I recently found myself having a conversation with someone about Grant Gustin and his legitimacy as both a superhero and the Flash. Now, if you have read any of my previous The Flash articles, you will know that I think incredibly highly of the guy and enforce that he is not only legitimate but that he redefined everything about being a superhero.
Gustin's performance on The CW's The Flash has been met with widespread acclaim from fans and critics. Although this speaks for itself, sometimes a little evidence goes a long way. Thus, I felt like it was time to write this article and explore how Grant Gustin's performance has been responsible for the evolution of the superhero genre.
Way back in 2013, when Gustin was first cast in the role, some people had a more cynical outlook, claiming that he was "too thin" or too "baby-faced" to be a superhero and wouldn't be at all believable. Others thought he should have blonde hair like the comic book character. Some people even had a problem with the fact that he was in Glee a couple of years ago. These statements were not only premature, they were irrelevant. Because Gustin took this role of a beloved superhero and did exactly what Michael Keaton did with the role of Batman over two decades beforehand: proved the critics wrong.
But he didn't stop there, although his character does indeed embody many of the same attributes as the comic-book counterpart, Gustin has also managed to make the character his own: by delivering an authentic, real performance, week in and week out to make Barry Allen/The Flash one of the strongest and most relatable characters on television.
Okay, first off, I want you to cast your mind way back to the beginning, back in 1956 when the Barry Allen iteration of The Flash was created. Being the second Flash, Barry Allen has arguably become the most popular, being the focus of many important arcs and being portrayed by John Wesley Shipp in The Flash 1990 TV Series, Grant Gustin in The Flash 2014 TV Series and will be portrayed by Ezra Miller in the upcoming The Flash 2018 film and successive films. That's a lot of identical titles!
Anyway, my point is that Barry Allen is a popular comic book character and a lot of people had this preconceived idea in their head of what Barry Allen was supposed to be like. And Grant Gustin may not have been what they imagined.
Back in the early days of original superhero iterations, the on-screen adaptations could make for very heroic programming, making the superheroes out to be invincible or at least, on a different level than other characters. Sometimes superhero television was often written off as having two-dimensional characters, with muscled, powerful men in costumes fighting for justice. That kind of television doesn't always work these days. People want to see someone who they can empathize with, someone who has a strong emotional reason for doing the things they do.
And thus, it is Gustin's completely down-to-earth portrayal of Barry Allen that humanizes The Flash, making him relatable to every viewer watching. The Flash isn't just a series about a superhero. It's an all-round show that has become a staple of many families' Tuesday nights. Thanks to Grant Gustin's performance, the Flash isn't just a hero that we watch in awe, he is a character that we can all relate to, a character that we all root for. Barry Allen may be, by definition a "metahuman" but Grant Gustin's very "human" and endearing portrayal of the character is one of the reasons why the show has become a phenomenon.
A little emotion goes a long way. Back in the early days of television, it was virtually unheard of to see a superhero cry. In fact, you would rarely have seen a man cry on television. They were very much portrayed as being a "man's man". But although our modern day male superheroes do indeed personify some of those traits, they aren't afraid to expose their emotions either. The Flash is the best example of this. Barry isn't afraid to tell anyone what he is feeling and Gustin portrays this flawlessly. From an acting standpoint, that scene in the Season One finale was nothing short of remarkable. The crushed look on his face said more than any dialogue ever could, and that is chalked up to Gustin's incredible ability as an actor. When talking about this before, I used the unusual example of "Grodd Lives" (still sounds weird using that episode as an example) to enforce my point. In this episode particularly, Gustin delivers a raw, stripped back performance each time Barry talks to Iris. Candice Patton is equally as strong here.
Their relationship is also an example of how superheroes have changed over the years. Gone are the days when women are instantly attracted to their heroic male counterparts. In Season One, Barry's longing after Iris invoked empathy from a lot of viewers because quite frankly, many of them had been there. Iris wasn't instantly attracted to him and instead "friendzoned" him. Barry had to work for it. This is what makes Barry such a relatable character. He isn't portrayed as the insanely handsome athlete with the toothy grin or the guy who has girls falling at his feet. No. Gustin's portrayal personifies Barry Allen as an everyday lovable nerd who was blessed with superpowers. Grant Gustin's performance as Barry Allen is charming, quirky and downright authentic.
