The new DC comic book The Flash would appear at first glance to have a lot working against it. It's been in development for about a decade, cycling through directors, writers, and reshoots. It's part of the Justice League era of DC movies, one that's not only several years out of date, but based on the ideas and priorities from two studio regimes ago. The director, Andy Muschietti, made the very good first IT movie, but also the less successful second one. It utilizes multiverse storytelling, something that's become oversaturated, and some of its most prominent ideas were already used in everything from Spider-man: Far From Home to Avengers: Endgame. And its star, Ezra Miller, has been accused of a variety of weird and horrific crimes.
Still, The Flash is a nice surprise. It's another multiverse story, but one that keeps the storytelling lean and not too complicated. Miller—playing two different versions of the lead character at once for the majority of the film—delivers a fine performance. The action’s outstanding, including a depiction of the "speed force" that's much better-rendered than the similar Quantum Realm that Marvel showed us in the terrible Ant-man sequel. And while there are nearly endless cameos and fan service, they’re mostly satisfying, including some legitimate surprises.
The other good thing is that while The Flash is based on comic book storylines, it owes more to the multi-faceted movie legacy of the DC characters. And that starts with the return of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman, for the first time since Tim Burton’s Batman Returns in 1992. In between, Keaton starred in an Oscar-winning movie, Birdman, in which he played an aging actor coming to terms with the blockbuster superhero he used to play, and now he’s Batman again.
The Flash begins sometime after the events of the Justice League movie, although it's not clear whether the 2017 original or the 2021 "Snyder Cut" is actual canon. The first few movies in the Justice League era already introduced Miller's take on The Flash, the alter ego of young nerd Barry Allen, so this isn’t an origin story. The new film begins with an action blowout featuring the Justice League characters, including Ben Affleck's version of Batman, as well as Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. It’s one of three movies so far this year in which Gadot shows up for a couple of minutes, just to save the day.
The Flash figures out a way to go back in time, with the goal of undoing his sad family history, in which his mother was murdered and father was falsely accused of the crime. His parents are played by the unlikely couple of Swingers sideman Ron Livingston and Maribel Verdú, the sexpot from Y Tu Mama Tambien. The time travel attempt goes awry, sending Barry back to an alternate universe, where he meets a younger version of himself, as well as a different Batman from the Affleck version who he knew in his own time. That's Keaton, who shows up wearing the same hair, beard and attitude Mark Hamill wore when he first showed up in the Star Wars sequels. Keaton’s the best thing about the movie, believably kicking ass as Batman at age 71. He's also brought with him elements of Danny Elfman's music from the Burton-era Batman films.
In that timeline, the characters take on General Zod, once again played by Michael Shannon, who reprises his villain role from Snyder’s Man of Steel. He’s welcome here, even if the fight with Zod is somewhat beside the point. The Flash offers warnings about screwing with the timeline that wouldn't have been out of place in 1960s Star Trek episodes. And we've already seen the multiverse gimmick used to bring back actors in previous versions of the same franchise, mostly in the MCU's Spider-man: No Way Home.