Decades from now, Warner Bros.’ mismanagement of the DC franchise will be studied by scholars. There will be books written about everything from the failure to launch a cohesive cinematic universe to the constant backpedalling and blame shifting done by a bunch of suits who are masters of dodging accountability. The studio has undergone several regime changes, but after the colossal catastrophe of The Flash, it owes each and every single DC fan a genuine apology.
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The Flash is a bigger disaster than Justice League
Remember the time when Warner Bros. decided it would be a good idea to take over the reins of Justice League and get Joss Whedon to reshoot a sizable chunk of the movie a few months before its release? It turned into one of the biggest fiascos in showbiz and divided the DC fandom to a point of no return. Whisper campaigns did the rounds about how Zack Snyder’s version was “unwatchable” and the suits needed to do something to intervene – again, failing to take any accountability for the studio’s part in letting this mess snowball.
Let’s forget what anyone thinks of Snyder as a filmmaker for a second here. He hasn’t been a part of the DC film universe for six years now – more time than when he was considered the architect – and the DC Universe is nowhere near being the darling Warner Bros. imagined it to be. In fact, it’s worse. Yet, The Flash always remained the key film – regardless of which regime was in charge. Thanks to Barry Allen’s ability to traverse the multiverse, this could be the film to reset everything. To wipe the slate and start over again. Amusingly, the movie does none of that, forgoing the chance to reboot everything for a chance to include a George Clooney as a Batman gag instead.
Word of mouth travels fast, and the audience has largely rejected The Flash as being a cul-de-sac movie. Financially, it’s one of the worst-performing DC films in recent history and it’s likely to be a $200 million loss for the studio. Everyone involved in Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom must be trembling in their boots right now – especially since they haven’t received the same marketing love as The Flash did from Warner Bros.
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Why Warner Bros. should apologise
Realistically, The Flash isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it’s good – but not great. It has its problems; however, that doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the story. What it isn’t, though, is the greatest superhero film of all time or even one of the best. Objectively, it simply isn’t. Yet, DC Studios co-CEO James Gunn and Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav – straight-faced – said it is to all of us.
Now, everyone understands the principles of marketing and the hype machine. Even if a movie is bad, don’t expect the people to cop to it and call it a bigger piece of crap than what the dog left on the lawn. However, there is a fine line between PR and straight-up B.S.
Gunn and Zaslav lost the audience’s trust with their comments about The Flash. They might have enjoyed the movie, which is fine, but calling it the greatest – or one of the greatest – is like someone saying Bio-Dome deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Titanic. They overhyped the movie to sell tickets – that’s exactly what happened here. The problem is no one will believe a single word that comes out of their mouths after this.
DC fans have been deceived by Warner Bros. over and over again by empty promises of a new dawn. At the end of the day, it’s anything but. While Zaslav and Gunn can’t be blamed for the problems of the past, they are continuing the trend of losing the audience’s trust now. It’s time for them – or anyone there, really – to stand up and say, “Mea culpa.” Own it, apologise, and actually do better.
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The way forward
It’s going to be a rough few years for DC and Warner Bros. Right now, no one knows what will stay and what will go, apart from the people at the studio (and that’s debatable too). What is clear, though, is a full-blown reboot is the only way forward. Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom are unlikely to be financial successes; in fact, don’t bank on Superman: Legacy bucking the trend either.
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DC fans will need to see a plan in action. The detractors won’t go away, but the studio also needs to practice more honesty. Be realistic with expectations and what audiences can expect to see coming forward. Complete the current slate of films started by the previous regime and move on. It wouldn’t be the worst plan in the world if Warner Bros. actually delayed the entire reboot in favour of getting The Batman 2 and Joker: Folie à Deux out of the way first, then start fresh. But first and foremost, this studio needs to own up to its mistakes and apologise for letting down the fans because of the self-created corporate chaos.