BELIEVE THE IMPOSSIBLE.
Note: The following review goes into detail about the episode. SPOILER ALERT!
The Flash begins with protagonist Barry Allen saying, “You need to believe the impossible.” That holds many meanings in this show’s case. Current TV shows have typically shied away from the more supernatural-based comic subject matter, due to the trickiness of pulling off super powers on a budget. A proper Flash series seemed impossible. It’s great, then, that the trio of Andrew Kreisberg, Greg Berlanti, and Geoff Johns have finally brought us a live-action Flash that may finally yield the character’s emergence into the mainstream.
“City of Heroes” runs at a pace befitting the Scarlet Speedster himself, briefly recapping Flash’s origins as a young Barry witnesses his mother being killed by a mysterious yellow streak. His father is jailed for the crime, and Barry is taken in by family friend Joe West, whose daughter Iris becomes one of Barry’s closest friends. In the present, Barry has become a crime scene investigator, and weathers a thunderstorm to attend the activation of a particle accelerator at STAR Labs. However, the contraption soon malfunctions, sending a shockwave across the city just as Barry is struck by lightning and put into a coma for nine months. The plot then picks up just after Barry wakes up, with mysterious new abilities and no knowledge of how the city has changed. STAR Labs has gone bankrupt after the explosion and is barely scraping by. Iris, whom Barry has always harbored feelings for, has begun dating pretty boy cop Eddie Thawne. And a criminal who was thought to be dead has returned with a vengeance.
STAR Labs begins studying Barry’s abilities, and its team, including gadget-making Cisco Ramon, geneticist Caitlin Snow, and disgraced physicist Harrison Wells, all play well off of each other, creating the team dynamic that was so enjoyable in Arrow from episode one. Of course, the episode still needs an antagonist for its first outing, and it finds it in Clyde Mardon (whom comic fans will know as Weather Wizard). Clyde is a criminal who was hit by the particle accelerator’s shockwave and gained the ability to control the weather. He returns to Central City with a vengeance, and it’s up to Barry to decide if he can be a hero and stop Mardon in his tracks.
Despite the amount of information that needs to be expressed in a pilot (even if it is a spin-off), Andrew Kreisberg in tandem with DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns does a great job of delivering exposition and introducing supporting characters organically. The show’s use of science and physics is also welcome, giving Barry a chance to use his own brain power. This too creates a neat way to introduce more superpowered beings into the more grounded world established by Arrow. Grant Gustin does great work as Barry Allen. He gives off echoes of Peter Parker as he depicts Barry as a man with a good heart, and a passion for science, just not the best luck. Gustin is also able to inject a refreshing amount of levity into Barry, cracking a few jokes and even having some fun with his powers. But the true triumph of Gustin’s performance is, unlike the current versions of Oliver Queen, Bruce Wayne, or even Clark Kent, there is no question as to whether Barry Allen ever smiles. It allows The Flash to separate itself from the rest of DC’s offerings considerably, and displays that superhero shows don’t always have to be dark.
The rest of the cast does well enough, with some particular standouts being Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells and Candice Patton as Iris West (plus, clever bit casting 90’s Flash actor John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s imprisoned father). The show has also been packed to the gills with DC easter eggs. From the presence of Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow (who become the characters Vibe and Killer Frost, respectively), a cage that held classic Flash villain Gorilla Grodd, and even a cameo from the Arrow himself, there’s a lot to anticipate. The effects team does a decent job with the powers of Clyde Mardon, although despite the implication that he controls all weather, this version of Weather Wizard seems sadly limited to just clouds and wind. Flash’s powers, however, look great, with red neon streaks trailing behind him. Even the production design seems to reinforce this use of color. Central City’s bright lights and neon-soaked streets provide a nice compliment to the more science fiction-oriented tone of the show. Director David Nutter, who also helmed the launches of Smallville and Arrow, does some good work here, with solid action and great depictions of how Barry looks when using his speed. However, there were a few odd transitions where it’s not exactly clear how characters got from point A to B.
Overall, The Flash’s big debut was quite strong. The show’s willingness to embrace both a lighter tone and its comic book roots is a great change of pace, and the great cast helps to pull these more fantastical elements off nicely. The plot is paced well for a pilot, although Clyde Mardon feels just a little underdeveloped in the midst of all the setup for the series. Looking at the big picture, however, it’s clear that Kreisberg, Berlanti and Johns have love for the character (a scene at the end will bring joy to any longtime Flash fan.) The trio have learned a great deal making Arrow. While Arrow started off rocky but over time became one of the better action shows on TV, The Flash is able to sidestep most of Arrow’s problems right out of the gate, which is a great thing. It’s exciting that the two will be sharing continuity and will even crossover. Though The Flash’s existence may have been unlikely, it shows a lot of potential and proves that you can, in fact, embrace the lighter side of superheroes.
Want more The Flash discussion? Check out the first episode of YouNerded’s comics podcast Ink Tank to hear me and co-host Alex Pappas analyze and geek out about it.
What did everyone think of ‘The Flash’? How about that insane tease at the end? Were you able to find all the awesome easter eggs? Leave your STAR Labs memos in the area below.
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