‘I’ ON CULTURE
The DC Universe has finally given us The Flash, a movie worthy of being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, there have actually been others. The first Wonder Woman was very good, and Aquaman pretty decent. But most of the DC content is, frankly, boring. Let’s face it, Superman is boring. A lot of plotting has to be done to try to defeat him. And Batman was interesting in some old movies, but not since Christopher Nolan worked on him. Yet the new movie is interesting, although far from perfect.
Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is a schlub despite being the Flash. We see him save a group of babies, as well as a nurse from a collapsing building, followed by helping to take down some other bad guys, helping Batman (Ben Affleck) and, eventually, in a too-tiny cameo, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). That makes him a bit late for work, where he is abused by both his boss and so-called friends. He’s miserable because his father Henry (Ron Livingstone) is up for yet another hearing on his wrongful conviction for murdering his mother Nora (Maribel Verdú). Barry, after being brushed off by Batman, decides to go back in time to save his mother.
That creates all sorts of issues. Yes, by making a small change, his mother lives. But Barry discovers he is in a different universe, where he exists as an 18-year-old version of himself (also played by Miller). But the world is being threatened by evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) to get a “renegade from Krypton,” as well as to basically kill everyone. The first Barry knows who came from Krypton, of course, although his younger version does not.
But the only superhero in this reality is Batman. So the two Barrys find Bruce Wayne, only to discover that Batman, now played by Michael Keaton, is different — far older and far more cynical. And, while working a rescue, they find out that the “renegade” is not Superman, but his cousin Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle), a very tough version of Supergirl.
From there, things get even more complicated and messy. What saves the film are, first of all, really good performances. Miller, although problematic in real life, is brilliant as both Barrys. They are, although looking alike, clearly differentiated characters. The original Barry has been through so much more and has been so badly damaged. Yet he also has had experience as a superhero and has learned to take chances and face danger really well. The younger Barry has to learn these things, and the experience will create massive changes.
Keaton proves again why many people think he was the best Batman throughout all the movies. His character is layered, thoughtful, more willing to stand up to problems than we normally see. Verdú is absolutely wonderful. Although her role is fairly small, she is the heart that is the center of the film. It is clear why Barry’s life was shattered when she was gone. There is a heartbreaking scene near the end between Nora Allen and a young man she does not realize is her son that could match anything in all of the superhero movies. Calle is appropriate fierce as Supergirl, and Shannon demonstrates why he is such a good villain.
There is too much discussion about dimensions and going back in time and its impact, and that slows the plot. Too much time is spent trying to define it. There is even a charming moment when the multiverse is compared to a plate of spaghetti, with constant contacts and points of intersection. It might be the best explanation I’ve yet heard.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the better film, so if you must make a choice, take that one. But this movie does hold its own. It demonstrates, also, why human actors are so valuable. No matter how charming Spider-Man’s mother in the cartoon film is, she cannot match the heart that Verdú brings, and that makes the damage to Barry so clearly real.
I liked the movie. And it was not just for the special effects or a place somewhere in the multiverse. This film has heart, small-scale, family impact heart, and that raises it above many similar films. Not a great film, but a very nice one.