There was plenty made out of the Cinemacon premiere of The Flash. Filled with the typical hyperbolic reactions expected from any franchise movie premiere, it set an impossibly high bar to clear for a film that feels like it has been supposed to be released for years. But I'll say this — The Flash is a fun summertime and popcorn flick, led by great performances from Ezra Miller, that easily tops the recent output from the DCEU (or now DCU).

The Flash review

Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, The Flash
A still from The Flash courtesy of Warner Bros.

If I'm being completely honest, I'm not exactly sure when this movie takes place. It's clearly after Justice League (and the Snyder Cut), but what I do know is that Barry Allen is now living it up as the Justice League's proverbial (and sometimes literal) janitor — cleaning up the messes left by Batman (Ben Affleck). Stressing over the looming trial of his father, Barry travels back in time to prevent the death of his mother.

For whatever reason, comic book movies have recently become obsessed with time travel and the multiverse and have decided to release all of the films with it in the past half-decade. Avengers: Endgame namedropped Back to the Future and created their own rules for messing with the past. Spider-Man: No Way Home similarly showed the ramifications of changing the past. Across the Spider-Verse also dealt with similar themes. That leaves The Flash to once again pick up the pieces, full of Back to the Future references, to once again remind its hero that a.) you can't interact or mess with people in the past, and b.) you can't have it all.

What I mean by the latter is that Barry thinks he can have it all — save his mom (and his father simultaneously) and get back to his world without affecting it at all. That's not the case, as Barry soon learns that those actions do have consequences when he gets trapped in the past — his freshman year of college, to be exact. This is where he meets his younger self and has to interact with him. After accidentally giving the younger version of himself his powers, the two have to track down that reality's Batman (Michael Keaton) to help. All the while, General Zod (Michael Shannon) returns to invade Metropolis a la Man of Steel.

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The overarching theme of The Flash is that the scars we have are what make us the people we are today — which is said by both Batmen in The Flash. It's a strong motif for a comic book movie and gives hope to anyone who feels like their past defines them. It's understandable why Barry wants to prevent his mother's death, but once again, you can't have it all. Surprisingly, this film tackles that theme even stronger than a film like No Way Home.

At the same point, it's a shame that comic book movies are still scared to fully commit to themes like these. In The Flash, the moments between Barry and Nora Allen (Maribel Verdú) are really good stuff, yet there's not a full level of commitment to the latter. Sure, we don't often hone in on Bruce Wayne's parents once they're dead, but the character of Nora is the entire emotional pulse in the film, so it's a shame that she doesn't fully get her due.

And I thought we were over DC trying to fit Marvel's mold. Comic book movies will quip, but even as someone who enjoyed Thor: Love and Thunder, The Flash has way too many jokes. And unfortunately, even if they measure up comparably in terms of the number of jokes, one has Taika Waititi and the other does not. Screenwriter Christina Hodson wrote my favorite DCU movie, Birds of Prey, and made chicken salad out of chicken crap (a.k.a. the convoluted mess of the DCU lore). Proving that she can juggle something as frenetic as the constantly-evolving DCU (and not in a good way) gives me hope for her Fast & Furious 11 script — lord knows the 10th movie needed someone who can do that — but there are so many directions that The Flash is being pulled into, it ultimately feels unfocused. I'm not any more sure of where this even takes place in the DCU after viewing it — and that clarity was the one thing I was looking forward to with this movie.

The other issue — and this is another obligation Hodson had to fulfill — is that The Flash has a lot of fan service. I'm all for fun references, and seeing people around me at the screening who clearly understood each reference is actually fun for me, but The Flash sometimes sacrifices cohesion for a fun cameo or reference that'll get the whole audience clapping like seals. It begs the question of whether or not this is a movie or an event.

It even bleeds into performances like Keaton's. In the reality that Barry gets trapped in, he encounters their world's Bruce Wayne/Batman. While Keaton still fits the aura under the cowl, almost all of his other lines are references to his Batman that, yes, even I picked up on. But him saying “I'm Batman” with a “yeah” preceding it that I thought only Keanu Reeves could deliver or the half-hearted “let's get nuts” reprise is eye-rolling at best.

And it's a shame because some of the flaws of The Flash feel like filmmakers compromising themselves. Andy Muschietti is a talented horror director — say what you want about It: Chapter Two, but the first film was quite good — but that strength is absent in The Flash. Maybe he gets to throw a jumpscare or two in when Barry's in the space where he time travels (there's an official title that I didn't care enough to remember), but there's a lot left on the table.

Ezra Miller had a tumultuous past few years to get here, but off-camera controversies aside, they remind you why they were cast in this role in the first place. Having to play two Barrys — one being your normal Barry and the other being a gawky stoner freshman who's just coming to grips with his superpowers — is no easy task, but Miller juxtaposes them by playing each one significantly different than the other. The stoner Barry gets quite a few good jokes in there, while Miller actually does a lot of great dramatic work as the standard Barry.

Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, The Flash
A still from The Flash courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ben Affleck is one of the best Batman actors in my humble opinion. The movies around him sucked, but his visceral nature made this iteration unique. Affleck's also great at playing someone who's visibly conflicted, which always made his Bruce Wayne interesting. Shoutout to him, and if this is the last appearance by him as Batman, he'll remain one of the best to do it.

One supporting character that gets completely buried is Iris West (Kiersey Clemons). I do remember her being in Zack Snyder's Justice League, but her character is reintroduced only to be buried. Granted, Barry does leave the dimension with her in it, but when it looks like the story could take it in an interesting route given that she's a journalist, they end up taking the safest route imaginable. Perhaps if there are future films with these characters we will see more of her. For now, it was disappointing.

DCU newcomer Supergirl (Sasha Calle) makes her debut in The Flash. Upon her first scene, I thought Calle was only going to play the character as a scowling Terminator or X-Men mutant-like figure, but she does get some moments later in the film that prove why she's there. I'm not exactly sure what the ending of this film indicates for Calle's future in the DCU, but if there's a way that she returns, I'm game.

Visually speaking, The Flash also clears the bar for DC. Now, its third act is repetitive and you'd think DC would've learned its lesson after Man of Steel — the very first movie in this franchise — and its third act slog. The third-act battle here sometimes looks similar, but at least it takes place in broad daylight and you can differentiate things (unlike The Little Mermaid). The only time that the CGI really stands out in a bad way is when Barry is in the dimension traveling backward. It's full of vibrant colors, but seeing the various timelines gets muddled and confusing. It's like the sequence in No Way Home where Doctor Strange briefly breaks the multiverse but on crack.

Should you watch The Flash? 

For the first time in a while, I actually didn't hate a DC movie. The past few films like Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods were actually dreadful and a crime against the genre, but The Flash does enough to remind you that these movies can actually be fun — even if it occasionally gets caught with its hand in the self-indulgent cookie jar. Miller gives their best performance in the franchise to date — though who knows where they go from here — and I would actually want to see the continuation of this franchise.

Grade: C+

The Flash will be released on June 16.