Despite a parade of directors, writers, rumors, and release dates, The Flash movie is still coming to the DCEU. With a script by Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey) and directed by Andy Muschietti (WB’s two-part horror epic IT), the DCEU Flash movie will be loosely inspired by Flashpoint, a DC Comics story that remains a major touchstone in the life of Barry Allen.
For those who don’t know, Flashpoint was a 2011 comic from Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert which saw Barry Allen travel back in time to prevent Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash, from murdering Barry’s mother. As a result, a Butterfly Effect-esque “flashpoint” causing radical changes to the DC Universe. But the roots of Flashpoint go even further back, to another Geoff Johns-written Flash tale.
The Flash: Rebirth was a 2009 story by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver that brought Barry Allen back from the dead. While its focus was finding Barry a place in a DC Universe that he had been absent from for over 20 years, it also revisited his origin story. Rebirth was the first time the now familiar elements about his mother’s murder and his father being imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit were added to the Flash mythos. Rebirth and Flashpoint are the two bookends that have defined Barry Allen’s journey since then, not only in comics but on TV (where elements of Rebirth inspired the show and a loose adaptation of Flashpoint was the crux of the third season) and animation (where Flashpoint was adapted as Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox).
So it’s really not all that surprising that we’re going down this road again with The Flash movie. It was already established in Justice League that Dr. Henry Allen (played by Billy Crudup) is doing time for the murder of his wife, a key element of the Rebirth/Flashpoint bookends of Barry Allen’s story. But basing his first big-screen solo adventure on Flashpoint opens up a multiverse of possibilities not just for Flash, but the entire DCEU.
In the comics, Barry changing the past creates a world where Bruce Wayne never became Batman…because he was killed by a mugger while his parents survived. Instead, Thomas Wayne became Batman (the less said about what happened to Martha Wayne in the Flashpoint reality, the better, but needless to say, the DCEU would be headed toward an even more cringe-worthy “Martha” moment if WB decides to do a really faithful adaptation).
However, it seems that the movie version is going to take a different approach while keeping the Batman connection. Here, Barry enters a world where we’ll meet an older Bruce Wayne, played by Michael Keaton. Whether they make it explicit or not, the implication is clear: this is intended to be the same Batman Keaton played in the beloved Tim Burton movies, despite the fact those movies aren’t part of the DCEU.
Except…they kind of are.
Longtime DC fans have always held the concept of the multiverse and all of DC’s alternate realities dear. Until 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths did some cosmic housecleaning, it had long been accepted that all of the disparate pieces of DC Comics continuity existed in different corners of the multiverse. 2019’s TV adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths took that to the logical screen conclusion, and established that not only does every DC TV show exist within a shared multiverse, so do the Keaton Batman films and the Christopher Reeve Superman movies (thanks to Brandon Routh in a triumphant return to the role that first brought him stardom), and by implication, every other piece of DC media ever created.
But perhaps most importantly (and certainly most relevant to this article) is that it finally reconciled the fact that the TV “Arrowverse” also exists within the same multiverse as the DCEU. It did this with a beautifully executed and surprisingly lighthearted “Flash of Two Worlds” moment between TV Barry Allen Grant Gustin and his big-screen counterpart, Ezra Miller. During a brief accidental encounter, the pair trade admiration and costume tips before going their separate ways.
We could even speculate that DCEU Barry’s discovery of the multiverse in this scene might be what inspires him to seek out a reality where his mother wasn’t murdered. Yes, the comic book Flashpoint was primarily a time travel story, but this could easily be turned into something with a multiversal bent for the big-screen version. It would also explain why, according to THR, Keaton’s Batman may be allowed to stick around for future DC movies, “akin to the role played by Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something of a mentor or guide or even string-puller.”
