The Flash in THE FLASH FINAL TRAILER

DC/YouTube

‘The Flash’s ‘evil, disrespectful’ cameo represents everything wrong with superhero movies in 2023

This leaked cameo is being labeled ‘anti-art’ and ‘digital necromancy.’

 

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

This post includes casting spoilers for The Flash.

Once superhero filmmakers realized that alternate universes were a perfect tool for nostalgic fanservice bullshit, all bets were off. It was only a matter of time before they unleashed something as ghoulish as a deepfake Christopher Reeve in The Flash.

In the midst of overlapping Hollywood trends for vintage cast reunions (The Force Awakens; Jurassic World Dominion), creepy CGI recreations of dead or aging actors (young Luke and Leia in Star Wars; Egon in Ghostbusters: Afterlife), and multi-franchise crossovers (Spider-Man: No Way Home), The Flash delivers the most jarring stunt-casting of all: A CG resurrection of Christopher Reeve’s Superman.

This cameo has long been rumored in DC fandom, mostly discussed in enthusiastic tones. But when leaks revealed Reeve’s scene to a wider audience this week, it provoked widespread disgust. Already pulled from Twitter due to a copyright claim, the clip was labeled “evil,” “grotesque,” “disrespectful,” “anti-art,” and “digital necromancy.”

The backlash against this cameo is threefold. It recreates the likeness of a dead actor, an idea that many people hate on principle. It depicts Reeve standing up (something he only permitted once after he was paralyzed in 1995), inviting questions about bodily autonomy and Reeve’s image as a disability advocate.

And, put simply, the scene itself looks bad.

Leaked footage is never the most flattering format, but as someone who has actually seen The Flash, I can confirm the cameo really is that unpleasant—both aesthetically and conceptually.

During a montage of alternate universes, we see various versions of DC heroes: Nic Cage as Superman, George Reeves and Adam West (both deceased) as Superman and Batman, and a couple of shots of Christopher Reeve standing beside Helen Slater’s 1980s Supergirl. Reeve’s appearance is hollow and lifeless; essentially an extended reaction shot in front of an ugly CGI backdrop.

Although Reeve’s estate presumably gave Warner Bros. permission to use his likeness, it’s still understandable for viewers to feel grossed out. Not just due to the inherent weirdness of digital necromancy, but because the scene itself feels so cynical.

The magic of Reeve’s Superman lay in his charismatic, emotive performance, and it’s insulting to suggest this deepfake simulacrum is the same guy. The Flash’s creative team clearly understood this to some extent, because they didn’t try to make “Superman” do anything meaningful onscreen. His cameo exists purely as a delivery mechanism for nostalgia.

Already distasteful in its own right, this kind of digital resurrection reflects deeper problems in Hollywood, as studios increasingly cannibalize franchise IP instead of telling original stories and threaten to embrace AI-generated content.

You get the impression that for some studio execs, the ideal movie involves no creative input from actors or writers, relying entirely on brand recognition for established characters. And for the past few years, franchises like the MCU have trained audiences to enjoy this kind of “storytelling.”

Even ignoring the Reeve cameo, The Flash is built around callbacks to old material: A multi-franchise crossover that rehashes 2013’s Man of Steel, starring Michael Keaton’s 1990s Batman alongside Ezra Miller‘s Flash. This emphasis on crossover characters feels even more cynical in the context of The Flash‘s press tour, where Warner Bros. is keen to direct attention away from Ezra Miller.

Echoing the way casting leaks dominated the promo cycle for Spider-Man: No Way Home, you have to wonder if the months of Reeve-related rumors were actually intentional, shifting focus onto an actor everyone loves. An actor whose image Warner Bros. can control, because he’s no longer alive to have any say in the matter.

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