As an older Batman once said, “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”
I bear no ill will toward the cast and crew of The Flash, DC’s latest movie misfire in a whole slew of nonstarters. At the same time, before this unpopular hero charged out of the gates—backed by corporate boasts of “best superhero movie ever” and “Tom Cruise loved it!”—I could have told you this wouldn’t end well. Oh, wait. I did. And I likely attached the hashtag #SellSnyderverseToNetflix on top of many tweets.
Of course, some viewers liked or even loved the film, such as Michael Keaton stans or folks who claim they watch movies to “forget about the real world.” I’ll not disparage them, certainly not in the way Batman v Superman fans were mocked in 2016.
But even while BvS was directly torpedoed by corporate greed and bad theatrical-cut edits, that film earned more than a billion (by today’s inflated dollars). The Flash will be lucky to clear last year’s Black Adam’s lackluster $393 million. And while BvS sparked debates that endure to this day, The Flash, for all its strengths, is on course for a last-place finish in today’s mad dash for multiversal franchise wannabes.
That’s a certified flop.
So why in the multiverse is The Flash falling behind?
I can’t recount the entire mess, but will summarize a few reasons The Flash failed.
1. Some fans got bad training from ‘The Flash’ TV show.
Going way back to Ezra Miller’s casting as Barry Allen, I kept hearing (frankly silly) complaints from fans of the now-concluded CW series The Flash. They liked Grant Gustin as the Scarlet Speedster. So who was this other guy trying to take his place?
Why couldn’t they just have Grant play him in the movies too? these fans wondered.
Some were asking this question right up until next week.
That’s a strange demand. The CW ran on a wholly different platform, budget level, and celebrity profile. You can’t just promote a TV actor to the movies like that—it would wreck the whole system, see? Besides, the actor may not be qualified for that major switch. That’s to say nothing of plot confusion. DC films may have lost most of their continuity, but they’re still not continuous with all those soapy CW seasons.
Still, executives may ignore audience confusion “because multiverse.” That would only work if fans got invested in DC films’, um, consistent plots and characters. They didn’t. They couldn’t. Ever since Aquaman, the films have had little to none of either.
2. Other fans have irrational expectations for story adaptations.
Why can’t the movies be more like the DC comics? some fans and critics lament.
Well, that depends on which comics. You can compare either the movies’ grim, serious Batman or silly, campy Batman to “the comics” and claim the movie did not Respect the Source Material.1 You can complain about Superman not smiling in “red trunks” and insist the filmmaker “hates Superman.” Or you can demand that The Flash follow the “Flashpoint” storyline or Batman v Superman align with certain comic versions more “faithfully” or else it’s a bad movie by a hater director, etc., etc.
Alternatively, you can recognize that the films aren’t the same as “the comics” (that is, the certain storylines you personally favor). In the films and TV, new storytellers ought to try new adaptations—just as they have in the original visual art. And if you call a different version automatically “a bad movie,” that’s intellectually dishonest.
By contrast, Marvel arguably gets away with adaptation sin. Age of Ultron’s (2014) movie version barely lasted a few weeks. Captain America: Civil War (2016) was nothing compared with the sweeping graphic novel series. And so on.
3. Fans have worse expectations shaped by previous hero versions.
Marvel’s Iron Man (2008) was the first big-screen version of this hero. Audiences didn’t know what to expect. Whereas both Batman and Superman had several previous big-screen versions. Each one shaped audience expectations—or, at least, the perception that every actor must be forcibly compared to every previous actor in an endless array of geekbait web content. By popular myth, Batkeaton fans love their guy from 1989 and can’t see any other actor in the cape-and-cowl. Meanwhile, Christopher Reeve stans seem to think no other actor could ever play Superman to their satisfaction, which effectively leaves this hero dead in the 1980s.
Audiences themselves seem more receptive to new actors. DC fans love Henry Cavill as Superman while many also support Tyler Hoechlin, the lower-budget yet earnest Dad of Steel from Superman and Lois. And even reluctant fans embraced Affleck’s Batman just four years after Christian Bale departed the Batcave.
But so long as backward-facing corporations keep dredging up nostalgia for its own sake, and geekbait articles drive “who wore it better” headlines, new films will fail.
4. Warner Bros. (Discovery) has committed creative malfeasance.
The Flash outlasted three different Warner corporate leadership teams before running smack into the brick wall of audience indifference. First there was the old guard who began ruining the consistent, often-nobledark tone of DC films under director Zack Snyder. Then came executive Walter Hamada, who with DC “snake in the grass”2 Geoff Johns plotted to use The Flash for Snyderverse “rebooting”/erasure. Lastly, there’s the new guys, when Discovery merged with Warner Bros. to form a new corporate chimera.
The old guard and then Hamada/Johns were responsible for butchering Justice League (2017). After this they seemed to adopt a “may the best director win” strategy of promising creative freedom to wildly different movie directors like Patty Jenkins, David Sandberg, James Gunn, and whoever made that Birds of Prey thing. If your movie wins, you’ll get THIS! AMAZING! CINEMATIC UNIVERSE! behind curtain no. 6. But if your movie loses, we shall banish thee to Apokalips. Who wants to play?
To their credit, the new Discovery team seems to be phasing out this movie-Mafia approach. To their debit, they awarded the mess to one of its biggest losers, James Gunn of the flop deathwork The Suicide Squad (2021). Highfather only knows why.
I have called Gunn a merchant of deathwork movies. By himself, I’ll wager his tastes drift closer to the mindless “hee hee, so ironic” deconstructions of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or The Suicide Squad. One need not see these movies. Just read his words: “The idea that superheroes are maniacs is something I like very much.”
