Self-Assured Superhero

‘The Flash’ Review: Teen Angst Gets a Comic Book Quickie

With a superhero who gets in costume in the first five seconds, the CW show zips along blissfully like the first film in a big-budget franchise, flagging only when the speedster pauses.

The Flash is a comic book quickie, a 700 mph red blur dripping with teen angst and zipping comfortably in the well-worn footsteps of its predecessors.

Only five seconds into the CW pilot, our hero is in costume. That transformation took Tom Welling 10 years in Smallville, Christian Bale an hour in Batman Begins, and Tobey Maguire 52 minutes in Spider-Man.

It’s sort of genius: The Flash is an emphatic, richly colored middle finger to comic book gravitas. Whereas Gotham mopes in the shadows, The Flash bursts like a splash page. With great power may come great responsibility, but with super speed and red leather pants comes the party.

This is the story of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin, who looks like he’s in high school and sounds like Andrew Garfield), a dorky forensic investigator who is perpetually late. When a particle accelerator explodes in one of those big KABOOMs, it releases anti-matter, dark energy, and x elements into a freak storm, and our boy wonder is zapped by lightning. Nine months later, he awakens from his coma with washboard abs and the ability to run really fast.

Along the way we’re introduced to that guy from Ed (Tom Cavanagh) doing his best Stephen Hawking impersonation, enunciating random words and trying really hard to hint that he’s sketchy. (“Inside your body could be a map to a whole new world. Genetic therapies, vaccines, medicines. Treasures buried deep within your cells, and we cannot risk losing everything because you want to go out and play hero.”) There’s also an interracial and vaguely brother-sister love triangle, and a time travel plot about murdered parents.

Our bad guy is Weather Wizard (not a joke), who not only looks like Kurt Cobain but can use his palms to conjure angry storms. The “villain of the week” template does have its limitations: Wizard goes from robbing banks to thinking he’s god to getting totally owned by Flash in less than 20 minutes.

The pilot gallops along blissfully like the first film in a big-budget franchise, stuffing characters and melodramatic exposition into an origin story before time expires. Yet when our speedster pauses for just a moment, the luster of The Flash fades.

“What if I’m not a hero?” asks Barry. “What if I’m just some guy who was struck by lightning?”

“I don’t think that bolt of lightning struck you, Barry. I think it chose you,” says Arrow, the elder superhero statesman who, despite lines like this, actually has his own show.

This isn’t exactly high art. It’s not even Guardians of the Galaxy. Think The Secret World of Alex Mack.

There were warning signs, of course The liberal use of the world “cool” in dialogue. Flash says it after watching Arrow swing off a rooftop; Arrow says it seconds later as he watches Flash run away. In another scene, a scientist says an explosion is cool.

“This is not cool,” growls Flash, reminding teens that this show will be about more than making out. “A man died.”

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So why is The Flash so self-assured? Well, we’ve seen the best bits of the show before. The theme music, narration, and aerial shots of our hero are “inspired” by Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, as are the dorky alter ego, the discovery of his powers, his debut in a janky homemade costume, and the freeze frames. Meanwhile, the Dawsons Creek-meets-comic book geek vibe is homegrown from Smallville.

No matter! Ignore the signatures of teen dramas, stilted dialogue, hollow supervillain, condensed origin story, and “homages” to comic book work. Teasers to Reverse Flash and Crisis on Infinite Earths will appease geeky fanboys. And if you didn’t understand that last sentence, there’s plenty of whizbang to keep you happy: This superhero can dodge bullets, see things happen in super slow motion, and even untwist a twister.

The Flash is nimble, The Flash is quick, and while The Flash may have blown its wad in the pilot, being a superhero has never felt this good.