You can never accuse The Flash of not going big. There are multiverses, multisuperheroes, and even multiFlashes. Why have one Batman when you can have all of them? Why have Ezra Miller play Barry/The Flash once, when they can play the same character(s) twice? Why have a single cohesive narrative when you can have a bowl of spaghetti instead? (To the film’s credit, there is a moment where the concept of non-linear multiverses is explained using two uncooked pieces of pasta, which this viewer greatly appreciated.)
After its completely-over-the-top opening sequence involving babies, broken glass, and knives, The Flash gets down to business. Barry (Ezra Miller) is haunted by the tragedy that destroyed his family when he was a kid: His father (Ron Livingston) was unjustly accused of murdering his mother (Maribel Verdú). It seems his dad’s fate is always short of one piece of evidence that can set him free after all these years. Dad is resigned to his fate, but Barry wants justice.
By fluke, Barry–who is also the super-speedy superhero The Flash–figures out that if he runs really really fast, he can actually bend time. Perhaps, he figures, if he goes back, he can prevent his mother’s murder and rewrite his family’s tragic story. Barry’s pal Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) warns him of the obvious: You can’t change history without potentially affecting everything that follows.
The Flash jumps on the multiverse train, but Barry quickly realizes that he is not jumping a linear path of time, but is rather stumbling into different universes. He encounters his college-age self (again played by Miller), a more goofy and carefree version of Barry; a could-have-been version where his mom did not die. But Flash Barry realizes that Young Barry is at exactly the moment in his life where he should receive his Flash powers through an accident at a lab. Of course staging an accident never goes as planned, leaving only Young Barry with completely untested powers… Not only that, but it turns out that General Zod (Michael Shannon) is back in this universe looking for the Kryptonian, and threatening to burn all the shit down. Flash Barry and Young Barry need help. They need to find Bruce/Batman.
If you’ve seen the trailer and heard all the buzz, it is no surprise to anyone except Flash Barry that in this timeline Batman is not only a different guy, but is now Old Batman, a grizzled (and very welcome) Michael Keaton. Old Batman agrees to help the Barrys find the Kryptonian before Zod, and hopefully get Flash Barry back to his universe… that is if the whole world isn’t blown up by Zod first.
Multiverse movies are basically a get-out-of-jail-free card for filmmakers. In this case, imagine that artificial intelligence combed through the internet, mining every DC film clip, every discussion, every fanfic, and threw it into an AI-overlord blender and belched out a screenplay. That’s what The Flash feels like. There is a LOT going on here, and DC fans I’m sure will get a huge kick out of the film (based on the delighted guffaws and hoots in the audience). There are tons of Easter eggs and in-jokes that are directly targeted at that fanbase.
For the rest of us, The Flash is a decent if not particularly memorable entry in the never-ending pantheon of modern superhero movies. Ezra Miller is supremely talented, so it is no surprise that they are able to elevate both Barrys as two distinct characters. A lesser actor would make the center of this very-full film collapse under its weight, but Miller is funny, a deft physical comedian, and makes you feel all the feels when needed.
We also get a new hero (in another timeline at least) in Kara, the Kryptonian Supergirl (An aside to DC: Why “girl” when she is a grown-ass woman? I know, I know… sacred canon…), played by brooding Sasha Calle. Calle, with her dark hair falling into her eyes and her compact coiled form, is a nice addition to the superhero boy’s club (despite the accents on her costume that made me think of 80s high-cut aerobics outfits).
The rest of the supporting cast is so large that it plays like visual target practice: spot the cameos! both real or, well, risen from the dead (which made me a little uncomfortable for late actors that didn’t sign up for another movie)!
But finally we have Michael Keaton. Back in the day (more specifically 1989) when he played Batman in Tim Burton’s first film, he was considered miscast. But since then, his portrayal has become beloved to generations of fans. There’s something about how he has matured and weathered… Michael Keaton now exudes a delightful, lived-in, don’t-give-a-shit swagger (first displayed in the wonderful Spider-Man Homecoming). This Batman’s return in The Flash is like a gift: Dominant enough to completely steal his scenes, but brief enough to act as a mic drop to show everyone else how its done.