This article contains major spoilers for The Flash.
Ever since Ezra Miller’s The Flash was briefly retitled Flashpoint in the late 2010s, there has been a lot of expectation (and desperation?) from Warner Bros. Pictures. Could this mark a fresh start—a chance for Miller’s speedster to travel back to the past and, in so doing, accidentally reset the DC Extended Universe into something a little more pleasing for fans and studio executives alike?
That calculus has of course changed multiple times over the years, and in the interim, The Flash began to look less like a clean slate than it did a last hurrah. Instead of a pivot, the film could very well be a wake, a eulogy, and a fond farewell to 10 years of erratic DCEU storytelling. Going in, you might even think the movie will be nothing but a fan service smorgasbord, with Michael Keaton’s Batman as the main course.
To be sure, the ending of The Flash is stuffed with easter eggs, winks, nods, and asides. Nonetheless, director Andy Muschietti reaches for something a little meatier and more emotional than you might expect. Does it work? It’s debatable, but here is what the movie’s biggest swings at the end are supposed to mean—as well as where it and its many cameos leave the DC Universe going forward.
The Flash Ending and Deaths
In terms of science fiction storytelling, the grand finale to The Flash is both the most ambitious sequence of the film and the most uneven. Before the third act, Muschietti’s film had settled into a nice rhythm that plays a lot like a Back to the Future sequel. The film isn’t coy about this either, with Miller’s older Barry telling his younger, teenage self (also Miller) that their interaction is like something out of Back to the Future Part II (1989). This bit of self-awareness is also smartly used as the first sign that Barry changed more than his personal history. For as he soon learns, he now lives in a world where Eric Stoltz played Marty McFly!
As anyone who’s ever read time travel fiction knows, you cannot change the past without it having a butterfly effect. And The Flash further escalates this idea by suggesting that time is not linear. So by changing one moment in the past, it has affected everything in both directions. Hence Michael Keaton now being Batman even though his age does not match the Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) whom Barry the Older remembers.
Keaton’s Batman explains all this in his first scene, taking on a bit of a Doc Brown role. From there the movie generally grooves pretty well with the Barrys and Bruce figuring out how much things have changed… and realizing they need to assemble a team to fight General Zod (Michael Shannon) after the supervillain of Man of Steel (2013) arrives to terraform the earth like he did in the first DCEU film.
Thus the middle of the movie is both BTTF II and building a low-rent version of the Justice League, with two Flashes, a baby boomer Batman (did you hear those jams he was playing in the mansion when Barry showed up?) and Kara Zor-El (Saha Calle), the cousin of an absent Man of Steel in the new timeline. Thus at a glance, the ending of the movie looks like it’s going to be a standard heroes vs. villains showdown.
Yet that’s not how it plays out. In fact, things start going sideways when we learn about the movie’s first and only major deaths: Batman and Supergirl.
Again and again, they die. The first time it occurs, it looks like Zod got a lucky cheap shot on Kara, stabbing her in the belly after she thought she’d beaten him. Meanwhile Keaton’s Batman dies in a fiery explosion in the Batplane. So the two Barrys attempt to fix the mess the same way that Barry the Older created the larger mess in the first place; they reverse time using the Speed Force.
Even so, the good guys die again. Supergirl has her throat slit by Zod, and Batman has a Kryptonian giant smash his organs in. It’s at this point that things click for Barry the Older. Some things in time are immutable—or “canon events” as Spider-Man: Across the Universe more elegantly explained several weeks ago. Just as there apparently will always be a Bruce Wayne/Batman (though his age and appearance might change) in the multiverse, for whatever narrative reason, Zod is destined to win against Justice League 2.0 and conquer the Earth.
Now we’d suggest there is a glaring plot hole in this, what with Superman (Henry Cavill) defeating this version of Zod and this exact same invasion all by himself in 2013. Ergo, this is not a canon event. But for the purposes of The Flash, it is perceived as one, with Barry the Older realizing things cannot be changed while Barry the Younger refuses to accept reality and continues to travel into the past, weakening the multiverse more and more each time as he fails to save Kara, Bruce, and the world.
