"In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and placessome that have existed, and others that can't, couldn't or shouldn't exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow."
Today, I just saw the best superhero movie of the summer season.
"But Bully!" you say, gasping in shock and amazement. "No one has seen X-Men: The Last Stand yet! Nobody has been admitted to a screening of Superman Returns today! And Snakes on a Plane's sure-to-break-all-box-office-records opening day is months away! You didn't see a superhero movie! You're lying to us, aren't you? Aren't you?! AREN'T YOU!"
Jeepers! Calm down, you. I'm being allegorical.
Today I saw The Promise, the new film by Chen Kaige, the acclaimed director of Farewell, My Concubine. (I don't know what a concubine is. I think it is a small, spiky, mammal.) The Promise is a saga of love and war, a story of destiny and honor in ancient China, in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The acting is great, the stunts are incredible, the effects are pretty cool, and it made me sniffle and tear up at the sad bits.
Also, it was an Elseworlds story about The Flash.
Oh, don't get me wrong. It really isn't about the Flash in Ancient China. But as I sat there in the dark with my eyes glued to the screen and my hoof in my popcorn bucket, I kept thinking, "Wow. Wow. If they turned this into a comic bookmaybe a two or three issue prestige series (I'm picturing art by Alan Davis or Yoshitaka Amano)...well, it would be the best Flash Elseworlds comic ever. (Has there ever been a Flash Elseworlds comic? Okay, still, bear with me here.)
The hero of The Promise, the slave Kunlun (say it soft and it's almost like "Allen") is possessed of such incredible superhuman speed that he can outrun a rampaging herd of bulls. On all fours. With another guy on his back. And hey, if there's anybody who's going to be rooting for a herd of CGI bulls, it's this little stuffed movie-viewer right here, but I was standing on the edge of my seat yelling "Go Kunlun go!" (Then the usher shushed me and told me I'd had to leave if I kept on shouting like that).
Kunlun wears a bright red tunic for much of the film (this is, like Hero, another Chinese epic film in which color is incredibly important to the mood and theme)he even has red and gold armor and a mask on at one point. His speed is such that it can even rip through time when he accelerates, but he learns more about the zen of speed from Snow Wolf, a mysterious and reluctant mentor as fast as (Max?) Mercury.
A fast guy alone doesn't a Flash Elseworlds make. There's other superheroic and fantastic elements that contribute to The Promise's comic book feel (and I mean that in the highest compliment possible, of course!): he takes on the mantle and identity of his mentor
performs amazing superhuman feats of strength and dexterity.
to save his one true love
from an evil villain
To make it a real Elseworlds, of course, DC would hafta shoehorn in a lot more DCU elements. I'm picturing a super-strong visitor from a strange, distant, long-destroyed land, a bat-winged ninja, a emerald gladiator, and a warrior princess. (Also, a Martian.) But heck, those would just clutter up the plot and distract from Kunlun's story. (One of the quibbles I do have with Elseworlds is the tendency to toss everything in from the regular universe including the Kryptonite sink in an attempt to shoehorn in a whole buncha cameos, even if it's a story focusing only on one hero.)
Whether or not you're a Flash Fan, of course, I still recommend The Promise. Sure, it's not perfect: some of the long-distance battle scenes are very obvious CGI and the film has gotten poor reviews from the media-guys who review movies but heck! What do they know? The movie I saw was a beautiful spectacle, a roller coaster of action and a moody and sad twist ending. There's a number of amazing set pieces: a hide-and-seek battle among a series of sliding panels in a circular room, escapes from elaborate gilded cages and corridors of mazes, leaps over waterfalls and horseshoe canyon ambushes, and my personal favorite, an escape sequence where Kunlun rescues the Princess, running so fast as he pulls her that she soars in the sky behind him like a kite on a string. Watch out for that kite-eating tree, Kunlun!
The kinetic action is a cross between the elegance of House of Flying Daggers and the cartoon energy of Kung Fu Hustle, with a vibrant color palette straight out of a Crayola big box of 64. And, golly, who wouldn't come out of this movie having a big fat little stuffed crush on Cecilia Chung?:
I give The Promise two hooves up. And when you watch it, just imagine Barry Allen taken from his usual settings and put into a strange time and place. I'm not saying it's a better movie than Snakes on a Plane. But The Promise does justice to the power of speed better than any movie since...since, well, since that film about the bus that couldn't slow down.