There has been a lot of hoo-hah about the death of the superhero genre. Steven Spielberg has said that one day superheroes will “go the way of the western” and whilst spandex wearers might disappear, the superhero story template will never die because it has borrowed so many elements from other genres.
Proof: The protagonist is in a conflict with the antagonist, they bout many times with antagonist eventually getting the upper hand. Protagonist then doubts himself but soon recovers to beat the antagonist in the final act. Is that a superhero movie or a sports film?
The latest episode of The Flash deals with Barry (Grant Gustin) recovering from being brutally beaten by Zoom (Tony Todd) in ‘Enter Zoom’. It isn’t a physical problem as the Speed Force has healed his wounds. No, Barry is confined to crutches because he’s suffering from PTSD. The sight of The Fastest Man Alive needing a crutch to stand is an evocative image that reinforces Zoom’s dominance. He’s not in the episode but he overshadows everything.Which is sort of a shame because everyone’s favourite telepathic talking gorilla is back. It was a smart move setting the S.T.A.R Labs squad against a fan favourite enemy, one who almost bested Barry in season one, as it adds an element of threat and gives Barry a significant reason to get the gumption to supersonic punch someone.
Barry’s been mopey before, but this one wasn’t for the trite reason of wanting to protect his friends. It was about his image. The idea of having the hero have an image crisis humanises him as he is going through something almost everyone goes through in the age of social media. The Flash is a Millennial show and it is embraces this fact instead if running from it.
Barry’s PTSD gives the supporting cast a chance to remind us of their talent. Danielle Panabaker has meddled with superheroes before in Sky High and she does a great job here, considering she spent most of the time acting against a ping-pong ball (Grodd is fully CG character).Maybe it is because its television but The Flash continues to have small character moments with Cisco (Carlos Valdes) going on a date where he plans “dinner, a movie and breakfast”. The small moment of laughter shared by the characters shows their friendship and makes spending time in their company a joyous gift.
However, some of the humour fails and whilst one extended gag reinforces Tom Cavanagh’s talents and the differences between Harry and Reverse-Flash, its humour doesn’t hit as hard as intended.
With all the characters pre-occupied, it was up to Joe (Jesse L. Martin) to inspire Barry, and he failed. So, the show brought on the super sub. John Wesley Shipp returns and gives a pleasant corner-of-the-ring pep talk. The writing may once again be on the nose, but Shipp is able to be sincere enough that Daddy Allen’s return delivers. Grodd’s very essence means he is a difficult character to handle with a TV budget. Last season dealt with this well but even with inventive framing and lighting, this episode wasn’t able to mask how fake Grodd looks. But, his story was handled well and is a pointed stand against animal testing. The establishment made Grodd who he is and somehow the show creates emotional moments for a dictatorial gorilla.
The superhero genre may become more niche, but when the stories exploit genre elements as well as ‘Gorilla Warfare’ does, people will want superheroes to stick around.