The Flash Expands Green Arrow’s Universe With Charm
The biggest thing I wanted from the CW’s new The Flash series was simple: I wanted it to not be a fast version of Arrow. I’m pleased to say that the show’s producers have not disappointed. With that acknowledged, I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers as much as possible, so don’t worry too much as you read on. For those who really want to avoid absolutely everything about the new series, I’ll advise you to go for a nice walk. The rest of you hit the jump and let’s take a trip into the wonderful world of the CW’s newest superhero serial.
When I first heard Grant Gustin would play Barry Allen, I was concerned. I thought sure he was a little too young for the role, but the short arc he had on Arrow during season 2 quickly cured me of that illusion. Gustin brings a lot to the role, not the least of which is a sense of innocent awe and joy that Arrow lacks. Note that I’m not criticizing Arrow, of course; joyfulness just isn’t in that character’s nature, any more than constant brooding and vengeful bloodlust belong in The Flash. Now that I’ve seen Gustin’s Flash in his own setting, I’m more convinced than ever. My reasons are pretty straightforward.
First, he’s young enough to be believable as the idealist who hasn’t given up on the world. Despite the traumatic experience of witnessing his mother’s murder as a young child, Barry still has a sense of nobility to him that’s heroically quixotic. His sense of responsibility to use his gift in an heroic way is palpable, and Gustin successfully carries it like he owns it. That’s something the “dark and brooding” variety of superhero just can’t do, at least not in the same way.
Second, he doesn’t have the absurdly muscled physic one expects from a superhero (despite the “Lightning gave me abs?” scene), which is refreshing. Barry Allen in this incarnation of The Flash is a fairly scrawny dude, which lends a sense of earnestness to his desire to pursue heroic deeds. He isn’t billed as the uber-ripped badass a la Oliver Queen, and he doesn’t need to be. He’s the freaking Flash for goodness sakes. When your enemies can’t even see your fists moving, how strong do you need to be?
Third, Barry’s relationship with his father, who’s still in prison for the murder of Barry’s mother, is remarkably sweet. It lends some depth to the character that could otherwise be missing if the show only focused on the lighter side of the character (or worse, the darker, murder-obsessed side). This, along with line items above and below, really points to a character design that should turn out to be very well rounded and relatable.
Last but not least, when Barry realizes he’s developing super powers, he doesn’t anguish over it, he enjoys it. His exclamations of “Cool!” as he discovers his newfound powers is a delight to see, and a stark contrast to what most other superhero movies or shows tend to do these days.
As for his supporting cast, I have to be fair here: they’re all introduced in highly abbreviated fashion, and my review of each of them will follow suit. That’s just the nature of a 45 minute pilot episode, and it’s clear that plenty more is planned for each of these characters. Part of me wishes they’d gone with a 2 hour pilot, but since we’re getting a full season, perhaps it doesn’t matter. I enjoyed the tension of Barry’s thwarted love of Iris as he realizes Eddie Thawne is her new “main squeeze”. It’s clear right away that Barry really cares for this character a great deal, and I think it was a great choice to keep her out of reach from the outset. This was further underscored later in the episode, but I won’t spoil the how or why. Suffice it to say, it works.
I enjoyed Iris’s father in the position of Barry’s adoptive father, including the tension that stems from his unwillingness to believe Barry’s story about his father’s innocence in the murder of his mother. There’s some meat there to be mined (is that a mixed metaphor or what?) as the series progresses, and I hope we’ll see their relationship continue to grow before it’s inevitably shattered.
The two STAR LABS scientists, whose names I forget, remind me of Fitz and Simmons from Agents of Shield, though sort of gender swapped. They’re a charming, funny, contradictory pair, clearly with their own sets of issues and strengths, but I think they’ll make for a good supporting team. Tough to really comment much more deeply than that, just yet; we simply haven’t seen enough of these two.
Finally, the man who will apparently dual role as Barry’s mentor and future villain is quite the interesting guy all on his own, particularly as we learned in the final moments of the episode. Strange things are afoot (not at the Circle K, though), and I can’t wait to see how they pan out. Whatever else happens, though, one thing is clear: Crisis on Infinite Earths and Flashpoint Paradox are definitely elements of this show. How will they be handled? Who knows? My guess is that we won’t see either of these storylines resolved or even directly addressed for quite awhile.
The Suit and FX
Personally, I like the suit. Sure, it’s not quite as fancy as a comics suit or even the 1990’s The Flash suit, but its origins make sense (STAR Labs designed it as a next generation fireman outfit that’s heat resistant and easy to move in) and it looks simple enough that it’s not outside the realm of possibility. The special effects are about what you’d expect. He’s essentially a red streak with some electrical crackles when he runs. What’s interesting, though, is that they show his viewpoint on the experience. Rather than simply undercranking the camera to achieve a fast effect, instead they’ve chosen to show Barry’s perception of the world as a slow moving place when he starts to move quickly. This makes perfect sense, of course: to a guy who hauls as much ass as The Flash does, we mere mortals must look like a bunch of slow pokes.
No superhero show is complete without a few Easter Eggs, and the Flash is no exception. Since I promised no spoilers, I’ll leave out the big ones and just go with one you probably already know: John Wesley Shipp, the actor who played The Flash on the 1990’s tv show, plays Barry’s father in the new series. It’s not an especially important point, but it’s a fun one, and the actor has aged far enough that it actually works really well. And, after all, the man’s a decent actor, so it’s a good fit here, too.
It’s always hard to judge a show based on its pilot, especially if that pilot is one that leaked out several months before an official air date. It’s entirely possible this could be re-cut and changed significantly between now and the show’s official premiere. That said, I wouldn’t expect anything huge to change, nor would I really want it to. My sole complaint is that the “villain of the week” was a little weak (some weather guy? Okay, whatever), but on the other hand, he did what he needed to do: be a “meta human” who could give Barry a light challenge on his freshman outing.
All in all, The Flash pilot showcased a lot of charm, humor, and sweetness, with just the faintest hint of dark stuff lurking in the corners. This is pretty much the exact inversion of Arrow‘s pilot, which was dark from the word go and took time to really find anything lighter. I think they’ve established a good tone with the show so far and setup what I hope will be some great storylines that pay off as the first season unfolds in the 2014/2015 television season. If you can’t stand the wait, you might be able to find the pilot out there somewhere (don’t ask me, I don’t know), but if not, let me leave it at this: it’ll be worth your time to give this show a chance when it debuts. I can tell you this much: it won me over in a flash.