Review: The Flash
I like my comic book heroes in red. Since I was a kid (a gentleman never tells, but it was during the Silver Age of Comics), my favorite comics character has been The Flash. I was drawn to him (the Barry Allen Flash—there have been several Flashes in comics lore) because of then-writer John Broome’s explanations of the science behind The Flash’s speed, and his gadgets (like the Flash suit that would pop out of Barry Allen’s ring and expand upon contact with the air), and the weapons the villains used. Even the outlandish stuff had its roots in plausibility, and as a kid, I was fascinated.
For those unfamiliar, Barry Allen is a police investigator imbued with the ability to move at incredible speed after a laboratory accident. Taking on the role of superhero The Flash, he devotes himself to fighting crime and other injustices.
Historically, the movies and TV haven’t been all that kind to The Fastest Man Alive. (I’ll leave out his various appearances via animation.) The original 1990 TV series starring John Wesley Shipp was more than a little too campy (though Shipp made a
perfect Barry Allen), and the forced humor made the series feel as if it was embarrassed by itself. While he certainly gave a convincing performance, I found Ezra Miller’s wise-guy turn as The Scarlet Speedster in Justice League to bear no resemblance whatsoever to the original character—and make no mistake, icons like The Flash are ingrained into the pop-culture cosmos, and how they’re portrayed matters.
The current The Flash CW TV series, now in its seventh season, is much better than any previous small- and big-screen incarnations and in fact is really good, save the occasional moments of dumbness and some clunker episodes. (This season’s “The One With The Nineties” is particularly cringeworthy.) Grant Gustin stars as Barry Allen/The Flash, and brings a winning combination of charm, nerdiness, self-doubt, and enthusiasm to the role. His thin, muscular build is perfect for The Flash, evoking the coiled-spring energy of a whippet. (And man
THE FLASH AT A GLANCE
Now in its seventh season, this series is, if not true to the letter then entertainingly true to the spirit of the original comic.
Beautifully shot, with vivid colors and a wide-open feel—a refreshing change from the dark look of so many other comics movies and shows.
The sound effects complement the eye-popping visuals, with whooshes, rumbles, weapons fire, lightning strikes, and sonic mayhem galore.
is that suit tight—no room for pandemic binge-eating!) Candice Patton is absolutely wonderful as Iris West-Allen, far more than just The Hero’s Love Interest, showing a strength, independence, and intelligence, while also being totally enamored with Barry.
The cast has changed over the years, with Tom Cavanagh (particularly delightful in various incarnations of scientist/adventurer Harrison Wells), Carlos Valdes (Cisco Ramon/Vibe, Flash’s friend and conscience and all-around irresistible techno-geek), Danielle Panabaker (Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost), Jesse L. Martin (Joe West, father of Iris and Wally West/Kid Flash) and Danielle Nicolet (Cecile West, Joe’s wife) as the other recurring main characters. Other current Team Flash cast members include Kayla Compton (Allegra Garcia, cub reporter and wielder of electromagnetic energy), Efrat Dor (Eva McCulloch/Mirror Monarch, ruler of an alternate universe), and Brandon McKnight (Chester P. Runk, a goofy young scientist rescued from a failed experiment and rehabilitated by the team).
Naturally, Hollywood couldn’t leave well enough alone. While the series remains largely faithful to the premise and spirit of the comics, purists may bristle at some of the changes. Instead of being struck by lightning and bathed in chemicals in a lab accident, Barry gains his speed via a particle accelerator accident at S.T.A.R. Labs, which also creates other “metahumans”—both heroes like Vibe and King Shark (c’mon, the coolest superhero name ever), and the Rogues Gallery of new and classic Flash villains like the Reverse Flash, Abra Kadabra, The Trickster (played by Mark Hamill!), and Gorilla Grodd. Iris West is black, not the sleek blonde sophisticate of the comics. Joe West is Barry’s foster father, nonexistent in the original comics but which, admittedly, creates a complex dynamic between Barry, Iris, and Joe that the series explores with surprising depth. The Top and Mirror Monarch are women, not men.
But many important details are the same—the fictional Central City is still the main locale, and (well, this is important to me) the Flash’s costume is largely faithful to the original, sleek and skin-tight, not like that gawd-awful suit of armor the movie-Flash is burdened with. Then there’s the Speed Force, a crucial element in both the comic and the TV series. (I won’t give any more about that away here.)
The actors are all convincing in their roles, and likable, although keep in mind this is a CW series, so the mandatory twentysomething angst is ladled on all-too-thickly at times in all of its trademark CW soap-opera excess. There is much drama with a capital D and contemplation of The Meaning of Life and What It Means to Be a Hero. The recurring theme of The Flash bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders (in one story arc, almost literally) can get tedious at times.
With all that said, what really makes The Flash stand out is its heart. It’s far from being a one-dimensional, well, comic book series. It’s got humor and charm without being goofy, and it’s easy to really care about the characters. Over the course of seven seasons (with the seventh still in progress and an eighth on tap), there have been several richly-detailed story arcs with powerful characterizations and plot motivations, along with some genuinely moving moments. (The ending of Season One is devastating.) The love between Barry and Iris, and the affection of the members of Team Flash for each other, is touching, with real emotional depth.
But hey, a comic book series is all about escapism. And there’s plenty of it in The Flash. The special effects are literally dazzling. When the Flash runs, he looks terrific, with blurred motion, lightning streaking, and the world dizzyingly whizzing by. The special effects are mostly fantastic, some instances of cheesy CGI notwithstanding. (Was this season’s rendering of Fuerza a pandemic-induced rush job?)
The villains are by turn outrageous, disturbing, over the top, fun, self-parodying, or a little of all of that—grab the popcorn and enjoy the ride. The series is beautifully shot, with vivid colors and a wide-open feel—you won’t see many claustrophobic, grainy interiors here. It’s a refreshing change from the dark look of so many other comics movies and shows. And this being CW, the actors and actresses are . . . not hard to look at. The recurring gag of Cisco getting to name The Flash’s villains is a repeatedly funny schtick. The sound effects really complement the eye-popping visuals and the Sultan of Speed’s fleet-footed flights, with whooshes, rumbles, weapons fire, lightning strikes, and sonic mayhem galore. Fun stuff!
About that humor and pseudo-science: Clearly, the writers aren’t taking themselves too seriously. Some of the explanations for the metahumans’ powers, and how to defeat them, are so preposterous they must be nod-and-a-wink intentional. Whether this makes you chuckle or snort, YMMV. In one scene, Team Flash takes great pains to break into a lab to recover some dark matter, required to power some critically-needed device. After a brief search, they find what they’re looking for in a small suitcase labeled, “Dark Matter—Handle With Care.” Well, duh! But the square, straitlaced Golden Age Barry Allen would never play in today’s world.
Here I am, an old guy watching a comic-book character. Unapologetically. And enjoying the heck out of it. Would I think The Flash was a dumb show if I was a child, or teenager, or Gen whatever-er? Who knows? Who cares?
If you’re looking to get a break from pandemic world or migraine-inducing cable news or a bad day at the home office, delving into The Flash may be a respite you’ll enjoy. Let the Speed Force be with you.