or Gunn devised to make Momoa look silly, it’s part of the character’s DNA. Perhaps that’ll be addressed in the currently-slated December 2023 follow-up the Lost Kingdom or maybe it won’t, but context, folks — it matters.
Ultimately, what you want to know, dear reader, is whether or not the film is worth your time? The best answer I can offer is: sorta. The performances are strong, it’s great seeing Keaton back in action, Calle would be a phenomenal addition to the DC live-action universe (whatever they call it now), and the fatality of it all is fascinating in terms of chronal inevitability and why we shouldn’t mess with time. Beyond that, it’s fine. A little too late to mean something to the larger connected storyline, a little too inconsistent to take it seriously when we should.
FYI: The animated feature Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013) is a solid film that’s for rent or purchase and, last checked, streaming on Max now.
The Flash Special Features*:
- Making The Flash: Worlds Collide (36:56)
- Flashpoint: Introducing the Multiverse (6:21)
- Let’s Get Nuts: Batman Returns, Again (8:32)
- The Bat Chase (6:51)
- Saving Supergirl (6:50)
- Battling Zod (5:37)
- Fighting Dark Flash (7:14)
- Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton (16:01)
- Nine (9) Deleted Scenes (11:31)
- The Flash: Escape the Midnight Circus podcast trailer (1:03)
- The Flash: Escape the Midnight Circus podcast – Six-part original scripted audio series featuring Max Greenfield as The Flash (91 minutes)
- The Flash: Escape the Midnight Circus Behind the Scenes (1:59)
- The Flash: The Saga of the Scarlett Speedster (Amazon digital exclusive)
*Bonus features may depend on retailer and format
Available on digital July 18th, 2023.
Available on Max August 25th, 2023.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD August 29th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official WB Pictures The Flash webpage.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.