Like a Barry Allen monologue, this is going to be a bit of a ramble.

In 2016, it was alleged that Warner executives had dismissed reported script issues for a then-in-development Ben Affleck led Batman movie. The executives’ rationale was that the movie was going to make money hand-over-fist, whether it was well written or not, and that most of the global audience wouldn’t even see the film in English.

We’ll come back to that later.

The Flash, directed by It helmer Andy Muschietti, is at once an embodiment of the superhero genre’s trendy obsession with the multiverse and time travel, as well as a mysterious outlier that subverts its genre in ways that would make Zack Snyder proud.

Speaking of that; back in 2016 (what an eventful year), Zack’s wife and longtime producing partner, Deborah Snyder, stated this amidst the backlash to the controversial Batman V Superman: Unnecessary Subtitle

“The main thing we learned, I think: people don’t like to see their heroes deconstructed.”

We’ll come back to that later.

Now, back to the movie. What I like first about The Flash is that it doesn’t need a convoluted subtitle to make it seem more epic, like every other blockbuster nowadays. None of this, “Was it really an AGE of Ultron? He was around for like a week,” BS. No, just simply: The Flash. The movie itself isn’t quite so simple, but I’ll try my best. The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller, ladies, and gentlemen!) is at an impasse of angst and dissatisfaction. Friendless and motherless, he dedicates his life to proving his imprisoned father’s innocence in the unsolved murder of his mother. Using his Flashy powers, Barry soon gets the idea that he can use time travel to rescue his mother’s life, free his father, and rectify the tragedies that have devastated the hero’s self-esteem and his ability to establish meaningful connections with those around him. What this conquest leads to is one for the cinematic history books, but not entirely for good reasons.

The Flash, like the DC multiverse the movie tries to depict, exists in multitudes. On the one hand, it is genuinely more fun and engaging than most DCEU entries. I’ll even say Muschietti has a good handle on dramatizing silly, complex comic book jargon in ways that most casual viewers will be able to digest. On the other hand, the film is absolutely hampered by not only a bizarre performance by Miller but one in which the lead actor has so little cache on a social level, that it is an uphill battle for the movie to draw any sympathy from the audience towards the superhero by day, supervillain by night Ezra Miller. How much of this can be attributed to inherit bias, where Miller’s performance would be better received if they weren’t such a lightning rod? I say it doesn’t matter because we don’t live in that alternate reality.

What I know is that the dramatic scenes, where you’re meant to feel empathy for Barry Allen, are occasionally good but mostly flaccid, lacking the emotional punch the story desperately needs because you just don’t care that much if this guy wins the day. This does a disservice to Maribel Verdú, as Barry’s mother, Nora, who’s trying her damnedest, through sheer tenderness and joy, to get the audience invested in the Allen family saga. She’s almost in a different movie as if Muschietti told her to pretend she was in Spider-Verse as opposed to this compromised mess of controversy.

The movie itself doesn’t even seem that interested in making Barry Allen likable. Early on, Flash saves a civilian from a concrete-crusted death, and the civilian doesn’t show any gratitude. Pretty rude of them, yet Flash makes mention of the blow-off, complaining that he didn’t get a thank you. Is this a relevant character trait that will tie into the narrative? No. Does Flash mature and grow past his previous outlook on saving people? It’s not even addressed. Look, I understand that DC often tries to pivot from Marvel’s tone, thus a world where both the heroes and the civilians are a little more cranky and ungrateful than their Disney counterparts can be a welcome reprieve. But such an unusual depiction of the good guys should show a little bit more self-awareness; it doesn’t need to be stated out loud, but it should be incorporated into the themes and philosophy of the hero’s journey we’re about to see play out. This was a similar issue in Man of Steel (2013), where the movie doesn’t even acknowledge that Resting-Bitch-Face Superman is a little crotchety and vindictive, effectively tanking his relatability.

Thus, this type of writing is just a barrier for likeability, trapped in a truly mediocre opening where Flash attempts to save a hospital from the treachery of the bastard known as Terrible CGI. This includes Flash’s “charming” rescue of five computer-generated infants, who are some of the ugliest creatures ever concocted by a hard drive, somehow making a literal baby off-putting and unpleasant. So we have a slightly annoying lead character and CGI straight out of Son of the Mask (2005). Sparkling start we’re off to!

The good times keep rolling when Barry time travels and meets a younger, more energetic version of himself. By this point, the movie has already been teetering on feeling like a 90s screwball comedy, but the introduction of the younger Barry takes us full-on into Jim Carrey land, with a dose of Disney Channel. There’s some good humor here, such as young Barry proclaiming, “IS THIS HELL?!?!?!” upon arrival at Wayne Manor, but usually, the movie is just too silly for its own good. Young Barry having a 10-minute scene where he streaks naked downtown just feels a little bit out of place in the same movie where his mom is brutally gutted while the casserole is still in the oven.

What saves this from being a turkey on the level of the theatrical cut of Justice League (2017) is the movie’s figurative reinforcements. Ben Affleck continues to show why he has been afforded a disservice as Batman, crafting a caped crusader that’s gruff and playfully arrogant but mature and wise. Sasha Calle as Supergirl is a massive success, an on-edge hero who’s always pissed off but actually has reason to be. In many ways, she’s easier to invest in than Cavill’s portrayal, and I think it has a great deal to do with tone and context. Yes, Calle’s Kara is a bit of an ass, just like her male counterpart, but the difference is that this movie isn’t hitting you over the head with Messiah symbolism, falsely positioning their passive-aggressive super-mensch as some type of inspirational figure of immense character. Rather, the movie is comfortable with letting Supergirl have her edge, which makes sense given her brutal backstory. She feels multifaceted without feeling forced.

