When his attempt to save his family inadvertently alters the future, Barry Allen becomes trapped in a reality in which General Zod has returned and there are no Super Heroes to turn to. In order to save the world that he is in and return to the future that he knows, Barry’s only hope is to race for his life. But will making the ultimate sacrifice be enough to reset the universe?
When Barry attempts to return to the present, he’s stuck — powerless with a younger version of himself in an alternate 2013 during the events of “Man of Steel,” the movie that started the whole DC series of films in recent years, as General Zod (Michael Shannon) invades Earth and intends to wipe it out and rebuild his home planet, Krypton.
When Barry Allen/The Flash (Miller) decides to run back in time to prevent his mother, Nora (Mirabel Verdú), from being murdered and save his father, Henry (Ron Livingston), from a wrongful conviction, he ends up creating a new timeline in which much of the Justice League members whom Barry knows either don’t exist or have changed. This means Bruce Wayne/Batman shifts from Ben Affleck to Michael Keaton, who reprises his role from 30 years ago in “Batman Returns,” and Kara Zor-El/Supergirl (Sasha Calle) is the Kryptonian to land on Earth, not Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill).
In “The Flash” TV show that just completed nine seasons on The CW, it’s clear from the beginning that Barry’s nemesis, appropriately named the Reverse-Flash, is Nora’s murderer. To see the different paths creatives take to adapting the story is simultaneously interesting and convoluted. This issue is exacerbated given the film focuses on the “Flashpoint” story arc from the comics, one with typically larger ramifications than what the movie actually proposes. Changes seem to be hinted at slightly in its final scene, though it could simply be a fun cameo. It’s not clear how much is different and what it means for the upcoming slate of projects from DC Studios, now under the leadership of James Gunn and Peter Safran.
The casual viewer will likely have trouble following the time travel, multiverse logistics and different versions of characters, especially if they haven’t seen other DC movies. The more experienced fan might even struggle, to be honest. The movie does successfully establish the emotional core of Barry’s history with his parents, and the scenes between Miller and Verdú are some of the film’s best. However, it’s never fully explained who kills Barry’s mother, if that’s even important at this point given the looming restructuring of the new DC Universe.
As for the cast’s performances, Ezra Miller, who uses they/them pronouns, manages to bring both lighthearted energy and a sense of yearning to Barry, and Keaton’s return as Batman is perfect with some excellent cinematography and music to match the icon. Sasha Calle’s take on Supergirl isn’t given enough time, but what the audience gets is a strong portrayal worth another chance in a film free from behind-the-scenes drama and external forces weighing it down.
Nevertheless, it’s hard not to compare their performances to other portrayals of the characters. Miller playing two versions of Barry is nearly unbearable. The snarky humor and personality they imbue in the hero become obnoxious after 2 1/2 hours. In the CW show, Grant Gustin is endearing and charismatic in a take that’s simply more likable.
Likewise, Calle’s Kara is also different from the CW “Supergirl” series starring Melissa Benoist, but not necessarily in a bad way. The versions of the characters have opposite origins — Calle’s lands in Siberia and is held captive; Benoist’s lands in the U.S. and finds a loving family — so it makes sense their motivations and personalities wouldn’t be identical. There’s also so many Batmen from over the years with each actor inhabiting the role in their own way.
I won’t harp much on the visual effects. They weren’t always fantastic, but in most parts, they weren’t bad enough to fully take me out of my viewing experience. When Barry’s simply running, it looks really cool, as do some of the slow motion sequences. When he runs back and forth through time, the details of the timeline unfolding around him look incredibly fake, almost incomplete, even if the film’s director says otherwise. The opening scene — a literal baby shower of infants falling out of a collapsing hospital — looks equally shoddy, and the intended humor just doesn’t work.
I suppose it just depends on what qualities each actor emphasizes in their character for what audiences will connect with most, and that’s OK. I was fond of the DC TV shows on The CW, while other people might be bigger fans of what’s been done in recent films.