There’s a familiar meme of Spiderman, or rather two or even three Spidermans each pointing to each other. It gets used in various social media contexts, to suggest recognition or competition between several similar individuals. There’s some inherent notion of duality about the Spiderman character that somehow made it work to have three different actors playing the part at the same time in the popular 2019 Marvel film No Way Home. Rebooting unloved comic-book character The Flash has been under gestation for DC Comics for decades, but it’s clearly been greenlit due to a seized opportunity to imitate or rip-off Spiderman; we have several Batmans here, including Ben Affleck’s current lame-duck incumbent, then 80’s version Michael Keaton, an alternate universe Batman for ten mins before he just going back to being the same old boring Batman. So there’s a lot of talking points to distract from the deeply rotten centre of the film, Ezra Miller as The Flash.
Miller has a lengthy crime-sheet currently being processed while he sits out most of his promotional duties, and that makes his mugging performance here something of a strain to watch. He plays two different versions of The Flash; our hero has super-speed, showcased in a garish opening in which a maternity ward of babies are disgorged from the top floor of a skyscraper hospital, leaving The Flash to rescue them from bottles of acid and other dangerous objects. Superman is pictured on tv doing something with a volcano, and Batman is busy, so the takeaway is that poor The Flash picks up the smash. But The Flash’s tortured soul finds some kind of nourishment when it occurs to him that he could travel back in time and prevent his mother’s brutal murder. His actions jumble time-lines, causing two Flashes to get in contact with alternate universe Batman (Keaton) and make contact with another rebooted super-hero (pictured above) in the face of a fairly half-hearted alien invasions by General Zod (Michael Shannon), still not a patch on Terence Stamp’s 1981 version.
It’s all set in this confusing universe where Metropolis and Gotham City are side by side, and fuses various strands of DC lore together in un-illuminating ways. Just about all the Justice League characters appear here, but that sweet camaraderie between the three Spidermans just doesn’t happen; we only get one Batman at a time, although we do get all kinds of other stuff, including repurposed footage of ex-Supermen Nicolas Cage and Christopher Reeve. Miller’s shrill, slapstick Jim Carrey-on-speed performance jars badly with the violent elements, and director Andy Muschietti only manages to earth the action for the first 30 minutes or so before the usual standard-issue green-screen ruminations take over. There is a funny final cameo, and the explanation of time-travel using spaghetti is neatly expressed, but we’re talking about fragments of a movie here spread over 155 minutes of utter dreck.
It’s as if Miller looked at how Jonathan Majors’ arrest hobbled the development of the MCU and thought; hold my beer. The Flash’s undeniable appeal to loyal DC fanboys who are prepared to overlook Miller’s toxic public persona is likely to be followed by indifference from a fickle public who like to have an original slant about such super-hero movies as Joker or The Batman, but not quite as much of a shambles of in-jokes, cliquey references and off-kilter energy as this. The Flash is somewhat exasperating to watch; how well the reprise of Keaton’s Batman initially works only underlines that the central core of The Flash is posted missing, and that Miller’s manic gurning was expected to be seen in the context of wild enthusiasm for the actor rather than distaste. It doesn’t feel like we need even one version of a place-holding side-character like The Flash right now, and even if we did, the charmless Miller surely wouldn’t be the choice of many punters to play the role.
Thanks to Warner Bros UK for providing access to this film, which is out now in UK, US and elsewhere.