You know the story: One dark and stormy night, a police scientist named Barry Allen is struck by lightning. When he wakes up, he discovers that he has super speed. Inspired by his favorite comic book hero, Allen puts on a set of red spandex and devotes his life to protecting Central City.
The Flash is one of DC Comics’ most recognizable and popular characters, and in 2014 the studio announced a Flash movie starring Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) would be headed to theaters in 2018 as part of the interconnected DC Extended Universe. That deadline passed a year ago. Not only has The Flash yet to arrive, but it hasn’t even started filming.
Why is DC’s fastest hero moving so slowly? Here’s the scoop.
Writers and directors bolt
The Flash‘s biggest villain isn’t Captain Cold or Gorilla Grodd — it’s a lack of creative direction. You can’t make a movie without a script or a director, and while many talented filmmakers have taken a crack at the Scarlet Speedster, none have managed to get the project off the ground.
Early on, it looked like The Flash was good to go. The first script was co-written by Flash experts Greg Berlanti, who produces The Flash TV show, and comic book scribe Geoff Johns, who had an extended run on The Flash in the early 2000s. A second take was penned by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, fresh off their blockbuster hits 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie. Novelist and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, who’s best known for creating Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, was tapped to direct.
For a lighthearted and fun property like the Flash, that’s a good lineup. It didn’t last. Grahame-Smith left The Flash in April 2016. He was quickly replaced by Dope director Rick Famuyiwa, who pitched a version of the story full of “humor and heart.” He was gone by the following November.
In hindsight, it looks like Warner Bros. had trouble deciding which direction it wanted The Flash to take. Both Grahame-Smith and Famuyiwa cited “creative differences” as the reasons for their exit, and Joby Harold (Awake) was hired to write a brand new script in January 2017. Unfortunately, Ezra Miller was busy filming Warner’s Fantastic Beasts movies, and production was put on hold until the actor’s schedule opened up.
In January 2018, after failing to convince Ben Affleck to come on as director, Warner Bros. hired Spider-Man: Homecoming screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein to helm the project. Around the same time, the studio enlisted Wrath of the Titans co-writer Dan Mazeau to punch up The Flash‘s script. The release date was moved to 2020.
More trouble followed. Ezra Miller didn’t like what Daley and Goldstein came up with, leading to a year of creative struggles between the actor and the director team. As tensions grew, Ezra teamed up with comic book veteran Grant Morrison to write another Flash script, one reportedly much darker than Daley and Goldstein’s version. Warner Bros. passed on that screenplay, but Miller won the larger battle of wills: Daley and Goldstein abandoned The Flash this past June.
Stealing his own thunder
Of course, it’s not like fans haven’t been able to catch Barry Allen in live action all of this time. On October 7, 2014, Grant Gustin donned the Scarlet Speeder’s iconic duds in the very first episode of the CW’s The Flash. When you account for encore screenings and digital viewings, The Flash‘s pilot was viewed over 13 million times, making it the most-watched CW premiere ever.
There’s always been a strange tension between the Flash TV show and the planned movie. The day after The Flash‘s second episode, which pulled in better ratings than its parent show, Arrow, has ever seen, Warner Bros. unveiled its plans for the DC Extended Universe, including Miller’s casting. When everyone should’ve been talking about the CW series, the feature film suddenly dominated the headlines. Not everyone was happy, nor were they shy about voicing their displeasure.
In an interview on AMC’s YouTube channel, Arrow star Stephen Amell had some harsh words for his employer. “I think that [Gustin] should have been given a wider berth than two episodes before another actor was announced to play his character,” Amell said. “I think that producing 23 episodes of superhero television is more difficult than producing a feature film.”
Of course, these days the CW series is racing towards its sixth season. Miller’s film is still nowhere to be seen. It’s not hard to imagine why. With Barry Allen appearing on TV screens every week, where he teams up with heroes like Supergirl, Batwoman, and the Legends of Tomorrow on a regular basis, there’s no real urgency to get the movie made. For an entire generation of fans, Grant Gustin is the only Flash they need.
When it comes to shared superhero universes, lightning doesn’t strike twice
The DCEU was supposed to be Warner Bros.’ answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Flash was slated to play a big part in it. In 2016, Miller’s Flash made a cameo in Suicide Squad. That same year, he appeared in the surreal “Knightmare” sequence in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, warning Batman about an apocalyptic future in which Superman goes rogue.
Unfortunately, DC’s heroes didn’t catch on like Captain America, Iron Man, or Thor. Critics panned Suicide Squad. Batman v Superman fell short of Warner Bros.’ expectations at the box office. Justice League, the Avengers-style crossover movie that was supposed to provide Miller’s Flash with a proper introduction, struggled after Snyder suffered a family crisis and left the film. Warner Bros. hired Joss Whedon to reshoot the movie and give it a lighter tone, hoping to replicate what made Whedon’s The Avengers so popular. It didn’t work. Justice League sputtered out of the gate and never recovered.
As a result, the DCEU isn’t just on life support. It might already be dead. The DCEU’s Batman, Ben Affleck, has hung up his cape and cowl. The DCEU’s Superman, Henry Cavill, seems to be done with the role. Aquaman and Shazam! barely touched on their DCEU connections. Todd Phillips’ Joker and Matthew Reeves’ The Batman, which stars Robert Pattinson, won’t have anything to do with it at all. Wonder Woman 1984 is being positioned as a stand-alone film, not a sequel, and Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich says that an interlinked cinematic universe is no longer the studio’s priority.
At one point, it looked like the Flash could be the DCEU’s savior. At Comic-Con International 2017, Warner Bros. announced that The Flash had been renamed Flashpoint, referencing a DC Comics storyline that began when the Flash traveled to an alternate timeline, and ended with DC’s entire comic book continuity getting rebooted.
Fans expected that Flashpoint would do the same for the DCEU, providing an in-universe explanation for why characters like Batman and Superman were suddenly different. That moment has passed. With The Batman and Joker, Warner Bros. is moving ahead with stand-alone films without bothering to give a story-based explanation. That’s probably for the best, but it leaves The Flash in an odd spot. The Flash was supposed to be a cornerstone of the DCEU. If the DCEU is functionally over, The Flash probably isn’t much of a priority.
A spark of hope
There are some signs that The Flash will eventually arrive in theaters. Miller continues to be extremely passionate about the character, and signed a new deal with Warner Bros. after his original contract expired last May.
There’s a new creative team in place, too: The Hollywood Reporter claims that It director Andy Muschietti is in talks to direct The Flash, with yet another new script being written by Bumblebee and Birds of Prey‘s Christina Hodson. Production on The Flash is currently scheduled to begin in early 2020, with an eye towards a 2021 release.
Still, we’ve heard this sort of thing before. Yes, there’s a chance that Ezra Miller’s Flash will finally get his solo film, seven years or more after it was first announced — but, given the project’s history, don’t get your hopes up. We’ll believe it when we see it, and not a moment sooner.
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