Apart from any philosophical critiques, people roundly condemned Gunn for his repulsive “jokes” about child abuse some years ago. At the time, he was an adult, and already fairly well-known. Disney fired him, but fans called for him to return. I actually joined them. At the time, I felt Gunn’s expressed repentance was helpful. He admitted guilt and explained his reasons but did not try excuses. He has never been accused of abuse himself, and in fact had female colleagues supporting him.
One may debate Gunn’s morality. What’s inarguable is that he’s controversial. That’s gotten worse since Gunn arrived to take charge of DC’s house of rubble, and he:
- Announced that Henry Cavill was out as Superman,
- Claimed that Patty Jenkins would not direct more Wonder Woman,
- Declared a reboot of all movies, starting with his favorite niche characters,
- Said they would also have a Superman movie, directed by—surprise, himself,
- Hinted that Ben Affleck would direct for his team, before Affleck loudly denied it.
There’s more. The point is that Gunn’s personality has proven nihilistic and flippant while his statements come across as dishonest and plain selfish. Whatever you think of other DC films’ emphasis on mythic metahumans, Gunn values “maniac” heroes. He thus resembles a certain Clown Prince of Crime more than Superman.
6. WBD foolishly and prematurely announced a franchise ‘reboot.’
Why invest in a story you already know will have no sequel? Audiences felt this way about the lame-duck X-Men movies. Even if normal folks didn’t know Dark Phoenix (2019) and The New Mutants (2020) were franchise dead-ends, they would detect this vibe from critics and pop culture–trackers who did know. The same is true of The Flash. This “aura” projected around it, despite all the studio’s attempt at hype.
7. More fans know about superior versions of The Flash.
Fans who follow Warner Bros. drama know that The Flash has jumped past dozens of directors, writers, and actors as well as plots that would have been better:
- A very early version, directed by Rick Fukuyama, focused on Barry in Central City, fighting crime and bad cops alongside his friend Victor Stone (Ray Fisher).
- Other previous versions kept Barry Allen in an alternate timeline with Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) and Supergirl (Sasha Calle), who would get their own spinoffs. That Batgirl movie you heard got cancelled? That was one spinoff. Any whispers about “elseworld” Batman Beyond movies with Keaton? Now it’s gone.
- Another version would have restored all Justice League heroes and finally set up Superman’s (Henry Cavill) next film versus Brainiac. Agh, what wasted potential.
8. Warner remains guilty of mistreating its cast and crew.
Warner Bros. didn’t simply part with people over creative differences. They were still covering up for mistreatment going back to the 2017 mutilation of Justice League. Cyborg actor Ray Fisher dug in his robotic heels and swore to defend accountability over entertainment. As a result, he was cut from The Flash.
I maintain that [former DC movie executive] Walter Hamada is unfit for a position of leadership—and I am willing, at any point, to submit to a polygraph test to support my claims against him. I don’t know how many instances of workplace abuse Walter has attempted to cover in the past, but hopefully the Justice League investigation will be the last.
And if the end of my time as Cyborg is the cost for helping to bring awareness and accountability to Walter Hamada’s actions—I’ll pay it gladly.
For my part, I declared a Flash boycott based on these reasons alone. If WBD’s new regime added back Fisher, even for a cameo, this would have helped rebuild trust.
9. Casual viewers disregard and may even boycott Ezra Miller.
Of course, if we must fault Gunn for evil tweets or the studio for coverups, one must acknowledge The Flash lead actor’s various stunts and criminal deeds. From all I’ve heard, some seem overblown, one or two were legit self-defense (yet resulting from foolish actions), and some are actual crimes for which he must pay. But one bad word got attached to Miller’s actions involving a certain young person:
Hate it as slander or embrace it as necessary activism, that’s the term many casual fans have heard about Miller’s eccentric (at best) behavior involving a young Native American person. From my vantage, he seems a high-functioning on-the-spectrum sort who slips into delusions of heroism. (Playing a superhero can’t be helpful for that.) But right now, no celebrity can afford credible charges of grooming victims.
I’ll wager this kept a lot of potential fans, especially women, far away from The Flash.
10. People are just plain annoyed with the film’s uncanny effects.
So are we feeling “superhero fatigue”? I doubt it. We have enjoyed cinematic superheroes for decades, with or without obvious superpowers. Rather, I agree with critics who suggest we’re simply experiencing bloated-bad-franchise fatigue.
Once upon a time, a DC or Marvel movie felt more special. Now they’re a dime a dozen, they’re all over streaming, and they feel or look stupider and stupider.
Isolated clips can’t capture a fan’s emotional investment in the film itself. If you’re into the story and love the characters, you’ll forgive (or even call amazing) a visual-effect moment that looks terrible in isolation. But it’s undeniable that The Flash clips look dreadful by themselves. Not every cry of “this looks like it’s from a PS2!” is legit, but plasticky humans who flop against every law of physics deserve the criticism.
BONUS: 11. Warner doesn’t care for the franchise’s core fanbase.
This final point needs no belaboring. Many critics observe the bizarre behavior of a studio that dismisses loudest fan voices as a minority and insist they must pursue the General Audience. What they forget is that general audiences are driven by loudest fan voices. This hypothetical General Audience exists in groups of friends and families, each of which includes (or is adjacent to) That One Friend who’s a hardcore fan. If that guy is not excited to see The Flash, why should you see it?
Did you see The Flash? Like it? Did you know all this drama? Does it shape your view of the superfilm? What did you wish the studio had done differently?