'The Flash' gets lost in the multiverse — but at least Michael Keaton's Batman exists there (2024)

“I’m Batman.”

Michael Keaton uttering that iconic line is one of the best things about “The Flash.”

It’s also one of the worst — or at least signals one of the film’s biggest weaknesses.

This is not because it isn’t a great moment. It is. Keaton’s Batman introducing himself to a criminal in Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” established him as the best ever in the role.

His reprising it here was a fitting and powerful callback.

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Everyone knows the line is coming — it was in a Super Bowl commercial earlier this year. And when it happens in the film, Keaton delivers. (The audience at the screening I attended cheered. Maybe, ahem, so did I.)

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One problem is that the movie is 'The Flash,' not 'Batman'

'The Flash' gets lost in the multiverse — but at least Michael Keaton's Batman exists there (2)

The problem is the movie isn’t called “Batman.” And the Keaton callback is just one of a laundry list of them. So many, in fact, that they overwhelm the narrative. You pay a lot more attention to the cool stuff than the plot development.

The callbacks and self-referential elements are part and parcel of any superhero franchise involving the multiverse — which is basically all of them now. The notion of several universes existing at one time can be intriguing, as it is in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Or it can be a storytelling shortcut, like when Marvel killed off half its heroes and brought them back because, well, because.

Here it falls somewhere in-between.

What is the plot of 'The Flash?'

'The Flash' gets lost in the multiverse — but at least Michael Keaton's Batman exists there (3)

When the film begins, Barry Allen, also known as the Flash when he’s suited up, is tired.

(Note: Ezra Miller, who plays Barry/Flash, has legal problems that are well documented, relating to disturbing accusations. Whether they should be in the film or whether you should support the film because they are in it is up to you. For what it’s worth, they are outstanding. But that forgives nothing.)

He’s tired because his blood sugar is dipping and he’s tired of being the glorified janitor of the Justice League — and he usually ends up cleaning Batman’s messes, he complains to Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Bruce Wayne’s trusty butler.

Batman — played by Ben Affleck in this universe — is saving the world, so the Flash has to save a hospital. It’s a funny scene, wholly implausible, which seems like an odd complaint in a movie involving several universes. Still, it’s more like a CGI display than anything else.

Once that’s done, Barry prepares for his dad’s hearing the next day. His father (Ron Livingston), you may recall, was convicted of murdering Barry’s mom (Maribel Verdú). When his father had to go to the store to get a can of tomatoes, the murder happened. Barry has been fighting for his innocence ever since.

What if, Barry thinks aloud, he can run faster than the speed of light and thus go back in time and change things? Bruce warns him against it — the Butterfly effect and all that — but Barry believes if he just puts the can of tomatoes in his mom’s shopping cart, all will be well.

Has he ever seen a science-fiction movie?

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I'm sick of multiverse do-overs, of which, 'The Flash' has many

'The Flash' gets lost in the multiverse — but at least Michael Keaton's Batman exists there (4)

It goes well at first. But it turns out Barry hasn’t gone back — he’s gone to a different dimension. And soon the Barry who lives there comes home to join his parents for dinner, at the table where the Barry we know is sitting.

Meanwhile, General Zod (Michael Shannon, woefully underused) is threatening Earth, as he did in a previous film. That resulted in thousands of deaths, which haunt Batman. But in this world, Superman and Wonder Woman and the rest aren’t around. Batman is, however, but he’s been missing from the public eye for a while. So the two Barrys set out to find him, to prevent a similar disaster from happening in this world.

They do, of course, and in this world he’s Keaton. They then travel together to Russia where they think Superman is being held; instead, it’s Supergirl (Sasha Calle). They stand against Zod in one of those mind-numbing battle sequences seemingly required of the genre.

Only this one has do-overs, thanks to the multiverse. But is that a good idea? I repeat: have you ever seen a science-fiction movie?

Logic devolves, cameos abound — there are two that are truly inspired, one of which involves legendary recasting — and lessons are learned.

The cameos are the best thing about 'The Flash'

Director Andy Muschietti (the “It” movies) juggles a lot of balls and a lot of intellectual property.

Miller has really good chemistry with, well, Miller. Calle’s role is somewhat thankless. Keaton is, of course, the big draw for anyone old enough to remember Burton’s “Batman.” The action is hit or miss, and the humor lands in a lot of scenes.

But there is so much, and not all of it drives the story. Instead, as you’re laughing and nodding in approval at a genuinely excellent casting in-joke you stop and think, wait, what’s going on here again? What is the crisis they’re trying to solve? Oh right, save parents, save the world, that’s it.

Maybe it’s more streamlined in a different universe. That’s the version I’d like to see.

'The Flash' 3.5 stars

Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★

Fair ★★★ Bad ★★Bomb★

Director: Andy Muschietti.

Cast: Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle.

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity.

How to watch: In theaters Friday, June 16.

Reach Goodykoontz atbill.goodykoontz@arizonarepublic.com. Facebook:facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter:@goodyk.

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'The Flash' gets lost in the multiverse — but at least Michael Keaton's Batman exists there (2024)

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