Monday, May 27, 2013

Hit the Ground Running

Okay, here - as promised (if you follow me on Twitter) - is my blog on a potential Flash movie.
Where to begin? Let's first talk about a couple of the earlier incarnations of the character.
"Okay, boys: let's sell some action figures."
Right on the heels of the first Tim Burton Batman movie, there was a resurgence of live-action superhero projects hoping to capitalize on the noir aspects of that film. Most of these attempts didn't understand that "noir" wasn't what made that film successful - it was just one of the successful elements. One of these attempts was the live-action tv series,The Flash. There were many good elements in this series: John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen was charismatic and believable. Okay, by "many," I guess I meant "one." And that was it. The speed effects were cheesy: the Flash always looked like he was shuffling at high speed rather than running. The editing on either end of the speed effect scenes made the scenes look all the more stagey. The series tried too hard to look and feel like Burton's Batman - including use of 40s costuming and sets (albeit inconsistently) and a theme by Danny Elfman, which, frankly, seemed inappropriate for a character who moves at high speed. Most of the action took place at night, too, which may have helped with the special effects, but just made it feel all the more like a Batman clone.  Amanda Pays's facial over-acting made her scenes painful to watch. (Maybe she thought she was making a silent-film serial?) The scripts were often hackneyed at best - the pilot film creating a revenge-driven origin for Barry Allen, which just really isn't right for the Flash. Several iconic villains (Captain Cold, Mirror Master) were re-written to the point of being unrecognizable, and Mark Hamill's over-the-top Trickster felt like he had stepped out of the 1960s Batman TV series. The series never really settled on a tone for itself, vacillating between campy and dark - violently dark.
"I'm acting as hard as I can!!"

"E equals M. . . C . . .
Hey, look at my pecs."
As I said, I liked John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen, and I liked him very much. He was perhaps a bit muscular for a police scientist, and he was a brunette rather than blond, but Shipp captured the essence of Barry Allen. He is a good man who gets superpowers, so he does good things with those superpowers. He's also a scientist, so he's going to think about scientific applications of those powers. If a Flash movie is made, this is, in my opinion, a necessary element. Barry Allen is a nice guy, pure and simple. He shouldn't be a vigilante. He isn't from another planet. He's just a good guy who can run very, very fast.

I know that everyone is a big fan of the wise-cracking Flash in the animated Justice League and Justice League Unlimited TV series - I am, too. However, that's Wally West - the Flash's former teen
"Then the waitress says, 'Oh yeah?
You should see him make donuts!'"
sidekick who takes up the mantle of the Flash after Barry Allen sacrifices his life to save the earth (multiple earths, actually.) That series also never really delves into why the Flash is who he is. Let's face it, the Flash's personality in that series mostly serves as a foil to the more serious members of the team. It's effective, but - for a stand-alone film - we need to dig a little deeper.

I think that a Flash movie must, must, must be a Barry Allen story, and, though I have said before that not all superhero movies need to be origin movies, I believe that this one does.
My first pick for Barry Allen is Ben Foster. Though he often plays darker characters, I have seen him in roles that suggest to me that he could play the quietly methodical and genuinely good guy, Barry Allen. He's not a particularly beefy or imposing man, and I think that's a good thing.
"No, I'm not the 'hey, girl' guy."
"My name is Shia. I will be
your busboy this evening.
Barry Allen is a guy who takes his time. He's a scientist, so he's methodical. He's accurate, which is why he's an asset to the police department, but he takes a bit of ribbing from his co-workers for being so slow. When he's working late one night in the lab and lightning strikes him through a rack of chemicals, he is granted the gift of speed. This a release for Barry, the guy who takes his time, because time now becomes less of a restraint when you can move at hyper speed.
When he puts on the costume, he is free. This can manifest itself his new alter ego, along with the anonymity of wearing a mask, so those who want a wise-cracking Flash can still have one without fundamentally changing who Barry Allen is.
As for a villain, I think it would be wise to stay away from any super-powered baddies. The perfect foil to a genuinely good guy would be a sociopath. Perhaps a less cartoony version of James Jesse (aka The Trickster) could give the Scarlet Speedster a run for his money by devising a set of diabolical obstacles that would test the limits of both the Flash's speed and Barry Allen's resolve to do the right thing. Could  it be time to give Shia LaBeouf a shot at playing the bad guy?
The Flash doesn't have as many supporting characters as Batman and Superman, but there is his girlfriend and eventual wife, Iris West, who - in the comics - was originally a Lois Lane rip-off: a reporter for the local newspaper. Why not write her as a young Maureen Dowd-esque character and give the role to one of my favorite actresses: Olivia Thirlby?
"Yo Yo Yiggidy Yo."
I think that the key to making a good Flash movie is not to attach too much gravitas to it up front. Let it be just be fun and then allow it to build toward a very dire situation so that we - as the audience - are right there with Barry just as he realizes things are getting out of hand. Let us move to the edge of our seats for the climax. Don't try to make us sit there the whole time.
As one who anticipates many live-action adaptations of comic books with a mix of hopefulness and worry (Man of Steel), I think I could get very excited about a live-action Flash movie - if it is done with care.

And as long as we're talking about the Flash, I'm going to take this opportunity to share with you once again "The Ballad of Barry Allen" by Jim's Big Ego (available on iTunes, freeloaders).

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