To this day, I remember sitting in the audience looking up at the screening and being astounded by Ezra Miller's performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a film that had been outside my radar before a dear friend dragged me to it somewhat proud of himself for having discovered an indie gem I'd yet to discover.
He was right, of course. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was an astounding film and MIller was astounding it. I declared right then and there that Miller would become one of their generation's true acting greats.
At times, Miller has lived into this confident proclamation. Films like We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and supporting turns in the DC Universe have offered glimpses of Miller's tremendous gifts.
Of course, if you've paid any attention at all you're also aware that Miller has shown signs of being a troubled young actor with concerning behavioral issues and self-acknowledged mental health concerns occasionally grabbing the headlines instead of Miller's immense talent. While some expected that Miller would be canceled or, at minimum, that The Flash would end up being set aside, there's simply too much talent here and too much of an investment, financial and otherwise, for anyone to have truly believed that The Flash would not see the light of day. Your ability to immerse yourself in The Flash may very well depend upon how easily you can set aside Miller the human being in favor of Miller the gifted actor. While early reports had The Flash as a masterful superhero incarnation, wider response is more tempered.
There will, in fact, be those who enthusiastically embrace The Flash with its emotional backstory, nostalgic focus, and ample special effects.
Despite my appreciation for Ezra Miller, I will not be one of them.
It's clear that director Andy Muschietti has attempted to craft a deeply meaningful and complex film. The effort is here and the effort is obvious. This is also true for Miller, who has been engaging in smaller doses as Barry Allen/The Flash yet who struggles mightily here to carry a film that is entirely dependent upon Miller. It doesn't help, unfortunately, that anyone aware of timelines is aware that an awful lot of shooting occurred during Miller's particularly challenging period and it's hard not to wonder the impact it all had on a performance that lacks the depth we've come to appreciate from the actor whose talent is truly undeniable.
Michael Keaton, as you likely know, is back as Batman. It's a role he carried in 1989 and a role that continues to feel right for him. He's a revelation here even if he's given very little to do amidst Miller's dual roles of which neither actually ever really works.
The Flash starts off promisingly. There's a simplicity to the early emotional core of the film for which Miller is particularly approprate. Barry, a.k.a. The Flash, is traumatized by the murder of his mother (Maribel Verdu) and the fact that his father (Ron Livingston) has been, falsely I might add, blamed for it. Particularly gifted with speed, The Flash learns that he can run fast enough into his own past that he is able to change particularly traumatic outcomes.
Big mistake, you're probably already mouthing.
For a film that kicks off with powerful emotional resonance and character complexity, The Flash becomes something entirely different and entirely less satisfying. It's not entirely on Miller, of course, though it's hard to watch early scenes with Miller the gifted actor turn into something that becomes difficult to watch. There was so much potential here to make a complex and meaningful film that it becomes even more difficult to watch The Flash downward spiral into devastatingly unconvincing action sequences with special effects that aren't so much nostalgic as cheesy.
Among the key players, Keaton and Sasha Calle, as Supergirl, are most convincing. Michael Shannon returns as General Zod to mixed impact. There are, of course, the expected cameos that will delight fans but for the most part The Flash simply never becomes the film it could have so easily been.
The original score by Benjamin Wallfisch, like much of the film, tries too hard and results in too little.
The weirdest thing, at least for me, is that The Flash is one of the rare superhero experiences where I can't say that it truly requires the big screen to reach its maximum effect. Unlike this week's other big release, Pixar's Elemental, The Flash is practically crying out to be a smaller story and those tears practically saturate the film's nostalgia-tinged special effects. The special effects were so retro that I'll confess every time I heard The Flash, I found myself singing a particular theme song from a certain 80's Flash Gordon film.
I'm pretty sure that wasn't the desired effect.
The Flash is ultimately the worst kind of disappointment because it's trying so hard to please everyone from hardcore fans to techno-geeks to those who want a meaningful story. In the end, it's likely only those who have a deep nostalgia for the material who will end up truly satisfied.
With Easter Eggs galore and an abundance of sentimentality, The Flash may very well prove satisfying enough for its core audience. However, as a film designed to rescue the DC universe it falls short with an erratic tone and story that never finds its narrative focus despite moments of brilliance and glimpses into the wonder that Miller can and hopefully will be in future incarnations as The Flash/Barry Allen.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic