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Review: ‘The Flash’ Rewrites Cinematic History in an Attempted Course Correction for the DCEU

June 12, 2023Ben MK

The DC Expanded Universe has had more than its fair share of ups and downs, and unlike its big screen franchise counterpart, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the road to get to this point has been more rocky than smooth. From box office disappointments like Suicide Squad and Black Adam to bonafide blockbusters like Aquaman and Birds of Prey, fans of such iconic characters as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have both seen their wildest dreams fulfilled while also witnessing some of the most brutal acts of cinematic injustice committed against their most beloved comic book heroes. But what if it were possible to take all of the insight from the moviegoing present and travel back in time? What if it were possible to go back and correct the mistakes of the DCEU's past?

Enter The Flash, the long-awaited solo debut of Justice League's scarlet speedster, in which Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) attempts to do something very similar. Imbued with the superhuman ability to move faster than the speed of light, thanks to a freak accident in a lab one night during a lightning storm, Barry has since been using his meta-human powers to help keep the citizens of Central City, Metropolis and Gotham City safe. Despite all of the fantastical things he's capable of, however, there's one thing he hasn't been able to do, which is clear his dad Henry's (Ron Livingston) name. Wrongly convicted in the murder of his mom Nora (Maribel Verdú) when Barry was a child, Henry has spent the majority of Barry's life locked up in Iron Heights Penitentiary, a travesty of the justice system that inspired Barry to become forensic chemist. After years of trying to uncover any evidence that might prove his dad's innocence, though, it's become clear that Barry will have to resort to alternative methods.

Using the Speed Force to travel back to the day his mom was murdered, Barry sets out to alter history so that she never died and his dad was never incarcerated. Unfortunately, Barry's plan doesn't quite unfold as he envisioned. And when he becomes stranded some 13 years in the past, Barry must convince his 18-year-old alternate self to help him fix the timeline and get back to the future. It's a scheme that will require Barry to first ensure that his teenage doppelgänger makes it to the lab for that fateful lightning strike that gave him his powers. But when present-day Barry loses his own powers along the way — an unexpected twist of fate that happens to coincide with General Zod's (Michael Shannon) invasion of Earth — Barry is forced to improvise yet again. Seeking the help of his fellow Justice Leaguers, he and alternate Barry embark on a quest to find the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel. What they find, however, is a much different Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) and Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle).

Directed by Andy Muschietti, what follows will bring together DC's past and present, as the two Barrys, Batman and Supergirl mount an offensive against the ruthless Zod and his powerful army of Kryptonian super-soldiers that will see them rewriting DCEU history while also setting the stage for the impending reset of the troubled cinematic universe. If you're comparing The Flash to multiverse-themed blockbusters like Spider-Man: No Way Home or Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, however, you might be left wanting, especially when it comes to the film's handling of Batman, Supergirl and Zod. More plot devices than actual characters, their existence serves no purpose other than moving the story forward. And while that may not come as a surprise to some, for those coming off the high of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the result leaves much to be desired.

Of course, that's not to say this antepenultimate entry in the soon-to-be-former DCEU is totally without merit. Like Batman v Superman, the emotional crux of the movie hinges on its heroes' relationship with their mother; and, in that regard, Miller excels, bringing an impressive amount of depth to their duo roles. As far as bringing that same caliber of craftsmanship to the rest of the story, that's where The Flash falters. And for a film that's pivotal to the course correction of the DCEU, it's hard not to feel like another do-over might be in order.

The Flash releases June 16, 2023 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 24 min.

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