Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Flash is an unimaginative and tedious disaster that wastes all its potential...and poor Kiersey Clemons (MASSIVE SPOILERS)

This review contains massive spoilers. Also, this is gonna be structured a little more loosely than other "reviews" of mine on my blog, I just wanna vent more about my problems with The Flash than adhere to a standard "intro/plot synopsis/breakdown of feature" structure.

I feel bad for Kiersey Clemons.

First breaking out as a memorable actor in Dope, Clemons has amassed a steady filmography full of indie gems like Hearts Beat Loud and the cult classic Sweetheart. Hollywood has never given her the major lead roles she deserves, but she's still done perfectly well for herself. If you ever wanted a microcosm of how little interest mainstream cinema has in giving women of color substantial roles, gaze upon the minimal screentime Clemons has in The Flash. In this superhero movie, Clemons plays Iris West, the primary love interest of the titular superhero in the comics. In an ideal world, this part could've been a charming equal to the male lead, a way for Clemons to demonstrate her affable screen presence. Instead, Clemons is confined to a trio of brief scenes, including being a "prize" Barry Allen wins in the last scene of the film.

It's unimaginative. It's stupid. Worst of all, it's a waste of Kiersey Clemons. All the compelling qualities she brought to Dope and Hearts Beat Loud are never utilized here, while Iris West never comes close to being viewed as a character. But then again, what else do you expect from The Flash? This is a movie that views deceased artists as Funko Pop! figures to be rearranged at the demands of studio executives. This is also a motion picture that features Kara Zor-El/Supergirl (Sasha Calle) yet never thinks to give her something fun to do. This is also also a film where hideous CGI recreations of live-action performers dominate many scenes and the future nightmares of moviegoers. The Flash is not a good movie. Poor Kiersey Clemons is just one of the many ways it stumbles the ball.

Unfortunately, most of the flaws of The Flash seem to rest at the feet of director Andy Muschietti, a horror filmmaker who did decent work on the 2013 scary film Mama. However, in 2019, he helmed It: Chapter 2, a movie that suffered from bad CGI, difficulty embracing all the zaniest elements of its source material, and especially awkward handling of broad comedy. Those flaws and others return for Muschietti's work on The Flash, which often features filmmaking as inexplicable and haphazard as the "Angel of the Morning" needledrop from It: Chapter 2. Worse, Muschietti's lack of experience on blockbusters hasn't inspired him to follow his own creative impulses but rather lean heavily on the aesthetics of other tentpole filmmakers.

Most egregiously, a scene where a pair of Barry Allen's first encounter Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne is set to Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4", a clear instance of aping the needle drops that populated the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The wacky time travel antics clearly owe a great deal to Robert Zemeckis's Back to the Future titles, while the old-school superhero missions in Gotham City in the first act ape the classical blockbuster vibes of the Richard Donnor Superman movies. Muschietti keeps echoing other superhero and blockbuster movies but rarely brings his own personality to the proceedings. Without any bold attempts to establish an idiosyncratic identity, The Flash's stabs at pathos and big time-travel spectacle are utterly hollow. The latter element is especially poorly-realized, with the film's third act just devolving into a mess of CG and copies of Ezra Miller shouting time travel jargon at each other. I love comic book nonsense but even I just wanted to get off this ride by the end.

It's all so tedious, which is just the worst sin of The Flash. Michael Keaton and Sasha Calle try to inject whatever personality they can, but the convoluted narrative in Christina Hodson's screenplay is just impossible to connect with. This is a movie about lore, not characters, which becomes egregiously apparent in the finale when a bunch of CG renderings of Christopher Reeve, Nicolas Cage, and Adam West just stand around lifeless watching the finale of The Flash unfold. This movie has a multiverse of live-action DC titles at its disposal and this is the most it can come up with?!? Insulting the memory of Christopher Reeve and sucking all the life out of Nicolas Cage? If we're going to collide all the DC stuff together, let's get weird! Have the two live-action Constantine's kiss! Have Joaquin Phoenix's Joker start a band with the WB TV show version of Birds of Prey!  There would seem to be endless possibilities for actually fun and unhinged exploitations of a multiverse...but The Flash staunchly refuses to explore any of them.

Instead, the climax turns into two Ezra Miller's just fighting a bunch of CGI goons, poor Supergirl getting repeatedly brutally murdered (one of many weird misogynistic flourishes scattered throughout The Flash), and the umpteenth grey-colored CGI monster villain in the DC Extended Universe. Even the score by Benjamin Wallfisch is utterly lifeless and sometimes feels distractingly incongruous with the on-screen footage. Why does the score feature such propulsive intense music during an opening scene involving old-school superhero antics like saving falling babies? Shouldn't the orchestral tunes have a lighter, zippier touch? Much like Muschietti is just rigidly mimicking the filmmaking of James Gunn and Joss Whedon, Wallfisch too seems content to follow the lead of most other superhero movie scores.

The Flash is not good. It's not totally devoid of any merits (a handful of emotional beats are well-conceived conceptually, Keaton and Calle's super-suits look solid), but its flaws are dizzyingly staggering. Super broad gags like an extended vomiting joke just land with a thud and all the action sequences have too much subpar CG and not enough visual panache. Worst of all, it's a movie that offers no real surprises or imagination. Classic comics dazzled readers because of their seemingly boundless imagination and willingness to go to truly outlandish places. The Flash, meanwhile, just wants to remind people of what they've seen before. It's a film on autopilot that also manages to be incredibly abrasive in its wildly-miscalculated stabs at fan service. I feel bad for Kiersey Clemons, just one of the many talented artists who struggle to convey an ounce of humanity within this dreary slog.  Then again, this is a motion picture that still thinks "haha that woman is fat and has cats" is at all a novel joke in 2023...I shouldn't be surprised that it never unlocked all the creative potential of its premise and titular superhero.

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