Since 2018, DC has experienced a series of regime changes that have caused turmoil within its cinematic universe.
The release of Joss Whedon’s version of “Justice League” and the abandonment of the original DCEU roadmap led to a string of critical and financial failures. Among these missteps, the recent addition to the DCEU, “The Flash,” directed by Andy Muschietti, stands out as a prime example. Despite being initially marketed as the pinnacle of DC filmmaking, the project ultimately turned into a disaster by all measures. However, understanding the backstory, including Rick Famuyiwa’s role and vision for the film, sheds light on what might have been.
The Flash’s journey began over a decade ago, with the original DCEU creative team aiming for a comprehensive character arc that seamlessly intertwined with the larger cinematic universe. In 2013, director Rick Famuyiwa, acclaimed for his work on “The Mandalorian” and “Ahsoka,” was set to helm the film. His plan involved crafting an expansive storyline that would link the Flash and the Justice League as a unified entity. Famuyiwa collaborated with Zack Snyder during the early stages of DCEU development and played a pivotal role in key casting decisions, notably Kiersey Clemons and Billy Crudup in significant roles.
While “The Flash” went through various story iterations, a pivotal scene between Iris and Barry captures the essence of the original creative team’s intentions, including figures like Rick Famuyiwa, Chris Miller, and Phil Lord, known for their work on “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” This scene hinted at their initial vision for the Flash character, wherein Iris questions Barry’s motivation to join criminal forensics to rectify the injustice that led to his father’s wrongful imprisonment.
“It did involve time travel, but it was not a multiversal story,” Miller says of their version of The Flash. “So I think it is safe to say that this is its own unique thing.”
“There are definitely some things that were in the trailers that I’ve seen that were similar to things that are in our treatment, but I’m certain that, from what I know now of the story, it seems quite different from what we had.” Lord jokingly added, “A lot of our treatment was about how much food he had to consume.”
According to Jay Oliva, known for his contributions to animated DC projects, Famuyiwa’s version would have set the stage for Eobard Thawne, aka Professor Zoom, as the overarching villain orchestrating events from the future. This intricate narrative would have threaded through various films, influencing the broader Justice League.
“Rick’s movie was laying the groundwork for Zoom as the big baddy of the DC Universe,” Oliva says. “It was Professor Zoom pulling the strings because he had come from the future to basically f*ck with Barry. In the Flash movies, Zoom would be the villain in the background. But also in the ancillary other films, you would see some of the influences of Zoom on the rest of the Justice League.”
Famuyiwa’s approach to “The Flash” trilogy would have culminated in a Flashpoint movie, essentially rewriting the entire DCEU. Oliva explains that this event would have provided a platform for a franchise-wide reboot, effectively bidding farewell to established DCEU characters, allowing actors to pursue new ventures after a decade.
However, the DCEU’s rocky journey, marked by divisive films like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League,” led to dramatic changes in the franchise’s trajectory. Famuyiwa eventually departed the project, and “The Flash” underwent multiple rewrites and delays. The COVID-19 pandemic and challenges surrounding Ezra Miller’s conduct further compounded the difficulties.
Ultimately, Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti took the helm as director and producer, respectively, introducing creative liberties that included alternate versions of Batman. The project moved forward with a revamped story inspired by Flashpoint.
Oliva’s insight underscores Famuyiwa’s unrealized vision for a Flash trilogy and how it could have dovetailed into the broader DCEU landscape. However, the DCEU’s evolving landscape and the need for a shared universe foundation presented significant challenges.
This all would have come to a head in a Flashpoint movie, which Zack Snyder revealed previously at a 2019 fan screening would have wrapped up his Superman-focused saga and served as a reboot for the entire franchise.
“At the ending of Zack’s Darkseid quadrilogy, or whatever, we would end up with a ‘Justice League Unlimited’ version of the Snyder-verse,” Oliva says, referencing the popular 2000s cartoon that featured a sprawling roster of DC superheroes. “And then you flip it. You do ‘Flashpoint Paradox.’ Everybody who’s friends are now enemies, and it’s a world that you don’t want to live in. You can reboot the universe and introduce a new cast that way. Because after 10 years, the actors need to go onto something else.”
This plan not only works well in concept but also in execution, as it boasts a clear beginning and end. It avoids unnecessary expansion and the attempt to excessively capitalize on the intellectual property. Instead, it has a focused approach, knowing precisely where it intends to lead with its set of numbered films and narratives centered around the characters and the DCEU. This strategic approach stands in contrast to the new regime’s efforts to create a loosely connected universe, which ultimately contributed to its downfall.
The original DCEU had the potential to demonstrate that all entry points into the universe could offer equally immersive experiences rather than being isolated incidents. For instance, one could watch Batman films and trace the arc’s connection to the Justice League movies, as iconic villains such as the Riddler, Joker, and Deathstroke play significant roles in these Justice League stories. Superman, as the central figure of the DCEU, naturally took the spotlight, while Lex Luthor assembling his Legion of Doom could have served as the crucial link between various DCEU villains like Dr. Maru from “Wonder Woman,” Captain Cold from old plans of “The Flash,” and Black Manta from “Aquaman,” among others. All the while, Eobard Thawne, also known as Reverse-Flash, would have been manipulating events according to his own agenda.
This intricate web of connections would have culminated in the formation of the Justice League, as hinted by old storyboards revealed by Zack Snyder. Each character’s journey, their alliances and confrontations, would have contributed to a rich and coherent narrative tapestry, making the DCEU an interconnected and compelling universe.
Oliva’s role in the project’s evolution highlights his journey from working on animated adaptations to contributing to the live-action film. He collaborated with several directors, including Seth Grahame-Smith, who initially led the project, and Famuyiwa himself.
The abandoned visions for “The Flash” reveal the complex, uncharted narrative possibilities that could have been realized. Amidst the shifting sands of DC’s cinematic universe, Famuyiwa’s unique take, influenced by his background in storytelling and collaboration, offers a glimpse into what might have been—an alternative narrative, intertwining characters and themes for a more cohesive DCEU.
“I wanted to really capture the grimness of the comic, but also lay the groundwork for adapting this as if it was a Marvel live-action film,” he says of his 2013 animated film. “I just thought that would’ve been fantastic. Can you imagine Jason Momoa fighting Gal Gadot and then having that love story?”
“All of the missed opportunities,” Oliva concludes, with a hint of whimsy. “Being a part of it was so exciting, and then having to shift gears and pivot. It’s kind of sad. I would’ve loved to have seen it get to this point.”
As we reflect on the twists and turns of “The Flash,” it’s evident that the journey of bringing a beloved superhero to life on the big screen is a tale as intricate and dynamic as the multiverse itself. And the best part about the saga would’ve been that it is story focused, which is now a surprising thing to say considering how studios now believe it’s the cameos that bring people to the theatres rather than the story itself.