It’s been a long time since The Dark Knight took over movie theaters. Back in 2008, DC Comics was on a roll. Christian Bale’s Batman series was a roaring success. Heath Ledger won an Oscar for his portrayal of Joker. The comic house was winning at the box office.
That’s all ancient history. Sure, Marvel went on a record-setting win streak while DC movies generated a few hits and plenty of flops. Since, Wonder Woman was a financial and critical high point, but can we please (please) forget the Ben Affleck Batman movie?
Here’s a look at DC’s problems, its strengths and why people are so hyped about The Flash.
DC’s Rough Decade
We’re not going to talk about 2004’s “Catwoman, which is considered to be one of the worst comic-book movies ever released. Nor do we need to invoke 2011’s Green Lantern, which clearly did not need to be made. The first true stinker was 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Then came Suicide Squad, “Justice League” and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. They did fine at the box office, but critics were not impressed. Moreover, fans mostly thought the movies were needlessly dark, with fight scenes tacked on just for the sake of punching.
It says something that perhaps the best Batman movie in the last 15 years is The Lego Batman Movie from 2017. While it’s nice to make good films, an animated Lego movie isn’t the best showcase for a tentpole superhero like Batman.
To pull itself out of a slump, DC seems to be leaning into a pair of popular solutions: nostalgia and the multiverse.
Power Trio: George Clooney, Nicholas Cage and Michael Keaton
The previews for The Flash have given away the return of at least one key character: Michael Keaton is back, repeating his line from 1989, “I’m Batman.”
Break out your scrapbooks and get ready to sing Glory Days. That’s not the only blast from the past in The Flash. Aided by CGI, The Flash will include the returns of Christopher Reeve as Superman, Adam West as Batman and Helen Slater as Supergirl. There’s also live action of Nicholas Cage as Superman and George Clooney as Batman.
It’s a formula that’s worked for Marvel, which practically invented the ensemble cast in superhero movies with The Avengers. But The Flash has more in common with a different Marvel series.
Your spidey sense should be tingling. “Spider-Man: No Way Home was a 2021 film that mashed eras together, with current star Tom Holland joined by previous stars Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. It was more than just cameos. Maguire and Garfield played a critical role in helping Spider-Man save the day (spoiler alert).
Even the No Way Home plot bears a certain resemblance to The Flash. The Spider-Man mish-mash was possible thanks to the existence of the multiverse. Yes, we’re doing the multiverse thing again. Only, for DC Comics, the multiverse is relatively new territory. And judging by early reviews, it may still be fertile ground for The Flash to cover.
What ‘The Flash’ can learn from ‘Wonder Woman’
It’s not like DC hasn’t had some hits in the last 15 years. Wonder Woman was a critical and box office triumph in 2017. Starring Gal Gadot, Robin Wright and Chris Pine, the movie established that women can lead a wildly popular superhero franchise.
There’s a more subtle lesson for DC: Movie and comic fans are interested in characters other than Batman. It’s no accident Batman has appeared in at least 20 movies — it’s a popular character. But Wonder Woman made it clear that other characters can lead their own franchises.
The Flash could be a flash in the pan; a winning streak of one movie for DC. But Marvel hasn’t equaled the success of its Avengers films; if The Flash is a hit, it could represent a changing era for comic book movies. That’s fitting. Comic book characters are never truly dead and gone, right?
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