By Richard Roeper
Signal Contributing Writer
3 Stars (out of four)
Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Andy Muschietti and written by Christina Hodson. Rated PG-13. In theaters.
My guess is if you’re The Fastest Man Alive, you have trouble focusing and thinking things through. That certainly seems to be the case in an opening scene in “The Flash” in which Ezra Miller’s titular character grows increasingly anxious when a chatty and slow-moving barista is taking FOREVER to make him a breakfast sandwich, which is a big deal because Barry Allen/The Flash needs to consume pretty much all the calories to maintain his peak energy levels.
It’s a clever and well-acted scene, but it also has one thinking: Why doesn’t The Flash just stock his apartment with all the protein bars and steaks and energy drinks, etc., he’ll need? Why go to a hipster breakfast spot every morning? Maybe it’s a creature-of-habit thing.
There’s little doubt Barry is a troubled and twitchy guy who’s not altogether comfortable with his superhero status, and his vulnerability and naivete make him an interesting component of the DC Universe. Despite a far-too-long running time and a second half that often relies on audience-pleasing gimmickry in favor of a compelling story arc, “The Flash” is an exceedingly well-acted adventure with just enough gas in the accelerator to make it to the finish line before wearing out its welcome.
(It’s also another in a long, long line of superhero movies that stretches about 110 minutes of material over a nearly two-and-a-half-hour canvas. To what purpose? Why must these putatively epic CGI battle sequences overstay their sense of urgency and drag on forever, time and time again?)
Still, “The Flash” contains, well, flashes of brilliance, e.g., when Barry, a forensic chemist at the Central City Research Center, gets a call from a certain fella named Alfred (Jeremy Irons) informing him there’s an attack underway in Gotham City, and Batman (Ben Affleck) needs his help, as the other, more experienced Justice League members are otherwise occupied. The Flash needs to make that one-second commute to Gotham Hospital, where he juggles his desperate need for nutrition with the task of saving a dozen newborns who are falling like so many raindrops. (Barry even calls it a “baby shower,” HA.) It’s a weird, funny, innovative and exciting sequence, shown from The Flash’s POV, and it’s like something you might see in a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. Lord knows the DC Universe could use a little more levity.
Not that Barry is having much fun being The Flash. He laments that he’s the “janitor of the Justice League,” cleaning up everyone’s messes, and he’s haunted by the murder of his mother (Maribel Verdu) when he was just a boy — a crime for which his father, Henry (Ron Livingston), was wrongly convicted and imprisoned. After Barry discovers he can roll back time for more than a second or two and use his super-speed to travel into the past, he ignores the obligatory “butterfly effect” warnings about how you can’t mess with the timeline, and he finds himself trapped in an alternate universe with his goofy, irritating 18-year-old self. Barry’s mother is alive in this world, but everything is a bit … off, as when he learns Eric Stoltz starred in “Back to the Future” (lots of meta-meta stuff going on here), while Michael J. Fox was in “Footloose.”
Oh, and the evil Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) is about to destroy Earth, so there’s that. The two Barrys seek out Bruce Wayne/Batman, and as you might well know from the trailers and poster and advertising, Michael Keaton reprises his role from the Tim Burton films, and he’s as fantastic as you’d expect him to be, playing a burnt-out version of Bruce who’s lazing around a dilapidated Wayne Manor as if he’s Batman Big Lebowski — but rallies into fighting shape to help the Barrys locate Superman. Instead of finding Superman, they locate his cousin, Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle) aka Supergirl.
Director Andy Muschietti (the “It” movies) and screenwriter Christina Hodson (“Bumblebee,” “Birds of Prey”) deliver a number of creative and crowd-pleasing callbacks and Easter eggs saluting the history of Batman and Superman, though at times it seems more like fan service than an integral element of the story arc.
Miller, whose deeply troublesome offscreen behavior had some observers wondering if this entire project would be shelved, does a remarkable job of creating two completely independent versions of Barry. (Also, the technology is insanely good; there’s never a moment where it doesn’t feel as if two distinctly different characters are occupying the frame, even though they’re being portrayed by the same actor.) Keaton is great and seems to revel in delivering some very familiar lines, while Sasha Calle in a limited role still gives a hint of how powerful she might be in a stand-alone Supergirl adventure.
“The Flash” tries to do too much and careens this way and that in its finale, and we get dangerously close to the point where the surprises aren’t all that surprising anymore, but it’s a step in the right direction for the sometimes wobbly DC Universe.
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