The Flash is getting an astonishing amount of positive press right now. “Astonishing” being the operative word, considering all the scandal attached to this movie. Faced with a lead actor with a recent history of violent crimes and disturbing behavior, Warner Bros. is powering through with effusive hype from celebrities like Tom Cruise and, this week, Stephen King.
Due out on June 16, The Flash screened at CinemaCon last month (where it was well-received), but official reviews haven’t been published yet. For Warner Bros., a lot is hanging on this film’s success.
As a star-studded farewell to the Zack Snyder era of the DC franchise, The Flash cost over $200 million to make. This likely explains why Warner Bros. is pushing for a big theatrical release, hoping the film will be a financial hit despite Ezra Miller’s widely-publicized arrests and abuse allegations, including assault and burglary charges, and reports of messianic delusions and exposing children to dangerous firearms.
Overlapping with tacit attempts to rehabilitate Miller’s image, The Flash‘s publicity machine is marketing the film as—in the words of DC franchise boss James Gunn—”one of the greatest superhero movies ever made.” It’s a bold claim, promoting the idea that The Flash is so groundbreaking and essential that Miller’s scandals are irrelevant.
This strategy hinges on promoting reactions from private screenings before critics or mainstream audiences have seen the movie, resulting in media coverage of stuff like Warner Bros.’ controversial CEO David Zaslav saying “it’s the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen.” (Well, he would say that.)
But while private screenings and hype from studio bosses are a normal part of the process, most films don’t warrant headlines about Tom Cruise loving the film so much he cold-called the director to rave about it. And since a lot of people still see The Flash as a toxic product, they find it kind of weird to see unrelated celebrities go to bat for this movie in particular. When Stephen King tweeted praise for it last night, he was met by a deluge of jokes about being a paid shill.
The magic of this strategy is that, well, maybe The Flash really is a masterpiece! It’s technically possible. However, that isn’t a valid reason to handwave Ezra Miller’s involvement. Making a good movie doesn’t erase the harm you’ve caused, and some people just don’t feel comfortable supporting Miller’s career.
In the absence of a traditional marketing campaign that centers on the lead actor, The Flash‘s first wave of publicity is oddly similar to how products are advertised by influencers on TikTok and Instagram. The buzziest, most headline-grabbing comments about The Flash are enthusiastic yet nonspecific, generated by celebs with free, exclusive access.
There’s a whiff of desperation to this kind of praise, not just due to the Ezra Miller situation but because of Warner Bros.’ stake in the game. What happens to the studio if a tentpole franchise collapses? Did they call up Tom Cruise, the patron saint of Going To The Movies, because they knew he’d be a safe bet to protect Warner Bros. from financial ruin? Or maybe we’re being too conspiratorially-minded here. Maybe The Flash really is that good. We’ll all find out next month.