New DC Cameo-fest races into Patronizing, Condescending Superhero Fun!


There’s no denying that the summer of 1989 was a long time ago, though with a glance at Hollywood’s current crop of aspiring blockbusters, you might second guess that.  Being an impressionable and carefree youth of fifteen at that time, I vividly recall the widespread enthusiasm for two highly anticipated movies: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which opened in late May, and Batman, which opened in late June.  

In a few weeks from this writing, Indiana Jones will set out one last time (so we’re told) to turn back The Dial of Destiny.  Time will tell if the film is a Holy Grail at the end of the journey.  Batman ‘89, however, is also returning.   That original spectacle, having been directed by a relatively untested Tim Burton and controversially starring comedy star Michael Keaton, proved to be the one that clinched and maintained a cultural fascination for the entire summer and beyond.  As far as movies-as-phenomenons go, there’s never again been nothing like it.  Ever since, every major movie studio has strived to recreate Batman’s lightning in a bottle, right down to its influential minimalist advance one-sheet, which consisted only of the title character’s logo, and the release date, “June 23”.

Sprint forward in time to the present day, Warner Bros. might as well have resurrected that famous poster, adding only an apostrophe: “June ‘23”.  As anyone paying any attention knows by now, Michael Keaton (long since venerated as the first of many dark and serious big-screen Batmen) at long, long last returns to his trademark restrictive cape and cowl for a movie about… The Flash??  

Keaton’s character’s digs (a very Burton/Gothic Wayne Manor) and bat-gadgets have remained largely the same as when we last saw him in 1992’s Batman Returns, although, in his advanced age, has apparently hung up the cape in favor of long grunge rock hair and a Lebowski sweater.  So yes, things have changed in the meantime, as they’re so often want to do.  For example, back in the day I wouldn’t have pegged this incarnation of Bruce Wayne to be an expert on multiversal space-time continuum, but that’s the first thing he demonstrates when our main protagonists find him.  He does, however, tend to repurpose memorable things he said in his previous films.  When he finally does suit up again, his declaration of “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!” can’t possibly have the resonance with the characters near him in the room as it does for us watching.  Of course, he says it anyway.

All the while as the new collides headlong with the old, we’re aggressively reminded of how superhero movies have come a long way since the halcyon days of self-contained single-hero stories.  A decent costume, some cool props, and maybe some intriguing casting, and we were generally happy.  Nowadays, we’re hard pressed to find a comic book-based movie that doesn’t splinter into diverging-reality tangents of corporately-wielded intellectual properties.  For the studios so deeply invested in such fanboyesque tentpole filmmaking, it’s become primarily a game of oneupmanship in terms of legacy revival/rehash/retread/returns.

Now then…. Here we are this far along into a review of The Flash, and the titular scarlet speedster nor the actor who plays him, Ezra Miller, has been scarcely mentioned.  If nothing else, this model is in keeping with the months-long studio marketing leading up to this inevitable release.  Why?  If you’ve ventured anywhere near entertainment news in the past few years, you know that Warner Bros. (the longtime home studio of all the DC Comics characters) has a major Ezra Miller problem on its hands.  Since being cast as Barry Allen aka The Flash circa 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Miller has engaged repeatedly in the kind of seriously dastardly deeds that tend to define “publicity department nightmare.”  Consequently, we’ve gotten posters that play up the costume and the lightning bolt logo, but noticeably downplay Miller’s face.  Michael Keaton’s Batman became the crux of the film’s advance campaign.  

But it’s worse than that… Per the highly unusual nature of The Flash’s story, this movie doesn’t just prominently star Ezra Miller, it has two Ezra Millers for most of the running time.  It goes a little something like this… When young criminal forensics scientist Barry Allen figures out that his Flash powers can enable him to travel through time, he realizes that he can, in theory, prevent his mother’s death.  His simple plan frays, however, when he comes face to face with his past, pre-powered self.  As the two Barrys hole up to figure things out, it just so happens that the invasion of Krypton’s General Zod (as kinetically depicted in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel) begins.  And only Superman can deal with that.  (Or so they say… We all know how grossly destructive that battle got). But where is he?

That search leads them to Batman (Keaton), who isn’t at all the Ben Affleck Bruce Wayne that Allen knows and holds dear as his best friend.  But before that, Barry has to make sure that the younger Barry is in place for the random lab accident that gives him (them) his (their) superpowers.  That intervention ends up accidentally depowering “Barry Prime” (my term, not theirs.  Because, egads…  Even for Michael Keaton, multiplicity was never like this…!), so they also have to deal with that.  Meanwhile, in this other reality, it’s not Superman but Supergirl (Sasha Calle) who made it to Earth, but she’s already been captured.  Zod’s (Michael Shannon, back again) plan to terraform our planet into “New Krypton” appears to be unchallenged… Can The Flash, The Flash, and Batman ‘89 and whoever else arrive on time and stop it?   Holy crap.

As one may glean, The Flash is a weird movie.  It’s not weird, though, in any way that’s ultimately compelling or cinematically virtuous.  No, it’s weird like an aged fanboy’s fever dream, one in which I.P. is maximized as legacy actors happily jettison their dignity for a big fat check.  There’s plenty of fun to be had in the moment, as Miller carries the film with an irreverent wit and proper pathos.  Afterwards, however, you might not feel so great about it.  The attempted emotional beats about inevitabilities in life (which this summer’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse also addresses, far less ham-handedly) are terminally overshadowed by its determination to upstage all other superhero movies in The Cameo Wars.  We eventually plow face-first through a cracked barrier where fan-service artifice completely takes over.  It takes over to the extreme point where we leave forgetting this story ought to bear any relatable weight- which it thinks it does.  It’s hard to feel affected by the story as scripted when you know it’s been tremendously condescending.

If the purpose of Zack Snyder’s vision for DC movies was to untether them from prominent past incarnations of the iconic characters, The Flash is a big gaudy prank on the filmmaker and his fanbase.  As for me, I’ve never been remotely a part of the Cult of Snyder.  Far before that was ever a thing, I was a fifteen-year-old in the hallowed summer of ‘89, happily lapping up every glorious frothy dollop of geek-cinema manna.  Per the nostalgia-baiting specifics carried out by director Andy Muschietti (who also made the recent It films), I ought to be happily in its dorky crosshairs.  But The Flash in no way feels like a movie that came out when I was fifteen.  It does, however, feel like a movie I would’ve written when I was that age.  A movie I would’ve written really really really fast.