DC on Film: You Can’t Outrun Your Past

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Guest Op-ed by Ed Koskey

This past Saturday night, I went and saw The Flash for a second time, this time in IMAX. I wanted to pay my respects to Michael Keaton as Batman one last time before this movie shockingly, and disappointingly, disappears into the speed force.

I was as stunned as everyone else who couldn’t quite wrap their heads around the fact that a movie that I thought was really good (a feeling that held up upon my second viewing) was failing so miserably. I saw it the first time on the Thursday before the opening weekend when only the rumblings of a less-than-stellar opening weekend were starting to be heard. But seeing it again on Saturday — with full knowledge that it was officially an unmitigated box office disaster — I couldn’t help but watch with a more critical eye. I searched for the answer I think most of you reading this have asked yourself about this movie: Why? Why is it that a fun, really good film with a fun premise is being rejected by the general audience so harshly? And that’s when it started to dawn on me that one of the main themes of The Flash is a perfect encapsulation of the DCEU: you can’t outrun your past.

There’s a scene at the climax of The Flash — which, I guess, SPOILER ALERT, but at this point, who really cares? — where the future “Dark Flash” reveals himself, covered in the shrapnel of countless battles against the Kryptonian army trying to change the past but never succeeding; he was doomed to failure. That shrapnel basically symbolizes all of the damage done to the DCEU brand over the past 10 years that doomed The Flash to failure.

It never mattered how good a movie The Flash was. It never mattered how cool Michael Keaton putting the cowl back on was. It never mattered how good Sasha Calle’s performance was. 10 years of arrogance, greed, desperation, overreactions, and just general mismanagement burdened this project and this franchise from the start.

As superfans of this genre, we love getting excited by the promises of these projects. We’re consuming casting news and trailers weeks, months, and even years before the movie hits theaters. We know that Flashpoint was a great story in the comics and a cool way to “reset” DC on Films. And how about that Super Bowl trailer?! The fan vibe around this movie was strong! And I know it caused me to develop a blind spot to general audiences not really having any idea about any of that stuff. They’ll check out a movie if it looks good and they’ve heard good things. And when they saw The Flash, they saw Ben Affleck (is he still Batman?) and Michael Keaton (wait, he’s Batman too? Is it like that multiple Spider-Man thing?) and there’s a Supergirl now? And they maybe recognized that this movie seemed to be connected to a brand that hadn’t produced too many good movies over the last decade. So, while we superfans were pumped, the general audience passed.

Over the past 10 years, every time WB put the cart before the horse and green-lit a future project based on the not-yet-achieved success of a current one … every time a production was reworked on the fly so as to “course correct” (and if I never hear that term again it’ll be too soon) … every time imagery and iconography was chosen over story and character … the trust with the general audience was broken and another piece of shrapnel dug into Barry’s flesh.

The criticisms and shortcomings of Man of Steel lead to the rushed decision to jump to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The failings and shortcomings of BvS basically lead to Zack Snyder being removed as director and Justice League being rewritten day-by-day on the set and into post-production. By the end of that trilogy, the DCEU was in shambles; for all intents and purposes, a nonentity to the general audience. And it didn’t matter who was now calling the shots: Geoff Johns, Jon Berg, Toby Emmerich, Walter Hamada, Michael De Luca, Pam Abdy, or whoever. Nobody’s plan to retool this franchise was going to work. Not while the through-line still connected back to those original, divisive movies of questionable tones and characterizations that the general audience had checked out on.

Now, there’s a certain subsection of “Associate Producers” who love Man of Steel, who love BvS and feel like Zack Snyder’s Justice League being superior to Justice League (2017) validates their belief that if Warner Bros. would’ve just stayed the course, the epic story arcs that were being developed by Snyder and his team would pay off and the audience would be rewarded. But, I’m sorry, Man of Steel is a two-and-a-half-hour movie. The Ultimate Edition of BvS is three hours. ZSJL is four hours. If the general audience wasn’t hooked in the first 10 hours, what makes you think they have any interest in sticking around for the next 10 hours?

The Flash deserved a better fate. But the previous 10 years had kneecapped him before he ever got out of the starting blocks. Or, to paraphrase what those strands of spaghetti in Bruce Wayne’s kitchen taught us: without being able to change the past, you’ll never be able to change the future. – Ed Koskey