Spider-Man With Super-Speed: Comics Alliance Reviews ‘The Flash’ Television Pilot
If you’ve read my recaps of The CW’s Arrow, then you likely know I’ve been pretty hard on it. Yet I ultimately think the show accomplishes what it has brazenly set out to do since it started: be a television version of the Christopher Nolan Batman films.
The CW’s new series The Flash, which spun off from Arrow and even features a guest appearance from Arrow star Stephen Amell in its pilot episode, takes much the same approach, but the movies it attempts to emulate aren’t the dark, brooding Batman films. It’s chasing after the Spider-Man franchise. And for both better and worse, it nails it.
It makes sense as a take on the Flash. For years after his creation, Green Arrow was DC Comics’ second-string Batman (he even had an Arrowcave), and for much of what was arguably the Flash’s most creatively fertile period in the 1990s, the character bore more than a passing resemblance to Spider-Man. It was a take on the character that worked.
And despite some miscues, it seems to work out pretty well for the TV show as well, at least in the pilot episode. If you’re interested in just how much the new Flash series resembles a Spider-Man movie, let me ennumerate some similarities for you:
- The episode starts with a voiceover (in which star Grant Gustin actually sounds like Andrew Garfield) about how “you need to believe in the impossible,” followed by “My name is…and I’m…”
- Bullying plays a major role.
- There are multiple scenes of Barry Allen and his unrequited love since childhood (Iris West, played by Candice Patton) talking but not really saying what they’re feeling, and when Barry tries to ask if they could date, he’s indirect and she misunderstands him.
- There’s a scene in an alley where Barry excitedly experiments with his powers.
- The scenes where Barry realizes he can see things happening in slow motion are exactly like the scenes in which Peter discovers his spider-sense. There’s even a tray of food falling.
- There’s a combination Eddie Brock/Flash Thompson/Harry Osborn character, Eddie Thawne. Here, he’s a rival who works at the police department, not an evil fan from the future, like Professor Zoom in the comics.
- A lot of jumping on cars.
- Barry wakes up from the accident that makes him a superhero, looks in a mirror, and notices he has abs.
- A surrogate father teaches Barry how to be a good person (but he doesn’t die).
- Barry gets unmasked, like, immediately.
- He saves a bike messenger.
Again, I don’t think any of the similarities to Spider-Man is particularly, totally bad. If anything, it makes the show a great complement to Arrow. Most of the scenes take place in the daytime, the colors are bright and vibrant, and the lead character isn’t a complete jerk. The show wears its Spider-Man influence on its sleeve, particularly from the Sam Raimi movies, but I like those movies, so it’s fine by me.
Barry gets struck by lightning (from Arrow)
The places where the pilot doesn’t do so well is, quite frankly, in its deviations from the formula. The very first full scene of the episode is a sepia-toned flashback all the way back to the year 2000, in which we see Barry’s happy home destroyed when a yellow-and-red blur kills his mother. His dad, played by original Flash TV star John Wesley Shipp, goes off to prison for her murder. (In a later scene, Barry goes to visit his dad and tell him he knows he’s innocent and will search for the real killer.)
In addition to The Flash never really needing a dead-parents story before that got attached to Barry Allen’s character in 2009’s The Flash: Rebirth, the scene of his mom’s murder plays out as pretty silly. It’s partially because of the special effects not really working, and partially because it just doesn’t seem to fit in the story. It certainly gives Barry Allen a motivation for the rest of the season/series, but it’s also highly contrived.
The show doesn’t necessarily knock it out of the park with its villain, either. A droopy-haired Clyde Mardon appears as the Weather Wizard, and all he’s really there to do is create a tornado that The Flash can reverse before quickly dying. The explanation for Mardon’s weather powers is that he was affected by the same Star Labs particle accelerator explosion, which sets up a villain-of-the-week structure for upcoming episodes. Arrow dropped its bad-guy-of-the-week conceit about halfway through its first season, and I hope The Flash does, too. There’s no need for it, and it makes villains look weak and lame.
Arrow vs. the Flash
Speaking of the Star Labs stuff, it’s a big part of the show. Barry Allen is fostered along toward Flashdom by the team of Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes). It helps get the plot moving with the explanation of The Flash getting his costume and understanding his powers because some scientists told him what’s up, but there’s also a sense from the get-go that Barry isn’t really his own person. It’s a very S.H.I.E.L.D.-like way of explaining a hero’s start. That problem is helped a bit by some pilot-episode conflict in which Wells doesn’t want Barry doing hero stuff, though.
Overall, I do think this pilot has a lot of promise. I ended up liking Gustin a lot more in the role here than I did in his Arrow appearances, where he felt out of place and kind of boring. (Similarly, Stephen Amell’s appearance here is so jarring in its tonal weirdness it could give viewers whiplash.) The main cast in general is very good. Jesse L. Martin is particularly strong as Iris West’s dad and Barry’s boss/mentor, Joe. Cavanagh does a nice job of seeming to have positive motives while also seeming a bit mysterious and sinister. And Patton does what she can with what she gets, which isn’t a whole lot, at least not yet.
There are definitely some kinks to work out — I’m not sure how they’re going to fix that murder plot, and it’s the driving force of the season, it appears — but clearly the Arrow team has learned a lot from making two full seasons of a superhero TV show. This TV version of the Flash comes out of the gate pretty strong, and the stuff that needs some retooling isn’t insurmountable by any stretch.