Now, just because he does a fantastic job at revealing his emotions doesn't mean that he isn't a great superhero. At the end of the day, The Flash is about a superhero and Gustin never fails to deliver a powerful, epic and emotionally charged performance when wearing that mask. It's just a major plus that his portrayal of Barry makes us want to root for the Flash even more.
The Flash himself has all the best traits of the comic book character and it is a joy to watch him clean up Central City, one evil metahuman at a time. Just as many previous generations watched in awe as their favorite superheroes would defeat the villains, we also get to do this every week with The Flash. I still get chills re-watching some of those amazing scenes when Gustin runs through the Speed Force in that Iconic outfit or when he tries to stop the massive tidal wave in "Out of Time", each time with Blake Neely's incredible score bellowing in the background. Goosebumps!
This new approach to the superhero genre does not hurt the series or the genre at all. I recently re-watched Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and was quite simply amazed at how The Flash managed to successfully incorporate so many familiar elements from the storyline into Season One. Moreover, adding the character of Dr. Wells to the story made for some incredible scenes. Despite tweaking the story and having a vastly different iteration of Barry Allen, the CW series managed to execute the storyline just as well (if not better?) than the original arc. A major part of the storyline's success was down to Gustin's performance. The way he portrayed Barry, who looked up to Dr. Wells, only to feel betrayed once again made the superhero feel powerless. All this did was make the character even more relatable. And it made us want to root for him even more. Thus, even with the redefined superhero genre, The Flash can still tell amazingly heroic stories worthy of the comic-books.
So it's been just over two years since Grant Gustin was cast as Barry Allen on Arrow and now here we are, with a new brand of superhero television. The Flash may have taken on and defeated metahumans but perhaps his greatest victory is defeating any naysayers who claimed that he couldn't do it. And as for the "too thin" comments, Gustin took it upon himself to address those late last year when he tweeted the following:
This "PSA" actually won him a lot more supporters from many who have been through the same thing. I know I have felt like saying this once or twice. And it just proved that while Barry Allen may be a relatable character, Grant Gustin is a very relatable human being and I, for one, applaud him for doing this. And while I'm at it, let me take the opportunity to once again stress how down-to-earth Gustin is. This was his response to my last article:
I still haven't got over this. That was a very good day. ;)
Thus, in conclusion, Grant Gustin has helped usher in a new wave of superhero television. His consistently endearing, charming and authentic performance has been well-received by critics and fans alike. But more than that, his performance has reinforced that he is not just capable of playing a superhero, he is capable of redefining everything about what a superhero could be or should be. The Flash, at it's core, isn't a superhero show, it's a show about an ordinary nice guy who happened to obtain superpowers. He's still the same charming character he was beforehand, with the same attributes and desires - now he just wears a mask and saves people in between. And that makes him relatable. This is one of the countless reasons as to why the show has become the global phenomenon that it has.
Furthermore, other shows have since taken notice and adopted the same successful formula. Melissa Benoist is positively glorious on Supergirl and shares many of Gustin's quirky Barry Allen traits. The mere thought of the impending crossover gives us chills, particularly because it will be a treat to see these two interact with each other. These characters could be the beginning of a revolution, showing us that normal relatable characters can be heroes as well. In today's day and age, when the market is rife with superhero films and TV series', The Flash should be commended for taking a risk by adding so much to their titular character. In a show based solely on a comic book character, Gustin's portrayal ensures that Barry Allen is one of the most fresh and realistic characters on Television.
I genuinely couldn't think of a better way to end this article than with the powerful quotation from Batman in The Dark Knight Rises when he states "A hero can be anyone." Yes they can, and a big part of that is down to the incomparable Grant Gustin.
The Flash season 2 continues on The CW on Tuesday nights!