But Flashpoint was also a way for DC Comics to reset their continuity and reboot a number of characters, paving the way for the publisher’s New 52 relaunch in 2011. When Barry ultimately is forced to accept that the price of changing the past is too high for the universe and return things to the way they were…things aren’t put back exactly as they were. While Warner Bros. isn’t going to “reboot” the DCEU as long as they have billion dollar properties like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman in their stable, the studio could still use The Flash movie as an opportunity to smooth over a few bumps in the road.
For example, the studio seems eager to move on from Jared Leto’s portrayal of the Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad, especially after Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning turn as the Clown Prince of Crime in 2019’s Joker movie. This year’s Birds of Prey film carried the story of Harley Quinn’s relationship with Joker over, but notably didn’t contain any images of Leto in character. And while Joker technically doesn’t exist within DCEU continuity (think of it as occupying its own corner of the DC multiverse), fallout from Flashpoint could theoretically explain why the next time we see the Joker in the DCEU, he looks nothing like Leto’s controversial interpretation. Perhaps it could pave the way for Phoenix’s universally lauded Joker to assume the role in the “official” continuity of the DCEU, even if it doesn’t acknowledge the backstory laid out in his solo film.
Similarly, the DCEU Batman we were introduced to in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League played by Ben Affleck was deliberately positioned as an older, more seasoned version of the character than the one played by Robert Pattinson in Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman solo movie. At the moment, The Batman isn’t likely to be beholden to any existing DCEU continuity, but if it’s successful and connects with fans, a Flashpoint assisted hand-wave could easily explain why Pattinson is now the Batman of the DCEU, should Warner Bros. ever decide to go the team-up film route again.
And speaking of team-up films, there’s still the matter of the Snyder Cut of Justice League to consider. With Warner Bros. now putting as much as $20 million behind the completion of Zack Snyder’s Justice League for HBO Max, it opens up questions about which version of the film will be considered “official” DCEU continuity. While the actual finished product is unlikely to impact the continuity of future films for casual fans of these franchises, “Flashpoint changed it” is likely to become an easy answer for actors, directors, writers, and studio execs to hand out to frustrated journalists and fans for all time.
But there are other ways The Flash movie could incorporate some of the most successful elements of the DCEU, even without making long term changes.
In the comic book story, Barry wakes up in a world where Atlantis (led by Aquaman) and Themiscyra (led by Wonder Woman) are waging war on each other. Cyborg is also a key player in the comic book story, and has long been said to be a character in the various iterations The Flash movie project has gone through over the last five years. If Ray Fisher’s sadly underused Cyborg gets a triumphant second act in Flashpoint, all it would take is cameos from Jason Momoa and Gal Gadot to turn this movie into a stealth Justice League reunion. Considering that Justice League 2 hasn’t been a going concern at Warner Bros. for quite some time, this would be a fun way for the studio to re-commit to the foundations of the DCEU, without needing to get bogged down in messy continuity.
Flashpoint could even be a way to bridge the tonal gap between the early days of the DCEU and their more recent successes. Birds of Prey, Shazam!, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman all indicated a shift away from the unintentional hilarity of the constipated Batman v Superman. Flashpoint, with its dystopian elements like the threat of a war between two mythical kingdoms that could engulf the globe, and the impossible choices Barry has to make between saving his loved ones and doing what’s right for all of reality, are all elements that would feel right at home on either end of the DCEU spectrum.
In other words, don’t look to The Flash movie as an opportunity to reboot the DCEU. Instead, expect a self-contained story (Warner Bros.’ has never been as all in on the shared universe model as chief competitor Marvel Studios) whose repercussions can be used to explain any continuity inconsistencies or re-castings in future movies, while still paying tribute to what has come before. Whatever missteps the DCEU took in its early days, box office success stories like Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Shazam! can’t be easily retconned or rebooted, and Warner Bros. ultimately bowing to the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement proves that they still want fans of that incarnation of the franchise to feel included.
Of course, this is all speculation for the moment. But it looks like the near future of the DCEU will become much more clear when the DC Fandome event takes place on Aug. 22.
The Flash movie, which may or may not actually be called Flashpoint, opens on June 3, 2022.