Then, there’s Michael Keaton, arguably the best Batman, here to play an older and less introverted version of his interpretation. Keaton’s Bruce Wayne was always a recluse, lacking the confidence and openness to verbalize the emotions he felt so strongly in but couldn’t put to rational words. Here, this older Bruce understands himself more, and thus, this is the first time Keaton’s Batman seems comfortable in his own skin. He steals the movie as he’s the only one present that can draw genuine attachment from the audience. Yes, that’s partially a credit to nostalgia, but Keaton remains an underrated performer who you feel confident that he fully gets this version of the character, even without the presence of Tim Burton. Even his fight scenes are enjoyable, while playing up the Retro-Futurism that Burton’s Batman always delivered with his weaponry & vehicles. Yes, it’s clear when the movie is setting a scene intentionally dark so it can hide Keaton’s stunt double; in fact, I’m not certain he completed a single stunt in this movie! It doesn’t matter because the fight scenes are well executed, the stunt doubles are obvious but never embarrassing, and it still looks like Batman kicking ass on screen, even if he’s a little past his prime. In fact, it’s a shame that the CGI is mostly bad in this movie, for in general Muschietti’s pic is brimming with potentially gorgeous panels where you can tell everyone involved had the right idea on the storyboard.

However, the multiversal roster doesn’t end with who’s been advertised in the trailer. As Flash continues to put the time in peril, we’re greeted with a Disneyland-like tour through DC history. Here is where most of my conflicted feelings about the movie are harbored. I’ll be honest – if viewed in a vacuum, this showcase is thrilling and emotional. DC’s on-screen history is vast and foundational. As such even a glimpse at its history is a visual treasure trove of iconography and euphoria. So vast that even a project that never actually manifested draws upon intense excitement (speaking of, can we see about getting that movie greenlit again?). But ultimately, I can’t view it in a vacuum. I have to see it as an experience that shows the cracks in this entire production. Not only is it tough to see deceased actors depicted here, stirring up a combo of admiration mixed with the uncanny valley, but none of these images mean anything to the characters in the movie. It’s only a shout-out for the audience, which calls into question what story this is even telling.

No matter your overall opinion of them, I can look at No Way Home, Into the Spider-Verse, and Everything Everywhere All At Once and see why the different variations of characters are integral to the story arc of the protagonist. In The Flash, its reliance on iconography ultimately highlights the chaotic history of Warner Bros’ stewardship of the DC universe. The moments drawn upon are so disparate and detached that it doesn’t serve the narrative in any way and draws up conflicting feelings of missed opportunities from poor films and unfinished projects. It’s like taking time to reminisce with an ex-friend, but the friend is smiling ear to ear while you re-visit moments you’d like to forget.

By the end of the movie, you’ll be even more confused about where this universe is going and what, if anything, matters. What character am I supposed to leave with investment in for this ongoing franchise? It certainly can’t be Miller, whom Warner Discovery has previously insisted will continue to portray The Flash. Why? Hopefully, that was just postering to protect this movie, although I suspect it’s not, but it’s a terrible display of leadership either way. Not only is fan enthusiasm for Ezra Miller in the toilet, but we’re really preserving this portrayal. Miller’s performance, despite some positives that show this portrayal had potential, isn’t even the definitive interpretation of the character, more spastic and hyperactive than the more focused and level-headed comics version of Allen. Why die on a hill for a portrayal that’s essentially a deviation?

Nonetheless, The Flash’s murky implications don’t strip away all narrative relevance. The movie is an exercise in what can and can’t be changed. The narrative settles on the conclusion that we can’t rectify the past, but we can use the past to save the present. That may be glass half-full for some and half-empty for others, but it isn’t the nihilistic hellscape that some have interpreted to be. Instead, The Flash, like many in this franchise, never commits to being too hopeful while refraining from being too grim, ultimately not showing full confidence in either direction. Yet, I don’t feel like the movie has a handle on the character of the Flash, so ultimately, we’re left to feel lukewarm about him. That’s why Deborah Snyder was only half-right; audiences can accept deconstruction – if done well (See: The Dark Knight trilogy). But it takes more skill than you’d think to do it well. It’s not just a demolition exercise. You need to know what to tear down, what to build, and what to preserve. Similarly, the notion that audiences can’t tell that what they’re watching is poorly written is a lazy outlook on producing movies. Sure, the audience might not know something’s wrong at first glance, but they’ll eventually catch on that something is off, even if they can’t articulate it. DC, and their up-and-down audience receptions, show that Warner Bros has very much overestimated their understanding of these heroes, as well as the heroes’ relationship with the audience, prioritizing decrees of epicness before accomplishing anything of merit.

For The Flash, the movie sits atop average on the DCEU scale, a low bar to clear. It is at times, heartfelt, hopeful, and briskly entertaining. It is also dumbfounding, uninspiring, and overcooked. A disappointing hodgepodge of good and bad ideas, a film with plot reveals you can see coming a mile away, and whose attempts at genuine drama feel like it belongs on basic cable, neutering an interesting premise with silliness and distracting franchise maintenance. It’s not the worst thing this franchise has ever produced, but it’s also not worth adding to the pantheon. It’s merely a fascinating museum exhibit, filled to the brim with misfit toys and a theme that doesn’t entirely tie together. You’ll cease to remember it once the next distraction pops up down the hall.