Long before recently oustered Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara took an interest in the DC Comics characters, previous studio regimes had a plan. As former Warner Bros. Pictures Warner Bros. Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov put it in 2008, “We’re going to try to go dark to the extent that the [DC Comics] characters allow it.” He was speaking in the wake of The Dark Knight‘s unprecedented success; which suggested the audience wants all dark characters all the time. But even then, many wondered if a “dark” version of The Flash was something worth doing.
And as it turns out, some audiences do enjoy formerly bright superheroes darkened to an opaque miasma and brawling with the Batman for the most tragic backstory. It is also no coincidence that Geoff Johns reworked Barry Allen’s backstory to include his own tragic history in 2009, which in turn set off one of the biggest reworkings of DC’s own history to date and an further expansion of darker characters in the New 52. Darkness sells pretty well. And when when applied by the right sort of hands, it can be an effective story engine.
Which brings us to the surprise revelation late last Friday that The Flash feature film star Ezra Miller has taken his cinematic fate into his own hands and begun work on a new script for the project with legendary comic book writer Grant Morrison. On the surface, that sounds like fantastic news (once confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter), but it comes with a big caveat. Miller wants to tell a darker tale than any other creative attached to the project.
Since 2015, The Flash continually lost directors over a key, but unknown creative difference. Directors like Seth Grahame-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa left the project after a clash of tones with the studio (and presumably Miller). In more recent days, Game Night directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein were said to be working on a lighthearted approach to the material in line with recent hits like Spider-Man: Homecoming (which they wrote) and, indeed, the great majority of Flash material back in the comics. But in an attempt to reach a compromise, Warner Bros. commissioned the script from Miller and Morrison in an attempt to keep the actor onboard. According to THR, the actor’s holding contract to play Barry Allen may expire in May. Should he leave, the film will be delayed once again as the studio
makes a deal with Grant Gustin searches for a replacement.
From a business perspective, it makes sense to keep Miller around. He’s an important studio asset thanks to his Fantastic Beasts role. He was also supposed to be pulling double duty as The Flash in his own feature film series — the first of which was due out last year — and the Justice League series. Creatively, though, the push-pull between filmmakers wanting to explore the lighter aspects of the character and an actor who wants him to go darker seems to be the very reason the film missed its original release date. Looking back at Robinov’s comment, we are left to wonder whether or not theThe Flash can really go dark?
Judging from his characterization in Justice League, we can understand Miller’s disinterest in turning the Flash into Peter Parker, but grizzling him up never really works, either. Just look at the Savitar storyline from the TV show to see how it fails an essential part of the character. Can he inhabit a darker world? Sure, but Barry himself rejects darkness and until we know what Miller wants from a “darker take,” it’s difficult to say whether or not this is the right call.
Meanwhile, Morrison has a talent for honoring a character’s core essence while seemingly exploding them. Maybe he can bend The Flash into a darker frame without breaking him on screen. That may be worth Miller’s gambit.