Writing a Flash Movie

No, no, I don’t mean this kind of Flash movie:


Adobe Flash



I mean this kind of Flash movie:


Flash running

So, I stumbled upon Mightygodking’s post on how to structure a trilogy of Flash movies. And I have no quarrel with his ideas. I mean, who am I to disagree with not just a god, but also a king? And a mighty one, at that? In truth, I have absolutely no idea what I would write if suddenly tasked with scripting the live-action adventures of one of my favorite super-heroes.

But I have given the notion some thought, and Mightygodking’s post prompted me to write this post of my own, which tackles one specific problem in a movie about the Flash. Namely, this:

Dude is fast.

I don’t mean “fast” as in “Hey, did you see that?” or “fast” as in “Whoops! Almost had him!” I mean “fast” as in 186,000 miles per second fast. Speed of light fast. Run-so-fast-you-can-vibrate-through-solid-matter fast.

So fast he can watch lightning bolts as they lazily drift from the clouds to the earth.

In comics, this sort of speed is not an impediment to storytelling. Because comics are a static medium, even though the reader knows — subconsciously, if no other way — that the Flash can move at the speed of light, we still somehow “buy” the notion that, say, the Weather Wizard can wave his wand and make it rain like a hurricane, even though in the half-second it takes him to move that wand, Barry Allen should — by all rights — have grabbed that same wand and shoved it where the sun don’t shine (even for the Weather Wizard). We buy these things because we can’t see Flash’s speed in motion. We see a series of static images and we understand that Barry is moving at ungodly speed, but since it’s all in our head, we accept the conceit that he can occasionally get gakked by a bad guy.

In a movie, though, it just won’t work. Because in a movie, you wouldn’t even see the Flash at his top speed. He’s so fast that the bad guys wouldn’t even get their guns level. The instant they moved a weapon a millimeter from rest position, Flash would have the guns out of their hands and disassembled. And he would have the bad guys tied up, to boot. In such a brief moment of time that the audience wouldn’t even see it.

Now, this is a great, cheap special effect, for sure, but it doesn’t make for a very exciting movie when your hero literally performs all of his actions so swiftly that no one is a threat and no one ever sees him do anything.

“What about slo-mo!” the masses cry. For some reason (I blame The Six Million Dollar Man), putting characters in slo-mo is supposed to indicate how fast they are. Throw a bullet-time effect in there and you have what you need, right? Barry Allen cruising along in a time-frozen world.

But, no. Even slo-mo and bullet-time aren’t enough. Again: Speed. Of. Light. Assume you even get the chance to draw a weapon on Flash and pull the trigger. In the time it takes for the hammer of the gun to strike the firing pin, he’s already snatched the gun out of your hand and taken it apart so that it can’t hurt anyone. The bullet never even fires. It’s never even struck. And in the many spare nanoseconds he has, he also handcuffs you, runs you to the police precinct, and fills out the arrest report. After stopping off for donuts for the cops. He’s that fast. Slo-mo and bullet-time are cool, but they still imply a human scale, and Flash’s speed is on a inhuman scale.

“Simple solution, then,” you say. “Slow him down for the movie. He tops out at the speed of sound, not the speed of light.”

Well, speaking of sound… That sound you hear? It’s the sound of the War-Cry of the Fanboys, bellowing in unison, “I won’t see this movie if he’s not as fast as he is in the comic!”

And you know what? They’re right. Because speed is Flash’s gimmick. It’s his One Thing. Superman is seriously powered-down for his movies, but that’s OK because Superman isn’t about Power. Superman is about Doing Right and Inspiration and Self-Sacrifice and Nobility. His powers inform those ideas, but when you take away or reduce Superman’s powers, he’s still the same guy.

But when you take away or reduce Flash’s speed, he’s nothing. He’s just police scientist Barry Allen. Flash has one gimmick and that is this: He is one absurdly fast motherfucker. And making him slower than Chuck Yeager on a good day guts the character.

The conundrum, then, is this: Flash is too fast to be in a movie, but making him slower automatically wrecks the movie.

And here is my humble solution:

Begin the movie with Flash at his absolute fastest. Beyond-speed-of-light. The first five or ten minutes of the movie, he’s so fast you never even see him. He’s just everywhere, saving people, doing stuff, wiping up the floor with supervillains. Because he can.

Then, one of his foes (probably Gorilla Grodd or Abra Kadabra, but I’m not picky — could be Big Sir, for all I care) engineers some kind of superscientific hocus-pocus that knocks down Flash’s speed. Unlike the scenario above where you have a movie studio just saying, “For purposes of this movie, Flash can’t run at the speed of light,” now you have made his relative slowness a part of the story. It’s a dramatic tension device. How will he adjust to lacking his usual speed? How can he be effective at “merely” Mach 1 or Mach 10 or whatever?

So now Flash is on a human scale that the audience can appreciate, one that is amenable to special effects and doesn’t allow him to solve all the problems of the movie at invisible superspeed. And since there’s an in-story reason for it, the fanboys (of which I am one) won’t cry foul.

Of course, by the end of the movie, Flash has stopped the bad guys and restored his speed, and the last few minutes of the movie are him once again at top speed, saving the world in fine fashion.

Whew! There you have it. That’s my solution to the problem of superspeed on-screen.

Believe it or not, even after all of that, I still have no desire to write a Flash movie. I just like solving problems.

(Now a Superman movie… Ah, if only I knew Zack Snyder. *sigh*)

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