The toughest thing for a hungry Hollywood director to do these days is not to land a big superhero film, it seems, but rather to keep one.
In recent days, we've seen two filmmakers ousted from the director's chair of major comic-book properties. Tim Miller, who brilliantly guided Deadpool, has been cut loose from the sequel; and now, Rick Famuyiwa has been handed his walking papers deep into the production stages of The Flash, according to the trade papers.
A superhero film replacing a new director while still at the starting gate is so common these days that such a move doesn't necessarily register alarm. Yet these two new moves are so different in nature as to be illuminating - because the latter change looms as much more troubling.
In the case of Miller's amicable departure, it's a pity that he and others shaping the sequel couldn't agree on creative direction, including casting, according to reports. Yet it's not unexpected. After the frisky upstart that is Deadpool overperformed this year, the stakes became raised for the sequel. Star Ryan Reynolds now wields major leverage, and aspects of his vision trumped those of Miller, according to the trades. (And suddenly, Deadpool's cheeky opening-credits description of the director as "an overpaid tool" seems just a bit less fun.)
Deadpool has the benefit of being a wild success on a relatively modest budget, with the sequel still in pre-production. And some of the new names being floated for the director slot, such as John Wick's David Leitch, seem like a natural fit.
The shakeup with The Flash is far different, with potentially long-reaching effects.
Warner Bros. and DC have a great deal riding on The Flash, commercially and critically, and the pressure to succeed is only intensified by the fact that the DC Expanded Universe - including this year's flawed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad - has yet to hit a home run.
The dynamics with The Flash are different, too, because title star Ezra Miller has nowhere near the creative leverage of Deadpool's Reynolds.
Team Flash was perhaps wise to remove writer Seth Grahame-Smith from the director's seat during pre-production; he has not directed a feature before, let alone a costly franchise. Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar, HBO's Confirmation), whom they hired afterward, was coming off the fanfare of last year's critically acclaimed Sundance hit Dope.
Now, as Famuyiwa departs over "creative differences" with the Flash brain trust, the film probably will be pushed off its early 2017 filming schedule, as well as its early 2018 release.
But the real concern is that these are symptoms of the larger dynamics within the keepers of the DCEU. Famuyiwa, in a classy statement, thanked the WB/DC team, including a series of names. What that very statement speaks to, however, is the fact that DC has no Kevin Feig, the man who oversees Marvel's cinematic universe.
What we are seeing is the pressure of the desperate desire to build a truly successful DC film - with the scheduled Justice League movies on the horizon.
Now a new Flash director will walk into a high-pressure chamber - a job that calls for a veteran filmmaker accustomed to marrying personal vision with heavy studio oversight.
The DCEU, in other words, needs a hero.