One of the most crucial tasks in establishing a superhero cinematic universe is bringing across the unique personality of each main character. If every hero feels like the same person in a different suit or their chemistry isn’t enjoyable to watch, the universe won’t have the team it needs. Fans will argue about how the late DCEU handled Superman or Batman, but their mistreatment of The Flash stands out.
Give The Flash some credit. It is not as bitter, unpleasant, or almost confrontationally grim as its franchise-mates. Much has been made of Zack Snyder’s efforts to rob Superman of the joyous pop optimism that made him iconic. The Flash graces the screen with a more inviting color pallet and several slapstick gags. It deserves credit for deviating, but it’s still far from capturing the character.
The Flash is the Justice League’s Comic Relief
Every hero has their part in the Justice League. That applies to their capabilities and their personalities. Batman is a serious-minded tactician, frequently crafting elaborate plans and making necessary sacrifices. Superman is a humble leader, usually mediating, seeking peace, or putting himself on the line to solve problems. The Flash stands out as the most comedic member of the main cast. Plastic Man and Green Arrow crack jokes, but Barry Allen is their go-to one-liner dispenser. His role on the team is comparable to Spider-Man’s place in the Avengers. His powers fit comfortably among the top tiers, but his quips are frequently his greatest weapon. Many of The Flash’s best moments in the comics or earlier adaptations are based around his gags.
One of the most beloved iterations of The Flash is his appearance in the early 2000s Justice League animated series and its sequel, Justice League Unlimited. That iteration of the character is technically Wally West, while the DCEU’s take is Barry Allen, but his role on the team remains consistent. The Flash is the heart of the Justice League in both animated series. He’s the most approachable hero in the lineup. He constantly cracks wise in the face of impossible danger, often infuriating his opponents. His comedic wit serves multiple purposes. He’s a joy to be around and the source of most of the humor in the series. The Flash’s gags also encourage villains and the audience to underestimate him. This leads to some of the finest action beats in the series, in which he defies expectations and demonstrates how powerful he can be. The DCEU’s Flash fails to deliver any of those traits.
The DCEU Flash isn’t Funny
The Flash has some funny bits, a few of which are intentional, but the character is typically less-than-amusing. His comedic stylings are brought into sharp focus once Ezra Miller is asked to play two Barry Allens. There’s a particularly grating moment between the Barrys in which the older iteration, the film’s main character, chastises the younger alternate timeline variant for his constant quips. He explains that his routine interruptions for bad jokes or ill-conceived pop-culture references are abrasive. Barry Prime then pauses to note that he now understands why everyone feels that way about him. This bit works almost too well. It wouldn’t make much sense if this Barry was funny, but since the film does portray him as an irritating, witless dullard, it lands perfectly. It’s just like the DCEU to turn in terrible work and then make fun of it.
The Flash’s comedic repertoire includes classic bits like saying words out of order, accidentally admitting that he’s never had sex, and making up catchphrases that don’t mean anything. Each of those jokes goes on too long. The jokes that do work are simple slapstick bits. Young Barry knocks a truck full of musical instruments into a truck full of fireworks, and that’s always fun. He doesn’t have any quippy banter with Zod. He never annoys a foe into submission. He never faces danger with a slick gag. Since his jokes are unfunny or unsaid, he never upends expectations by saving the day. It’s a pile of wasted opportunities.
How could the DCU Improve The Flash?
Given Ezra Miller’s legal trouble, recasting the character seems likely. They aren’t the problem, but they aren’t an asset either. The problem is that every joke The Flash makes is at the expense of its title character. He is rarely funny on purpose. The film points and laughs at Barry in and out of his costume, but he never gets to laugh along. The easy way to make The Flash funnier is to mix up the punchlines. Let him throw punches and get hit by them. The film seems to actively dislike the character, up to and including its final message. Future takes on the Flash should let him be funny because he wants to be.
The Flash doesn’t treat Barry Allen the way Zack Snyder treated his superheroes. It doesn’t turn him into a brooding god or a paranoid fascist. It just seems to only find humor in the character when he’s failing to deliver it. A future take on Barry Allen can be the heart of a new Justice League if they’re willing to let him be the man he’s meant to be.
Bad action is boring, bad comedy is insufferable Read More