Among the stack of trailers and TV spots aired during the Superbowl was the first real glimpse at a film that’s hung in Hollywood purgatory for a while now. The Flash, starring Ezra Miller is the latest entry in the movie universe built around DC comics (the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU), and the trailer genuinely looks great – Michael Shannon’s General Zod! Michael Keaton’s Batman! Ben Affleck’s Batman! Supergirl! A bonkers, multiverse-spanning plot! It’s sparked some interest in a movie which few were excited about and which has had a tortuous journey to screen.
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The Flash was originally given a summer 2016 release, before script writing and directorial duties were shoved back and forth between writers and directors at a dizzying pace. Things were further delayed by the critical panning and underperformance of Justice League, the COVID 19 pandemic, Ezra Miller’s Fantastic Beasts filming commitments and finally, and most seriously, the star’s well documented abuse allegations.
Almost a decade after it was first announced, The Flash will finally release this summer, though the context around it and the state of the DCEU has dramatically changed since the movie was first mooted in 2013. Back then it was part of an interconnected universe revolving around Zak Snyder’s Justice League. Now? The landscape is looking very different for Miller, The Flash, the DCEU, and for Warner Bros’ in general. It’s hard to know where the film, which also scored the remarkable coup of bringing back Michael Keaton as Batman for the first time since 1992, is going to sit.
DC’s extended universe has always been a slightly odd mish-mash. Things kicked off with Zak Snyder’s Superman movies, hit a high with the first Wonder Woman and Aquaman films and then fell apart dramatically when Justice League flopped and Wonder Woman 1984 and Birds of Prey underperformed either critically (the former) or commercially (the latter). The Batman and Jokerwere hugely successful but took off in entirely separate universes, and Warner handed the keys to the whole DC slate to James Gunn and Peter Safran to reimagine. Meanwhile, an apparently-complete Batgirl movie, also starring Keaton, was thrown into the vault forever, possibly for tax reasons, possibly because it was “unreleasable” (reports vary). The Flash could have rescued the franchise, instead it apparently has to end it.
The trailer teases a fun, off-kilter take on the superhero genre, including a healthy dose of meta-text. Somewhere in between the peppy, family-friendly end of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and the dark, serious Zack-era Snyder-Verse. The movie will have to balance the competing forces of nostalgia, continuity and a new look at DC, which will likely use its multiverse plot to weave in key details from previous films while painting a new, exciting image of the extended universe as a whole. It’s a huge challenge.