Hope you all had a fun autumn.
Me, I genuinely enjoyed taking a break from the blog so I could focus my time and attention on other projects. I liked that I didn’t have to bother pretending to give a shit about The Last Voyage of the Demeter. I’m glad I got to see Bottoms and Dicks: The Musical without trying to sufficiently describe what the high-flying fuck I just sat through. Watching Killers of the Flower Moon was enough of a commitment without the pressure of writing a master’s thesis about how an aging Scorsese is focused on how incremental changes snowball over time and he needs progressively longer movies to sufficiently explore that process. (see also: The Irishman)
Oh, and I ditched Twitter for obvious reasons. I’m mostly active on Facebook and BlueSky now, so give me a follow if you’re on either one. If you want a BlueSky invite code, hit me up and I’ll see what I can do.
Anyway, now the strikes are over and I’ve got two promises to keep. And it’s only fitting I should keep them both with this next review.
If ever there was a single movie to definitively prove why WGA and SAG-AFTRA needed to go on strike last summer, The Flash is it. There’s no doubt in my mind that WBD would’ve assigned an AI to write this script if they thought they could get away with it. And after a rumored 45 godforsaken writers, the end result probably wouldn’t have been any more coherent if they had. And if you want to talk about actors replaced with CGI doubles, this movie is packed with case studies on why that’s a bad fucking idea in so many ways. It’s creepy and it looks like shit at best, it’s morally and ethically abhorrent at worst.
I know I’m not saying anything new here. Only five months out from the film’s release and the horse isn’t merely dead, but dissected down to the last particle. It’s been written off as one of the most infamous and costly box-office bombs in history, Ezra Miller’s career is effectively toast (good riddance), and we’re looking ahead to the Gunn/Safran era like Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom isn’t happening at all. The movie sucks, we all know why it sucks, and we all knew perfectly damn well that this movie was going to suck before a single frame was ever shot.
But as I discussed back in May, this movie stirred up such a massive shitstorm that I needed some space before I could cover it. And any self-respecting film enthusiast simply had to cover this movie, if only because it is so awful in so many ways that it should be considered a benchmark of cinema history on par with the likes of Cutthroat Island or Heaven’s Gate.
So many people are pointing to MCU oversaturation as the nadir of comic book films and the culmination of everything awful about the current Hollywood paradigm, but no — they’re thinking of The Flash. Say what you will about the worst of the MCU’s output (except maybe “Secret Invasion”), at least it’s still a functional product. It tells a story and gets the point across. With The Flash, Zaslav and his cronies have built a failure that perfectly demonstrates how incredibly difficult it is to do what Kevin Feige and his team have made look so easy.
It’s pointless to even try and sum up the premise or plot of The Flash. What really matters is that the filmmakers used time travel shenanigans to try and cram in every possible goddamn thing they thought the audience might like. The fans and newcomers want an origin story for the Flash (Ezra Miller)? Jump back in time to show the origin. The fans didn’t like Metropolis getting leveled in Man of Steel? Let’s go back in time so the Flash can try and make those events play out differently. Hell, the whole point of loosely adapting “Flashpoint” — the comics event that was repurposed to reboot the comics into the “New 52” timeline — was to soft-reboot the Snyderverse into whatever the hell WBD/DC decided the film universe should be in post-production. And when they STILL didn’t have a viable plan in the editing phase, they brought on Gunn/Safran to start from Square Fucking One all over again. But I digress.
The point is, this whole movie is a dogpile of ideas that were thrown together in the hopes that literally anything would stick and some kind of grand vision would come together in editing. Let’s futz around with the timelines and multiversal shenanigans to pack in every last Easter Egg the corporate execs think the fans might want. Let’s throw CGI at every possible problem because we need to get a movie out the door, we don’t have the time to properly plan or storyboard everything, and COVID made reshoots impossible. Whatever the problem is, just keep throwing money at it, even though the budget will balloon to well over $200 million, there’s no way we can hire enough CGI artists to make everything look passable in a timely manner, and we don’t stand a chance in hell of making back such a massive budget. Don’t worry, it’ll get the DCEU back on track and we can recoup that money with future entries in the long run.
