This week, Warner Bros. will release The Flash, a massive, multiverse-spanning superhero film about the fastest man on Earth. In some comic book (and on-screen) iterations, he runs so fast he can turn back time. It’s a stark contrast to how long it took just to get the film past the planning stages, which dragged on for years as directors and writers entered and exited the project. The only constant was star Ezra Miller, who has been attached to the film since it was first announced in 2014. Miller was The Flash’s vocal, and sometimes only, champion throughout the years.
Finally, in 2019, Warner Bros. found a director willing to take on the troubled film. It’s Andy Muschietti stepped in and shepherded a quick and seemingly painless production, and it seemed like The Flash’s problems were finally over. But then disturbing allegations about Miller surfaced, leaving many people unsure how to feel about supporting the film.
There is, however, a Shyamalan-level twist to this story. Another hero lurks in the shadows, ready to step in and save the day. In The Flash, Michael Keaton dons the cowl of Batman for the first time since 1992's Batman Returns. Can Batman really save The Flash—and how the hell did we get to the point where that’s even a possibility, anyway?
Warner Bros. was flying semi-high after the release of 2013’s Man Of Steel. Zack Snyder’s DC superhero film was a hit at the box office, even though critics and audiences didn’t seem to like it all that much. (Its reputation, somehow, has continued to devolve over time.) But back then, DC wasn’t ready to quit Snyder just yet. In fact, the studio doubled down on its investment, buying into his “Snyderverse” vision for a unified DC film universe. DC was already years behind Marvel’s ever-growing MCU, and needed a steady creative visionary like Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige to steer their ship. So DC turned to Snyder, and, as part of the newly dubbed DC Extended Universe, Warner Bros. announced 10 new films with projected release dates. Of the seven that were eventually produced, six of them hit their target release dates. The seventh was The Flash.
Warner Bros. initially set a 2018 release date for The Flash. At the time of the announcement, there was no director or writer attached. But the studio had a star, and an exciting one at that: Ezra Miller, who first garnered acclaim for 2011’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, was set to star as Barry Allen, aka The Flash. In a write-up about The Flash casting news, The Hollywood Reporter even called Miller’s work in Kevin “memorable,” which, in trade-speak, means they were pretty fucking good.
But the odd thing is that Warners seemingly had no plan for The Flash beyond the casting. According to James Wan, the studio offered him a choice between directing Aquaman or The Flash, and he chose the King of the Seven Seas over the Scarlet Speedster. From there, WB approached Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who wrote a treatment for the film but left to pursue Solo: A Star Wars Story. Then, in 2015, the studio roped in Seth Grahame-Smith to direct a film based on Lord and Miller’s treatment, but Grahame-Smith left the project just a few months later, citing creative differences.
Over the next several years, that would be the constant refrain. Rick Famuyiwa signed on, then quickly exited. So did the duo of John Francis Daly and Jonathan Goldstein. Sam Raimi and Marc Webb both passed on it. Robert Zemeckis was in talks for a while, but never took the job. And, in the meantime, Miller was making cameos as Barry Allen in Justice League, Suicide Squad, and Batman V Superman. It seemed unlikely that WB would abandon the project after hyping it for so many years, and yet, when the projected release date came up in 2018, there was still no director and no script. Miller even tried to save the film at one point by writing a script with comics legend Grant Morrison. The studio rejected it, but they did bring in Christina Hodson, who wrote the relatively warmly received Birds Of Prey. Hodson delivered a script Warner Bros. was finally happy with, and soon after, they tapped Muschietti to direct it.
But even as Muschietti seemed to be fully on board with The Flash, there was reason to be skeptical. It was 2019 when he joined, the Snyderverse had imploded, and the whole DCEU was in jeopardy. Plus, so many people had exited the project over the years that it seemed foolish to believe this time it would actually happen. But then the studio set a new release date. DC cast Sasha Calle as Supergirl and staffed up several other supporting characters. Warner Bros. finally set a filming start date.
News broke that Keaton had agreed to come back as Batman, and there was no going back. Nothing could stop The Flash now, right?
The Flash finally filmed in 2021, and judging from Muschietti’s Instagram updates, it seems to have been a pretty smooth shoot. There were no reports of last-minute rewrites or reshoots, no reports of on-set drama or clashes with the studio. As the film entered post-production, there was reason to be cautiously optimistic—until 2022, when Miller was arrested for disorderly conduct in Hawaii. There were other incidents, too, which ultimately led to allegations of Miller grooming a teenager. The person involved denied the allegations—and, to this day, the situation remains messy and unclear—but there were still real concerns about Miller. And, suddenly, The Flash was in trouble again.
Warner Bros. reportedly had three plans for dealing with the sudden deluge of negative publicity. In the first, Miller would immediately seek treatment and do limited press for the film. In the second, Warners would release the film without Miller doing any press at all. And, in the third, the studio would shelve the film indefinitely.
What they ended up with was a combination of the first two. Miller released a statement saying they were seeking treatment for “complex mental health issues” in August 2022. They’ve been completely out of the spotlight ever since, absent from all press surrounding the film. Muschietti and his producing partner/sister, Barbara, have been serving as ambassadors for the film instead, and they’ve generally been charming every interviewer they come across, deftly redirecting questions about Miller to talk about their enthusiasm for the film instead. The marketing is leaning heavily on Keaton, too; he’s been featured prominently in most trailers and TV spots. He even showed up at a fan event in London.
It remains to be seen if Batman nostalgia will be enough to get audiences on board with The Flash. But it helps that the film is getting plenty of positive reviews. And the Muschiettis’ enthusiasm is genuinely infectious; you want to believe them when they talk about how joyous the film is. It’s enough to make the film’s release feel like a photo finish—even if, in Miller’s absence, there’s just a red blur across the finish line instead.