Terrible jokes, cringe-worthy performances, and jaw-droppingly ugly VFX work make for a truly wretched blockbuster experience
The Flash’s troubled journey to the big screen has been infamous for many reasons – including the disturbing and felonious behaviour of its lead actor – but one of its more recent headline-grabbers has been its absurdly confident marketing. Billed by various DC/Warner Bros. bigwigs as one of the, if not the best superhero movies ever made, it’s set a high bar for itself. In a crowded genre, “best ever” is a bold stance to take, made bolder by the fact that The Flash has been very recently preceded by Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Across the Spider-Verse, and made outright insane on account of it actually being one of the worst films of the year. A wretched mix of dull humour, cringy acting, and astonishingly ugly effects work, it hits a low point in the comic book movie genre not seen since 2022's Morbius.
After popping up in various DC projects since 2016’s Batman v Superman, The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) finally gets top billing in a story that loosely adapts the massive, universe-resetting “Flashpoint” story arc from the comics. In an attempt to go back in time to save his mum from being murdered and his innocent dad from being imprisoned for that murder, Barry accidentally creates a calamitous new timeline. Here, superheroes are almost non-existent and the invasion of General Zod (Michael Shannon) threatens to destroy Earth entirely without Superman there to stop it.
It’s a story beset by the general problems of both the time-travel and multiverse tropes, where branching timelines means anything can happen and none of it matters. The script from Christina Hodson, who also wrote the vastly superior Birds of Prey, simply cannot overcome this central hurdle, and the attempts to disguise the story’s airy weaknesses with jokes are mostly just excruciating. It doesn’t help matters that Miller is a profoundly annoying central presence as Barry and, thanks to the time-travel shenanigans, there are now two of them, which is entirely too much Miller.
Even the much-trailed Michael Keaton, returning as an aged Batman in the alt-world created by Barry, can’t breathe life into this writing, mostly just looking sad to be there, reeling off his iconic Burton-era lines with a depressingly flat affect. He does bring Danny Elfman’s iconic score with him, but director Andy Muschietti recreates none of Burton’s still-thrilling Gotham design work or atmospheric mastery. It gives the whole affair a profoundly hollow feeling, only worsened by the various (CG-only) cameos of DC movie characters past, which at points are actively ghoulish in their “resurrections” of dead actors.
Making matters even more unsettling is how lifeless and waxy these CG creations look – across the board, The Flash has some of the worst effects I’ve seen in a superhero blockbuster in years. Action sequences take on the appearance of an in-game cutscene from a PS3-era game, especially whenever Barry enters the time-dilating “Speed Force” or during the aerial battles involving Supergirl (Sasha Calle), the Kryptonian who arrived on this new Earth instead of Clark Kent. The Flash ticks none of the boxes of an even passable comic book movie, the bar for which is not very high, dragging on and on through various flat, personality-free sequences until the whole thing collapses under its own insufferable weight.
The Flash is released in UK cinemas on 16 June.Where to watch