With Batman in the bag and Superman on the way, Warner Bros. is still in the kind of long-term trouble a superhero team understands all too well. Like a group of heroes blindsided by a syndicate of villains that pulled off a world domination ploy, Warners is scrambling to come up with a plan to challenge Marvel Studio’s $1.5 billion The Avengers world take-over. We all know what that plan is: assemble the Justice League movie. We also know the big question Warners is frantically facing right now is how they’re going to do that.
The studio can balk at mimicking a competitor’s model all they want, but the way to get everyday non-comic reading people to really care about a Justice League movie is to roll out the individual hero projects first. Warner Brothers can’t assume people want a Justice League movie simply because everyone knows who Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are, or that post-The Avengers there is a guaranteed appetite for superhero mega-mixes. For a team-up flick to have maximum impact – i.e. maximum box office returns – without sacrificing integrity or quality, Warners needs to build a demand. The only way to do that is construct a road paved with exciting, entertaining, excellent movies (give or take an Iron Man 2 or two) that compound anticipation and audience faith.
That’s why the most important movie Warners makes specifically building to Justice League will be their first one. It has to instill confidence the studio can do this right, otherwise nobody will care what comes after, and all momentum will be lost before it ever gets going. So, the studio needs to ensure the first movie under the new strategy is good, and it has to be very careful which character it picks to speed out of the gate first. To be their Iron Man-like catalyst. They require the right hero who can get the masses excited about the road to Justice League. There is only one superhero who can do that job, and it isn’t Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman or Green Lantern.
I’m just kidding. Nobody likes Aquaman.
It’s The Flash.
Fun and Full of Potential
Warner Brothers needs their own Iron Man, and The Flash is the one who can give them that. The reason the Jon Favreau/Robert Downey Jr. vehicle proved to be the perfect jump-start for Marvel’s plans was that they went (partially by necessity) for the opportunity to surprise and excite the masses with a lesser-known superhero. They allowed non-comic reading audiences the possibility of discovery with a character worth discovering: an entertaining crowd-pleasing hero with wildly fun “powers” who was – despite all the humorous cocky bravado – very much human. Marvel ultimately succeeded with Iron Man because they gave us a hero we not only wanted to be like (one of the sources of all superhero enjoyment), but one that we emotionally understood and were invested in.
The Flash has the same kind of potential to surprise and connect with audiences. Like Iron Man, he’s not as well known as his more famous brethren (and nothing like them), which will make the discovery of his powers – inherently exciting and conducive to entertaining action set pieces – all the more rewarding for unfamiliar audiences to enjoy someone not as exhaustively represented in movies. He’s accessible, likeable, has a great costume and has a lot of potential for good stories. Most importantly his inherent disposition and personality can provide something Warners could really use right now: fun.
The Flash represents the valuable opportunity to bring more levity to the studio’s superhero universe. The post-Avengers world has made clear that audiences can enjoy both joyous superhero romps and gritty realistic genre elevators, and while Warner Bros. may be tempted to counter Marvel’s in-house style by solidifying their own brand of real-world superheroes, they shouldn’t. The studio has the unique chance with The Flash to distinguish themselves from Marvel by incorporating both styles into one. It’s an opportunity WB should take, because what it needs now is not more of the same grit and grim, but a quick burst of joyous superhero fun to get people excited for a Justice League movie. Don’t get me wrong, a deep, dramatically rich and serious movie like The Dark Knight can spark anticipation and excitement too, but the way for Warner Brothers to dog the skepticism it’s facing might be to do something different than what it’s been doing. Nothing instills quite the same sense of fun and excitement as being surprised with something unexpected, which is what made Iron Man such a runaway hit.
Just Like Us But Super
The Flash – like Iron Man – wouldn’t just provide a diverging and entertaining ignition to WB’s Justice League plans, but would also introduce a needed humanity to their superhero efforts. What Marvel Studios has done remarkably well is ground their superheroes in a basic relatable humanity (even when they’re invincible gods). It’s something that has always been more difficult to do with DC’s central superheroes. For all their immense popularity, Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman’s status as icons (it’s significant to note Marvel’s A-listers are rarely referred to as icons) have made it hard to make them more accessible. They too often are defined by what they do in costume, not as much who they are behind it. It’s no accident that I imagine few of us can say we relate on a human level more to Batman than Spider-Man.
That’s why Warner Brothers needs The Flash – who is arguably one of the most human of all DC superheroes – to get people to care and emotionally invest not just in him, but to use him as a conduit to care about every movie afterwards leading to Justice League. Like Spider-Man, what has distinguished The Flash – notably under Geoff Johns’ and Scott Kolins’ care – from all the other superheroes with enviable powers is that beneath the mask he is an everyday person we can see ourselves in (unlike Batman, Superman, etc.). Whether it’s Jay Garrick, Wally West or Barry Allen, the men who have worn the red and yellow tights over the years have been everyday guys and family men, deeply connected to their working class roots, city, friendships (super or otherwise) and daily normal lives.
The Flash isn’t about the mask, it’s about the man wearing the mask. It’s that quality that will elevate him beyond the superficial coolness factor he possesses and make him resonate not just as someone we want to be, but already are.
For all the virtues of the Scarlet Speedster that make him an ideal character-based choice to galvanize interest in a Justice League movie, he’s also been made the ideal candidate for Warners’ first new super wave movie partly by default. That’s because none of the Big Three – or anyone else – is in position to step-up. Nobody seems to ever know what to do with Wonder Woman, so it might be wise to take the time to make sure they get her right. Superman and Batman (possibly Green Lantern) are disqualified because they probably will need rebooting, and the studio has to let some time pass for that to happen – otherwise they risk provoking the kind of mass disgruntlement that greeted The Amazing Spider-Man. Sure, like with Spider-Man people would still show up, but you don’t want to launch your cross-over franchise with people grumbling about too-soon reboots. The effect and excitement would be dulled. As for the other superhero Warners is lining up, I’ll eat a live full-sized shark Old Boy style if Aquaman turns out. Green Arrow risks being too much like Batman, and Lobo, Suicide Squad and Shazam aren’t the heroes to provide the spark plug Warner Brother needs.
The Flash is the only one who can step up. It’s just fortunate for Warner Brothers that the sole superhero that can save them is also the best one to do so. If the studio can realize the potential of The Flash –as a cool superhero as well as a personable character – and pull off a great movie that surprises audiences, then they’ll entice something even more valuable than viewer confidence and excitement: curiosity. The moment moviegoers walk out of the theater they’ll immediately wonder: if the studio got the Scarlet Speedster right, what great things will they do next?
It’s the same question we all asked ourselves about Marvel Studios after walking out of Iron Man. A $1.5 billion grossing Avengers movie later, and it’s safe to say that turned out pretty well. Curiosity puts butts in seats, and all it takes is one movie to ignite that flame. All it takes is a successful Flash movie, and the journey to a successful Justice League will have solid footing and be well on its way.
What do you think?