Although The Flash is a spin-off from Arrow – and the shows are firmly established as existing in a shared universe with a vast variety of crossover elements – tonally they are very different beasts indeed. In fact, when the newly-superendowed Barry jogs 600 miles just to seek some advice from old mate Oliver Queen, you half expect the emerald archer to blurt out, “Holy f**king Christ, you can do whaaaaaaaat?”
While Arrow has clearly been influenced by the Dark Knight trilogy approach to the DC universe – gritty, largely superpowerless, populated by driven, self-made heroes and villains – the pilot for The Flash is just about the nearest TV has come to capturing the feel and spirit of Marvel’s Phase One films (and yes, we’re including Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD in that assessment).
It’s a simple, classic origin story, told in a style that embraces its pulpy roots rather than trying to reinvent them as an urban thriller or a relationship drama. It takes the main building blocks of Flash mythology and used them as a foundation for a retelling of the tale that feels fresh and modern while also faithful and familiar. It’s fun, it’s slick, it’s 100% a comic book adaptation, and proud of it. Without an original gene in its metahuman DNA, it still manages to make all the clichés exciting and vibrant once more. Just like that first round of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America films.
So we get a Flash origin story that’s a little bit of an amalgam of various Flash origin stories from comic history but mostly feels influenced by Geoff Johns’s Flashpoint and Flash: Rebirth. Tardy police forensics expert Barry Allen becomes the fastest man alive after being stuck by lightning in the aftermath of a storm created when a particle accelerator explodes, opening a dimensional rift that unleashes all kinds of mysterious energy and dark matter. Oh and the lightning strike also hurls Bazza into a cocktail of chemicals in his wrecked lab. Talk about hedging your bets.
Barry’s dad is played by John Wesley Shipp, who played the Flash in the really rather good 1990 TV series.
Barry then becomes a willing lab rat for scientists at STAR labs, enjoying playing about with his new abilities until he realises that the storm has created other metahumans too (it’s unclear whether the lack of a chemical bath in their cases made a damned bit of difference; it’s also unclear whether any of them went, “Hey, this is just like Misfits – look, I’m lactokinetic!”). At this point he comes over all “great powers, great responsibilities” and decides he has to fight evil in Central City. In a mask and a suit with lightning bolts on it.
There is a bit of a Smallville vibe, and a nagging worry that “metahuman of the week” could simply replace “meteor freak of the week”. But there’s little evidence here that a romance sub-plot (Barry is secretly in love with a friend from childhood who’s secretly snogging a smarmy cop) will remain anything other than a subplot. The show appears more concerned with foreshadowing some massive great time travel related crisis. You get the feeling that complex, multi-level, sci-fi arc plotting will be this show’s main driving force.
Grant Gustin is an energetic and instantly likeable Barry Allen, bringing an endearingly gawky Chuck Bartowski feel to the role. It’s great to see a superhero enjoying his abilities for a change rather than moaning about them being a curse (again, this brings to mind the sense of wonder in those early Marvel films, rather than the constant angst in the X-Men movies). Tom Cavanagh’s scientist with a hidden agenda, Harrison Wells, looks set to be character to keep an eye on, and his geeky assistants, Caitlin and Cisco, are amusing as well (and as mentioned below, they’re front-loaded with development potential).
An impressive and thoroughly pilot, then, but perhaps a little bit too by-the-numbers. Too safe. Too slick. Sure there’s a twist at the end, but in this age of ever-more serialised TV, the tantalising reveal is pretty much par for the course. What the pilot lacks is real WTF? element, something to make you go, “Blimey, that’s new for a superhero show.” The episode’s plot efficiently performs its function of introducing all the necessary elements – and it does so with a decent amount of wit and style – but the weather controlling villain is hardly memorable, and there’s little sense of real drama. Perhaps what the pilot needed was more evidence of other metahuman activity rather than just a throwaway line, to give Central City the feel of a city where some real crazy shit’s going down.
The effects are serviceable; certainly not bad, but suffering from the fact that X-Men: Days Of Future Past gave us that gobsmacking Quicksilver scene earlier this year. TV budgets will never compete, but that scene in Singer’s film was a triumph of having fun experimenting with the visual potential of super speed abilities as well as simply throwing money on screen. Maybe that’s what the show needs: rather than just running fast and causing hurricanes, we need to be shown what life can really be like in the fast lane.
The Flash airs on Sky 1 in the UK and the CW in the US on Tuesday nights.
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