I've never really cared for the Flash as a stand-alone character. Somehow, the guy who runs super fast didn't click with me in the way that, say, the guy weighed down by his parental issues and bat costume did. Then I saw Justice League, and I became a believer. Specifically, Ezra Miller's portrayal of The Flash made me a believer. As Barry Allen, Miller was not merely super speedy, but vulnerable, eager, awkward, alienated, and all-around endearing.
Of course, we've seen alienated superheroes before, or at least that's what their marketing tells us—like the X-Men, shunned by a world that hates and fears their sweet as heck mutant abilities. But the X-Men seem to get along with their X-colleagues pretty well, barring the odd romantic rivalry or secret child from the future, and have no problem hanging out with a bunch of strangers at Professor Xavier's mansion. While they might be alienated from Homo sapiens, their fellow members of Homo superior don't seem to present much in the way of basic social issues.
Miller's Barry Allen, on the other hand, is straight-up awkward. When he meets Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) for the first time, his conversation jumps from topic to topic in an enthusiastic but highly stilted fashion, as though he's trying to approximate standard human discourse. At one point, he admits to Bruce that he has trouble understanding people in general (to which I can relate), not in a "because I'm so special" way, but in a "please tell me there's a means to fix this" way. Later, when he meets the rest of the Justice League, he busts out the quips to prove he's more at ease, but it comes off as classic compensation; make 'em laugh so they don't realize you have no idea what you're doing.
This isn't an X-Men situation. The world doesn't hate or fear Barry Allen; he fears the world, because it's full of people who are difficult to understand. He secludes himself because of his personality/mindset/neural processes/whatever you want to call it. It's a refreshing change from the witty yet misunderstood nerd type, which I was afraid we'd get once Joss "Quipmeister" Whedon's involvement in the movie was announced. However, Barry's inability to relate to others carries a real sense of isolation, which in turn is rooted in a thwarted desire to connect. When Bruce offers him a place in the Justice League, his excitement comes just as much from the opportunity to, for perhaps the first time in his life, make some friends as it does from the chance to use his powers.
Ironically, Barry's disconnect from the other people on screen is what makes him so lovable. How often do we get to see a blockbuster superhero who has trouble with one of the most basic human skills: personal interaction? It humanizes him in a way that most heroes' secret weaknesses don't. Kryptonite is a rare find, but people and their social norms are everywhere.
What further rounds out Barry's character is his relationship to his superheroism. The only times he seems confident or whole are the times when he's using his powers. During his first big battle with the team, he exudes nervousness until he taps into the speed force, and then he's off. You can almost feel the joy through the screen when he runs and the world seems to freeze around him, in those rare moments when he finally has the luxury to move through life at a pace that places him in control—almost as though connecting to his superhumanity is the very thing that makes him feel human. Or, to put it another way, he finds an aspect of difference in himself that elevates him, and that he feels is worth celebrating.
Did I expect any of this when I saw Justice League? Nah. I was mainly hoping for some super-action and wildly implausible yet fun plotlines. But whether by accident or design, the DCEU introduced a new standard against which I can measure future iterations of a major character. A Flash who, through his superheroic identity, finds a way to relate to a world that otherwise eludes him is the Flash I didn't know I always wanted. To borrow a few words from a rival company, Make Mine Miller.
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Images: DC/Warner Bros.
More on Justice League!
- Read our Justice League review!
- Examining Justice League's strange history with forgettable aliens
- The 11 best Justice League stories in DC Comics history
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