Director – Andy Muschietti – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 144m
Tormented by the death of his mother, The Flash goes back in time to try and save her – out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, June 14th
Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is running late for work again. The girl that usually makes his special sandwich at the shop near his workplace isn’t in today, so instead he has to deal with someone who needs to be talked through the order. On top of that, he gets a call from Alfred (Jeremy Irons) at the Batcave because no other Justice League superhero is available: could The Flash please attend to rescuing staff and patients from the explosives-rigged Gotham City Hospital?
So he races over there and while Batman (Ben Affleck) pursues criminals on the Batbike. Barry / The Flash, a superhero with the ability to move at incredible speed, saves falling babies and their ward sister from a collapsing, high-rise, maternity ward. The pursuit is mostly over when Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) turns up at a fight on at a bridge to save the day and wield the Lasso of Truth.
Barry has parental issues: specifically, he is trying to get his wrongly convicted father Henry (Ron Livingstone) exonerated for the crime of killing Barry’s mother (Maribel Verdú from Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro, 2006; Y Tu Mamá También, Alfonso Cuarón, 2001) in their home when, as he claims, he was out buying a can of tomatoes at the time. Barry never got over the death of his mother, stabbed at home by an unknown assailant, or the loss of his father into the prison system.
His mum sent her husband to the shop to buy the extra can of tomatoes which she needed for cooking. While he was away, a knife-wielding assailant entered the family’s house. Security cam footage of Henry at the shop never shows his face, and is thus inconclusive as evidence as an alibi in Henry’s legal defence. Barry has sent the recording to Bruce Wayne, whose technology for enhancing moving images Barry hopes will be good enough to make the picture more viewable and prove his father’s innocence. But this is a long shot, and neither father nor son truly believe it will work.
Because as The Flash he can run faster than the speed of light, Barry can run backwards, travel back in time and tamper with details of history. Despite warnings that this might not be a good idea, because of the potential to also change the present and the future, he goes back to the day of his mum’s murder to change one significant detail: he will add a can of tomatoes into her shopping which will mean she won’t have to send dad to the shops to buy it later, so he will be there when the attacker breaks in.
What he doesn’t expect, however, is to run into his younger self (also played by Miller). Older Barry is in for further surprises: talking with his younger self about the concept and the film Back To The Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985), younger Barry refers to it as the film starring Eric Stolz as Marty McFly. (Movie buffs will be aware that Stolz was replaced after shooting some of the film as his casting wasn’t working, and the shot footage was reshot with Michael J. Fox in the role.)
Older Barry takes younger Barry to the location where he was struck by lightning and accidentally doused in a chemical cocktail, the incident which gave him his super-power, but at the same time that that incident gives younger Barry his expected super-power, it deprives older Barry of his.
This is a different timeline from the one in which older Barry has lived, and there are further, far-reaching differences. A long-haired Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) has retired as Batman years ago because his crime-fighting has turned Gotham City into a decent place to live, so his services were no longer necessary. There is no Wonder Woman. Then, when evil Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives on Earth to terraform it into a habitable version of his destroyed home planet of Krypton, which incidentally will render it uninhabitable for the current human population, there is no Kal-el / Superman to stop him.
Wayne is persuaded to recreate the accident that gave older Barry his super-power, then takes the two Flashes to a Siberian fortress where the Russians have imprisoned Kal-el. Except that, when they get there, they find not Kal-el, but his cousin Kara (Sasha Calle) and without being aware of her as anything other than a captive, rescue her instead. The stage is now set for Batman, the two Flashes and Kara, who is Supergirl, to fight General Zod in a showdown.
The structure of the movie looks something like a giant sandwich – two huge slabs of superhero action / fight scene / spectacular with a filling in the middle of time travel, timelines and multiverse paradox. Ultimately, the time travel / multiverse material is allowed to run its full course with the introduction of a third Barry / Flash, an older version of younger Barry / Flash who has become consumed with defeating General Zod, a battle he cannot possibly win but is determined to keep trying.
Thus, instead of finishing with a lengthy fight scene, a device that has become a tiresome cliché in many of the DC movies, this utilises a scenario with multiverse worlds colliding into mutual destruction and a brief glimpse of a Superman played by Nic Cage in an attempt to resolve the script’s multiverse paradox. In the end, Older Flash finally comes to terms with the death of his mother and returns to his own version of Earth – or is it? – to hopefully clear his father’s name.
Miller proves surprisingly good in his main dual roles, creating two very different and distinct Barry / Flashes. Keaton hits just the right note as the hairier, retired Batman. The scenes with Kara in minimal prison sackcloth fighting villains are terrific and Calle convinces as an alien.
Nice comic touches about young Barry converting an old Batsuit into a makeshift Flash costume are never allowed to get in the way of the story. Indeed, the balancing act between superhero action, compelling time travel plot and family trauma drama is deftly done. The aren’t that many multiverse worlds portrayed, and you’ll never find yourself getting completely lost as with certain other recent multiverse movies. It even allows Michael Keaton a scene in which he clearly and helpfully explains the complexities of the multiverse using a plate of spaghetti bolognaise as a visual aid. Without the other two areas being compromised though, it’s the material about family, skilfully included here as almost a throwaway to the main plot event, that’s most affecting. The film is unafraid to follow its own logic right to the end, and is ultimately all the better for it. Well worth seeing.
The Flash is out in cinemas in the UK on Wednesday, June 14th.