Another day passes, and another Warner Bros film gets threatened with the ax, doing immeasurable damage to the careers of the cast and crew. Up to a few short weeks ago, the only noteworthy controversy for Warner Discovery seemed to be the Misadventures of Ezra Miller, as they put their own career in precarious jeopardy with each arrest, court order, court order, not fulfilled, and alleged kidnapping. Yet, those serious offenses have been somewhat overshadowed by an eruption of harmful corporate politics. It all started with the abandoned releases of both Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt. That double whammy was accompanied by the aggressive slashing of potential projects for HBO Max, effectively laying off the majority of the streamer’s workforce.
Then, amidst a report that Miller was arrested for burglary some time ago, it was rumored that The Flash, originally positioned as a soft reset of the DCEU, is being considered by the Warner Discovery heads to be put on the chopping block as well. It is absolute chaos, and we’re nowhere close to seeing this industry-changing fiasco sort itself out. Warner’s current CEO, Discovery head David Zaslav, is new to the movie game. So, we’re still learning day by day what WarnerMedia will truly be under his regime. The fear among many online, even as Zaslav himself says he’s committed to quality, is that he’ll turn HBO Max into a 90 Day Fiance, reality TV-obsessed hellscape. The fear is rooted in Zaslav’s history, in which he turned Discovery Channel into a 90 Day Fiance, reality TV-obsessed hellscape.
Whether that will actually happen to Warner Bros, still fresh off its merger with Discovery, is yet to be seen. But the problem with trusting Zaslav’s regime is that he has no significant resume in the film industry thus far to even judge what the quality of DCEU and Warner Bros Pictures will look like under his leadership. The only thing we have is his word. A word that claims Batgirl was axed because it didn’t fulfill the studio’s new mission statement of quality over quantity. But is that really what happened here? The current belief in many circles is that Batgirl screen-tested poorly, and that is ultimately why the film will forego an HBO Max release in favor of just disappearing, so the studio gets a tax write-down. However, I don’t believe this is an issue of quality rather than a dilemma of scale.
It’s been intimated that test audiences of Batgirl were asked if the film felt BIG, a question that was met with a resounding no. That was ultimately the death sentence. Batgirl could have been a piece of crap, but if the $90 million film felt big enough for a theatrical release, it could possibly recoup that nine-figure price tag. Instead, Zaslav likely saw two options: release the movie on HBO Max as originally planned and earn no meaningful income from it, or release this small-screen movie in theaters and watch it bomb. Zaslav’s regime was not responsible for originally greenlighting the project; thus, this small-scale movie became a cost-cutting casualty. But is that a decision dictated by a commitment to quality? If Batgirl were a $200 million CGI-laden extravaganza, like most superhero releases, it would likely see a theatrical release, and screen tests be damned.
Speaking of $200 million superhero movies, The Flash doesn’t have a screen test problem. In fact, the movie is said to be quite good by those who’ve seen it, including Warner Discovery head David Zaslav himself. No, it has a ‘lead actor is a lightning rod and major distraction’ problem. Which explains why the studio is at least considering shelving the film. One possible motive behind this is that Warner Discovery can’t guarantee Miller will go through the necessary steps to be a trustworthy participant in the film’s press tour. Can you imagine putting them on Good Morning America or Jimmy Fallon? Or worse, Miller gets into even more trouble during the film’s marketing push? I personally do not believe that Miller should be involved in the press tour at all. However, the public isn’t privy to the unique language in Miller’s contract that may entitle them to certain promotional features in the run-up to this movie.
It seems, for whatever reason, the studio just can’t untether themselves from this very high-maintenance actor. Which raises the question – why was it so easy for Warner to problem-solve the Batgirl situation, but this Ezra Miller mess (a saga that has been ongoing FOR YEARS) seems like the unbeatable Rubik’s cube? It would seem the best method would be to have the studio publicly distance themselves from Miller’s behavior. Then release this supposedly great movie to benefit fans and the hard-working cast and crew that completed the movie. After that, recast this person going forward and then move the hell on.
But canceling the film’s release doesn’t seem to serve anyone. Not fans, not artists who worked on the movie, who are counting on the film to help build their resumes in Hollywood. Not movie theaters, not HBO Max, or Warner Discovery, who is potentially leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table. What does any of that have to do with a commitment to quality? Warner Discovery employs a bevy of talented people, maybe the richest duct in the industry. Yet, all these controversies, and the leadership’s inability to quell them, just inspire the idea that the chaos at the top will be an obstacle to quality work rather than a shepherd for it.
For what it’s worth, David Zaslav says he has a 10-year plan for DC on film. Yeah, because we haven’t seen long-term studio plans go up in smoke before (that disastrous Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe seems like ages ago). Zaslav says that Superman is a major part of this plan – well, of course, that’s the bare minimum for any DC universe. Oh, and it’s been rumored that DC mainstay Greg Berlanti (Titans, Doom Patrol, and the Arrowverse) is in line to be the “Kevin Feige” of the DCEU. I remember when Zack Snyder was supposed to be the savior. Then, Geoff Johns was supposed to be the savior. Yet, here we are.
My goal isn’t to be overly pessimistic. Rather, it’s to encourage fans to not buy into Zaslav’s pie in the sky, to at least wait until there are genuine successes in the franchise under this “new plan.” Films that the new regime is completely responsible for, not just holdovers from the last regime. The reason is – we’ve heard this all before. Warner Bros has apologized a lot for the state of their movies, and each time they inevitably promise that all of the issues have been resolved and everything’s going to be gravy going forward. Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt this time – make them prove it. We’re very much in uncharted waters, and none of this is normal. Scrapping a $90 million movie isn’t normal. Putting a $200 million movie in jeopardy because the lead actor is holding you hostage, and you seem to have no clue on how to remove yourself from the issue is not normal. Greg Berlanti being positioned as the umpteenth “this guy will totally fix everything wrong with the DCEU” is not normal.
RIP to OG HBO Max, probably the greatest streaming service ever. What you will morph into when you merge with Discovery’s service, we do not know. Good luck to all of the HBO and Warner Discovery artists and creators. We all want to see your work rise to the surface, unfettered by studio politics. And finally, here’s to DC specifically, King of the soft reset. Let this be the last reset we have to buy into. Let’s see if that ten-year plan comes to fruition – or if a few years from now, the library just gets sold off to Comcast, whatever happens first.