Have Superhero Movies Started To Run Out Of Gas?

My in-house focus group of roommate and son spent Father’s Day weekend as they often do, this time without moi watching what they were convinced would be the weekend’s must-see event.  Their review of THE FLASH, which is one of Warner Discovery’s summer theatrical tentpoles, was their usual “it was good”.  They rarely waver from that verdict, you should know.  But their tone alone suggested this was an even more half-heared endorsement than usual.

And apparently they weren’t alone in their shoulder-shrugging.  As THE WRAP’s Jeremy Fuster observed, this iteration of this franchise was, well, a bit less impactful that Yosemite Zas’ beancounters might have hoped:

Since its first trailer was released on Super Bowl weekend to strong social media reception, “The Flash” was expected to do better at the box office than the $140 million global opening weekend of the Dwayne Johnson-fronted “Black Adam.” Instead, it crashed to a $55 million domestic and a $139 million global three-day opening, earning a B from CinemaScore audience polls.

Considering that “Black Adam” earned a B+ from CinemaScore yet fell sharply in its second weekend, “The Flash” is now in a position where it could very well fail to even match the lackluster $393 million global total of “Black Adam” while carrying a $200 million-plus budget before marketing costs, with both films joining this past spring’s “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” among the recent streak of DC flops.

Fuster then went on to offer a litany of Monday morning quarterbacking observations for how this could happen.  There were clearly promotional and internal political challenges.  This is a film that has been in the works since the late 1980s, per Wikipedia.  It was originally set for release in March of 2018.  Its star, Ezra Miller, remained committed to it throughout a number of changes in producers, directors and direction, as well as his own choices to take on other roles that often didn’t align with desired start dates at various timeline points.  And when Miller then got involved in some violent and erratic run-ins with the law, Warner Brothers made the decision not to include him in their press junkets building up to this release.  Not that there were any late night talk shows in production for him to guest on anyway.  But when a star as tarnished as Miller has no chance to tell anything close to his side of a story that may have included retribution and/or correction, that legacy is left unchallenged, and thus a huge hurdle to overcome.

And as these delays were occuyring, Fuster rightly points out that, unlike its arch-rival MCU, the DC Extended Universe has been an even bigger dumpster fire:

When “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” flopped this past spring, its poor numbers were chalked up in part to its tepid reviews; but both Warner Bros. insiders and analysts who spoke to TheWrap pointed to the recent news that new DC Studios chiefs James Gunn and Peter Safran were rebooting the DC universe as another factor.

With recent films like “Wonder Woman 1984” getting poor reception and the end of the cinematic universe where films like “Shazam 2” resided, the hook that most contemporary superhero films have by teasing setups for future sequels and a larger, interconnected plot is no longer there for DC. With its timeline-bending story and its references to past movies from Tim Burton’s “Batman” to “Man of Steel,” there was hope that “The Flash” could still draw interest from DC fans curious to see what surprise cameos and potential reboot setups were in store.

Instead, the plummeting fortunes of “The Flash” and its tepid CinemaScore grade have shown that audiences no longer trust DC movies as we know them today to deliver quality.

Let me pile a few other observations on.  The number of crossover cameos from past and future DCEU characters is enormous, even more than in a typical MCU release of late.  And the new sheriffs in charge of the DC Corral apparently have shifting priorities that are already being second-guessed by Yosemite et al.  So there’ was anything but consensus and confidence going into this.

And between the time this film was announced and eventually released, the Greg Berlanti-produced version on the CW and, more importantly, their streaming reruns were well-received and drew a loyal, younger audience.  Indeed, even the short-lived CBS version of 1990 had come and gone since this theatrical was first being considered.  And bear in mind, in the DCEU, THE FLASH, in any iteration or era, has never come close to the level of popularity or significance that BATMAN or SUPERMAN ever have.  Given the enormous amount of pressure Yosemite et al are placing on all of its content creators to deliver or else, this was the equivalent of sending out your third or fourth starter for a must-win post-season baseball game.  No aces in evidence here.

If nothing else, in hindsight this may not prove to be as much of a disappointment as the planned DCEU installments later this year will be.  Fuster adds there’s more trouble afloat–or already underwater–in the coming months:

In August, the DC film “Blue Beetle” will hit theaters looking to draw Latino audiences to see Xolo Maridueña play Jaime Reyes, with the particular hope that Mexican audiences will turn out in a way that they didn’t for “In the Heights.” But with a reported $120 million budget, “Blue Beetle” needs to succeed across demographics, and the poor public image DC has right now may poison that.

The same may also happen with “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” which is coming out during the holiday season alongside two other Warner Bros. films, “Wonka” and “The Color Purple.” While the best case scenario is that those films cater to the interests of very different audiences and find a way to coexist, the Jason Momoa-fronted “Aquaman 2” is supposed to be the big four-quadrant play, and the conversation around that release may be more about DC’s bad track record and the offscreen troubles of the film’s co-star Amber Heard rather than anything that actually happens in the film.

To complete our baseball analogies, if THE FLASH is a mid-rotation starter, AQUAMAN is at best a #5, and one that carries an additional albatross of a talent whose legal woes were WAY bigger than Miller’s.  And this iteration still isn’t featuring the lead that an awful lot of people are still hoping will be front and center as the lead man-fish.

If indeed Gunn/Peter can convince Yosemite that THE FLASH is worth another shot, maybe they can check into the availability of E or Turtle for the lead bext time around?

After all, they wanna be your superhero…

Until next time….



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