1 of 5 | Michael Keaton (center) and Ezra Miller star in "The Flash." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Comics
LOS ANGELES, June 6 (UPI) -- The Flash, in theaters June 16, is a better time-travel movie than a superhero movie. The film has playful fun exploring permutations in time, and contains genuine emotion, if not overwrought thrills.
Since joining the Justice League, Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) has been relegated to rescuing pedestrians while the older heroes chase the evil masterminds. So Batman (Ben Affleck) chases terrorists while he trusts Barry to rescue people in a crumbling hospital.
During that rescue, Barry uses his super speed to run so fast he is able to see the past. Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne, warns Barry not to risk changing time, but Barry thinks he's devised a harmless plan to prevent his mother's (Maribel Verdú) death.
Barry succeeds, but accidentally interferes with his 18-year-old self. And when the Barrys go to Bruce Wayne for help, they discover he's now Michael Keaton because they've opened a multiverse by changing the past.
Every time the Barrys try to restore the timeline, they create more complex permutations. The Flash has fun messing with the history of movies based on DC Comics from Keaton's Batman through the Man of Steel-era Justice League in its new timeline.
The Flash pays homage to those previous movies in a more organic way than many Marvel films.
Marvel tends to shoehorn dialogue about previous movies or characters who appeared in previous entries. The Flash repeats some catch phrases and shows iconic imagery, but doesn't stop the movie to do so.
Barry ends up having to parent his younger self. This fuels comedy when younger Barry learns to use his powers for the first time, but emotion when older Barry realizes what kind of person he would be without a tragedy in his life.
Those human moments work. The action set pieces are more disembodied.
The CW has been doing The Flash for nine seasons, and the speed-running visual effects in the movie don't look any better than the show. Other effects actually look worse than The CW.
It's not the dramatic difference between the '60s Batman TV show and the first movie in 1989. At least The CW filmed on location in Vancouver.
Nobody in The Flash movie is filming on location in a city for the opening rescue or a desert for the film's climax. They're all disparate elements put together against backgrounds, as is standard for superhero movies now.
The effect of Barry sharing the screen with his past self is seamless, but then television's Orphan Black also has perfected that effect on a weekly basis.
These visual effects go down best when director Andy Muschietti employs them with a sense of humor. Barry may make a false start to his speed run, try to eat in mid-rescue or literally save falling babies.
Embracing the absurdities of Barry's powers at least makes bad effects feel like part of the joke. That theory falls apart in the climax, which takes its artificial antics very seriously.
The Flash is a fun romp through comic book movie history. It is rewarding for longtime fans, but entertaining and heartfelt for all.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.