Review: The Flash Pilot

CW fires off another DC adaptation from its chamber and hits the mark. The Flash is pretty darn fun.

Like every CW show, I have very low expectations, but with Gotham not being bad at all, Arrow making big improvements, and now The Flash, I'm starting to respect where they're going. Constantine is next on the list, and I'm beginning to think CW kinda-sorta knows what they're doing. What? Did I just type that?

The Flash pilot pulls its formula directly from great summer blockbusters. It's not brilliant nor will it blow you away or anything, but what they have here is sound and seems to be respecting the source material. The comic relief is spot on, the action is frenetic and exhilarating, and thanks especially to Grant Gustin as the starring hero, already shows some excellent acting.

In the middle of the second season of Arrow, we were briefly introduced to Barry Allen. I was shocked to find out that not only the writers, but Grant Gustin absolutely nail the character. Astoundingly sharp, awkward, dorky, and hopeless romantic, Gustin makes for a near perfect Barry Allen and an impressive Flash. This harmony of writing and acting continue here in the pilot. Our re-introduction to the character is ripped directly from the comics and appears as if they are holding nothing back. The mystery surrounding Barry's boyhood trauma surprised me as it's such a wild mystery to pursue as far as live-action adaptations go. As someone familiar with a few Flash comics, more power to them, but can they pull it off? It's a pretty big setup. Even if our site didn't take the spoiler-free aspect so seriously, it's incredibly tough to talk at length about what Barry's story is without ruining it. We all will just have to wait and see.

What you will see now is a fairly classic Hollywood formula of a young guy with a troubled childhood who gets incredible powers. The super power fantasy is strong here as Barry Allen explores his unique powers, which they waste little time getting to, and yet they don't rush it either. The timing feels just right. Grant Gustin plays the perplexed and intrigued young nerd perfectly. He makes you believe he is truly bewildered and fascinated by this incredible gift. The unraveling of his powers is a combination of delightful teases and explosive payoffs. Throughout the pilot there are what seem to be several obvious setups for showing off, but the writers reined it in when I thought they wouldn't, saving the super power goodies for later in the episode or perhaps later in the season. Flash's powers are some of the most fascinating in the comic universe to me because of how they evolve through practice. Typically, a hero gets their powers, they learn to use them fairly quickly, and that's that. Flash is a super hero whose powers evolve into something far more complex to the point of God-like over time. I'm wondering if they're really going to attempt to go that far?

Like the Gotham pilot there are comic fan nods and details everywhere. They even show a clear nod to Gorilla Grodd of all villains. I mean, Grodd is pretty ridiculous for most live-action standards, and for how deliberate the Easter egg is it's almost as if they're implying he'll play a bigger role later in the series. The most curious of which is the role of Eddie Thawne, which I won't get into for fear of massive spoilers that comic fans surely know of, but where are they gonna go with him? Who is he?

"Someone get me
outta this thing!!"

Among these Easter eggs and characters are elusive plot points which could mean something very big for the series later on. I'm as equally weary of this kind of weight the producers are taking on as I am excited. I've read other reviews stating that this pilot could perhaps be "too faithful" to source. How could that be a bad thing? I think I know what they mean now. This pilot sets up for epic revelations normally reserved for the extravagance of comic book pages, but can the CW actually pull it off? If you asked me that question about two weeks ago, I would say without a fraction of a doubt, no. With Gotham seeming fairly promising and now this, I can't say that answer has turned into a definite yes, but I am now intrigued with the potential.

But what if you're not a comic book fan? Are these mysteries all that enticing to the casual viewer? I'm not sure yet. Even without knowing, I can safely say that otherwise, the action and Grant Gustin's performance should carry it for anyone new to The Flash. Gustin nails every beat. He proves that both his comic timing and emotional breadth can and should lead an entire series. Without a doubt he has what it takes. The only better performance in comic book TV series right now is Robin Lord Taylor's Oswald Cobblepot, but the roles are so vastly different from each other they are still hard to compare.

The Flash does not however get everything right. Candice Patton as Iris West is a sad retread of every overacted female performance throughout all of CW. Pretty to look at, but so bubbly and unnatural that she robs the scenes of any genuine charm Grant Gustin might have set up. The two are clearly intended to be that couple everyone roots for, but I couldn't help but feel bad for Gustin when Patton is making it so hard for me to believe that Barry Allen would have any feelings for such an airhead.

"Van Halen would approve."
Chad Rook plays the main villain of the pilot, Clyde Mardon, who gets little to say or do except twiddle his fingers and create evil fog. What few lines he's given, he sells. I just wished he had more to work with because he's clearly a talented villain actor. Granted, this is a pilot focusing on Barry Allen becoming The Flash, but Mardon is reduced to being a tool for showing off Flash doing cool moves to something besides a city street.

The only other big complaint I have is the costume. I get that it's created by a rather young aspiring physicist and that they don't exactly have state-of-the-art superhero costume technology, but I also don't think it makes the current Flash suit any less tacky. It looks awkward and stiff, which are the exact two qualities that should not be part of a suit worn by the fastest man alive. It is highly probable, though, that the suit will change. Executive producer Greg Berlanti said that they are "evolving the suit over time," and that it will "become more vibrant and red." Hopefully, they have better plans than raising the saturation of the color and try to make it into something that doesn't look like a spray painted biker costume from Halloween USA.

Yes, it has its cheesiness, a couple of tacked on characters, and a bad costume, but Grant Gustin rocks it and the story is just as intriguing as it is fun and charming. They have set a bar in the story arc that is potentially too high to overcome, however, and I'm not positive yet whether it will payoff or the writers will fumble with the threads and leave it in shambles. I think for anyone The Flash pilot is worth checking out whether you're a fan of the hero or not. If you go in expecting the typical CW cheese, it's not so bad this time around. There was a particular cameo that anyone could see coming, and although I'm not a big fan of the actor or the character, it did put a smile on my face as corny as it was. Much of the pilot did just that—it made me smile—and I'll be returning for more.

-JG Barnes