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It runs a little long, but The Flash is an entertaining spectacle that will (hopefully) serve as the conclusion to DC’s Zack Snyder era.

Baby Shower

Ezra Miller is the Flash
Ezra Miller is the Flash

Talk about a whiz-bang start. This one begins with a baby shower.

In a wholly literal sense.

Called away from his morning routine, Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) finds himself serving as — in his own words — the “janitor of the Justice League,” focused once again on cleaning up after Batman’s sloppy work. In this case, it’s a crisis situation at a hospital. More specifically, the nursery. It’s collapsing.

With a mass of babies, a nurse and even a therapy dog plummeting to Earth, it’s up to Barry (as the Flash) to save the day through some quick thinking and fast action.

It’s funny. It’s fun. It’s a great opening that plays with movie conventions, right down to the opening title treatment.

This is DC’s biggest venture into comedy since Richard Pryor tried to turn the Superman series into a laugh fest. Given the heavy-handedness of Snyder’s penchant for darkness, The Flash fits more comfortably with the lighter, more positive tone of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movies and James Gunn’s delightfully off-kilter The Suicide Squad.

But, Andy Muschietti (director of the big-screen It series) also finds some heart and drama in Barry’s personal story, with his mother dead and his father imprisoned for her murder. Barry would love to find a way out of that muddled storyline, bring Mom back and get Dad out of jail.

And with that, Barry enters the multiverse by using his own superspeed to power through time travel.

Butterfly Effect

There are two key things about the multiverse, the latest narrative trend in both Marvel and DC movies.

One, the current spate of stories focus on a recurring theme of loss and, as Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) tells Barry, “The scars we have make us who we are.” It’s a decent message, for sure, but it’s getting played over and over again now as angst-filled heroes grapple with missed opportunities and the loss of their Uncle Bens and parental units.

The other aspect of the multiverse cinematic experiences is a pure nostalgia play. Spider-Man: No Way Home enjoyed phenomenal financial success by bringing three generations of Spider-Man into one movie. Now, both Affleck and Michael Keaton appear as Bruce Wayne and his vigilante alter-ego while Barry tries to alter the course of history. (What was it Jor-El told Kal-El way back in 1978? “You must never interfere in human history.”) There are also loads of cameos from across the DC movie landscape, including a couple particularly inspired bits that cannot and will not be revealed here in this spoiler-free zone.

It’s nostalgia and it’s celebrity. This is mass-appeal pop culture that thrills in seeing favorite actors return to their most popular roles and mash it up with the latest generation of actors filling the cowls and donning the capes. It’s a much different impact and a much more emotional response in the theatrical world than it is in the pages of a comic book (or graphic novel). Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck being in the same movie while playing the same character is an entirely different conversation from something like having a Dick Sprang Batman mash it up with a Frank Miller Batman.

But, yeah, Keaton’s great in his return, particularly as his version of Bruce attempts to use a spaghetti metaphor to explain the fragility of the multiverse to Barry. It certainly doesn’t hurt composer Benjamin Wallfisch goes full-tilt in bringing back Danny Elfman’s score. And it’s nice to see Tim Burton’s version of Wayne Manor restored, particularly Bruce’s armory and the kitchen which made such a cozy setting for Bruce and Vicky Vale to chit-chat with Alfred.

Broken Lives, Broken Universes

Muschietti dances between the comedy of Barry’s misadventures and the drama of Barry’s troubled home.

It’s quite a scene of hilarity when Barry comes to terms with his “breaking the universe.” All of sudden, nothing makes sense. Nothing is familiar. Michael J. Fox isn’t Marty McFly in Back to the Future, it’s Eric Stoltz (a great, great inside play on Hollywood history; Stoltz was originally cast as McFly, then fired during filming). There’s also all sorts of confusion over who starred in Top Gun. The conversation surrounding all these pop culture upsets is a great way to express the magnitude of how things can play out so differently given one decision made differently.

For Barry, the focus is on the purchase of a can of tomatoes. It could very well be the difference between life and death. That dramatic element is pretty effective; it tugs at the heart strings and that’s even after enduring a little “two” much of Ezra Miller as he plays two time-crossed Barry Allens. It’s masterfully executed visually, but a little Ezra Miller goes a long way; two Ezra Millers requires patience.

Barry’s attempt to fix his personal history upends all sorts of history elsewhere. That Affleck guy is now Keaton. General Zod (Michael Shannon) has made it to Earth much like he did in Man of Steel, except now Kal-El never made it to Earth. But Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle) did (and she might be better known as that other symbol of hope, Supergirl).

Holy Funions!

The Flash starts wild and ends wild. In between, it serves as a summary statement on the wild ride that has been the DC movieverse for the past 45 years. It’s a fitting end to all that’s gone before — including and most especially the turbulent Zack Snyder era, with all its hits and misses — and now it’s time to move on to better stories and improved character chemistry.

Where does it all go from here?

James Gunn and Peter Safran have taken over the DC Universe (a departure from the recent spate of theatrical releases under the DC Extended Universe — or SnyderVerse — shingle) with the promise of not retelling what’s already been told, but taking the classic characters in new directions. From the sound of it, Gal Gadot won’t be back as Wonder Woman, which is a terrible decision. But neither will Henry Cavill as Superman, which is great news.

It all depends on the individual point of view and it’s too soon to tell what will come of it all. But, as Barry’s mother tells him, “Not every problem has a solution. Sometimes you just have to let it go.”

“Don’t live your past, live your life,” Affleck’s Bruce tells Barry. “Don’t let tragedy define you.” Those are fine words to live by in this iteration of the multiverse and they’re also a good basis for a reboot.