Never mind that the plot makes no sense. Never mind that none of the characters act or talk like relatable or sympathetic human beings. (This is apparently what happens when “more comedy” is the mandate from WBD: You get two-dimensional “comic relief” characters that wouldn’t get a TV network sitcom past the pilot episode.) Never mind that the theme of “tragedy happens, so shut up and deal with it” was so eloquently and powerfully rejected earlier this year by Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
The central thesis of the film is that “some problems have no solution.” I get that this was put into the movie to give the character some necessary pathos. I could understand this coming from Spider-Man, because his whole deal is about being made to suffer for the powers and responsibilities that he has. But the Flash — as well as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and all the rest — is supposed to be a larger-than-life character who can find or make a solution to any problem. He’s a power fantasy, built to inspire us to be something greater than we are and to never give up in the face of adversity. Making a DC superhero come to accept that he has limits betrays a total lack of understanding about DC and about superheroes in general. That’s especially true of the Flash, whose whole deal is overcoming any limit to keep moving faster.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the central reason why the Flash can’t win is because of time/space/multiverse laws acting in a totally fictional way. The writers were free to make up literally any solution they wanted. The fact that they didn’t find any solution at all betrays not only a lack of creativity, but a lack of faith in the character and the audience. (see also: The infamous neck snap in Man of Steel.)
Getting back to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, that movie is also notable for how it built a whole multiverse with sharper detail, greater clarity, and more compelling storytelling in one movie (depending on how you count) than the entirety of MCU Phase Five has done to date. By contrast, The Flash jumped the shark in a big way when these filmmakers tried to visualize different universes as giant floating orbs. Especially when the context is the multiverse imploding on itself. So, the filmmakers are showing us all these different iterations of DC like we’re supposed to cheer, but the filmmakers are also presenting them in the context of different universes annihilating each other.
Basically put, the DC fan service is at once a good thing while also being a bad thing. This is the level of thought that was put into the film as a whole.
To be clear, I’m not blaming Andy Muschietti for any of this. I know it’s typically the director’s fault for making such an unfocused and slipshod piece of work, but this is clearly a product of studio execs putting far too much pressure on this one movie that had to appeal to everyone and do all the things at once. Nobody could’ve made this into anything coherent, which is likely why so many directors came and went and washed their hands of this assignment.
Muschietti just happened to be the poor dumb schmuck who got stuck holding the bag because he was putting the finishing touches on the epic It duology down the hall at WBD. And he was appropriately rewarded with the honor of directing the Gunn/Safran iteration of Batman and Robin. Hell, given how much of an emphasis this movie about the Flash put on an entirely different hero altogether, I wouldn’t be surprised if Muschietti was secretly given this job (or secretly took the job) as an audition to direct a Batman picture.
I’ve heard it said that the reward for doing good work is getting more work. Muschietti’s reward for It was goddamn The Flash. Ain’t that a kick in the teeth.
So, is there anything in here that might’ve been salvaged? Well, I like the basic conceit of Barry Allen growing and learning more about himself by mentoring a younger version of himself. It’s a useful device for exposition regarding his powers as well. Michael Keaton is of course a delight reprising Batman. Sasha Calle’s take on Supergirl is a bit violent and broody for my taste, but she brings a powerful screen presence and I wish her all the best moving forward. But the MVP of the supporting cast is easily Maribel Verdu, who does such a stellar job playing Nora Allen that she more than holds up her end in selling the title character’s motivation.
I could respect a film that goes so big and so hard if it actually took risks. I could respect a studio gambling $200+ million on a film that had a strong and clear vision. Say what you will about the bloated and overpriced Avatar films (and I’m sure you all know I’ve said a lot), but at least James Cameron knows what movies he’s making and who he’s making them for. The Flash is not that.
The Flash is a pathetic act of flailing desperation. It’s a film crafted by studio execs who’ve lost touch with their audience, have no appreciation or understanding of what they’re adapting, and have no ideas or skills except to throw money at the problem. There’s a reason why we have apparently come to the collective agreement that Blue Beetle and Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom don’t count: Because The Flash is both the bang and the whimper that the Snyderverse deserved to go out on.
It’s a film that transparently tries to appeal to everybody and ends up appealing to nobody. It’s the epitome of a film made by people who have no idea what they want to make except money. It’s the greatest example we may ever see of studio executives demonstrating the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It’s an overblown, overlong, overpriced, arrogant disaster made by people throwing good money after bad, which inevitably bombed to such an extent that the whole studio is now in jeopardy. In other words, it’s the perfect summation of everything wrong with Hollywood filmmaking in this day and age.
I’m honestly upset that we’ve so quickly forgotten The Flash. We can’t ever forget The Flash. We need to learn from this shit. We need to teach this shit in film school. We need to make this the poster child for how and why Hollywood needs to change. We need to collectively learn from this so we never repeat it.
Fuck this movie, fuck the studio execs who made this movie, and if you went to see this movie on opening weekend in spite of all glaringly obvious warnings to the contrary, then honestly, fuck you too.