To be fair to Young Barry, he’s the only Barry who grew up with a mother. To accept that this fight is unwinnable means he must accept her dying. His fear of letting go after apparently years (decades?) of trying to win the fight transforms him into the Dark Flash. As it turns out, the Dark Flash was an alternate, younger version of Barry all along. As Barry the Younger admits (although now with gray hair), he is a time paradox because he pushed Barry the Older out of the Speed Force at the start of the movie, which crash landed older Barry in 2013. There, the original Barry mentored his younger self into inadvertently becoming the Dark Flash. And after Barry the Younger takes a stab wound for Barry the Older, which was inflicted by his own even older variant self, both die leaving the original Barry alone. Confused, yet?
Honestly, this feels more like a late in the game rewrite than a cathartic conclusion to the sci-fi conundrum. Based purely on my own speculation, I wonder if the Dark Flash was someone different at another point, but it was rewritten to be Barry all along. Whatever the case may be, the explanation in the final film is a muddle, but it does at least set up an emotionally satisfying grace note to the climax.
Rather than fight Zod or his younger/older self, the original Barry goes back to the early 2000s and undoes the change that triggered this whole headache. He puts the can of crushed tomatoes back on the shelf so his mother still asks her husband to get them, and she is thus left alone to be murdered by an unknown assailant (a dangling plot thread that also suggests this was a rewrite).
It’s messy, but seeing Barry be forced to say goodbye to his mother and accept some things cannot be changed—our scars make us who we are, as Batman is wont to say—is fairly moving. And a lot of it is a credit to Miller, who conveys the heartbreak of having to lose his mother all over again, saying goodbye to her as a stranger at the grocery store.
Yet… does he really learn his lesson? Because while he reverts the timeline back to her death, he also makes one other small change which unlocks the mother of all cameos!
The Flash’s Many Cameos: George Clooney, Christopher Reeve, Nicolas Cage, and More
Despite being largely marketed around Keaton’s grand return as the Dark Knight, The Flash is surprisingly light on fan-servicing cameos during its first two-thirds. The one exception is that in the film’s opening action sequence, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman shows up at the last minute to help Affleck’s Batman and the Flash. But that’s mostly charming because she would be on speed dial for Batman, and if this is the end for the DCEU, it’s a nicer final film for Gadot to appear in than the dull-as-dishwater Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Less effective is her getting Barry to admit he’s still a virgin after he touches the Lasso of Truth.
Still, that’s it for cameos until the climax in the “chronobowl” Speed Force graphic. For it is there, in the moment Barry the Older realizes Zod winning is a fixed point in time, that he begins noticing other worlds within the multiverse colliding… which is an excuse for a cornucopia of cameos. The best one is Nicolas Cage finally getting to don his luscious long locks and play a rubbery-looking 1990s Superman from the Tim Burton film that never got made. Better still, in his timeline he’s seen fighting a giant spider, which was on the wish-list for producer Jon Peters.
More grotesque is Barry also seeing several other versions of Superman and even Supergirl. The first alternate timeline/world he sees is one where George Reeves is still a black and white Superman from the old television series that began in 1951. In another world, Barry sees no less than the great Christopher Reeve as Superman while Helen Slater stands next to him, frozen in time from 1984’s Supergirl movie.
The problem with these cameos is two of them are incredibly tasteless—with both Reeves and Reeve’s tragic lives and deaths becoming fodder for corporate IP raiding—as well as visually creepy. The CGI used to bring back the dead, and even Slater’s Supergirl, looks like unconvincing waxworks.
It’s also unfortunate, because the best cameo of the movie is so much more satisfying in the film’s closing moments. Because it’s then, after Barry has righted his timeline, that we learn he still smudged one aspect of the past by moving a can of tomato sauce to the top shelf to prove his father was at the grocery store while his mother was being murdered. This apparently still had profound consequences, because after his father is exonerated in court, Barry receives a phone call from an old friend—Bruce Wayne is proud of him and is coming to celebrate in the same Lamborghini we saw Affleck’s Bruce driving at the top of the movie.
… Only when he steps out, it’s not Ben Affleck at all. Instead George Clooney’s classic smiling face is back!!! He’s a little older, with a graying beard to match the hair, but he still looks as good as he did in 1997’s Batman & Robin.
“Who the fuck are you?” Barry says. Clooney flashes the grin again before asking, “Barry, what is wrong with you?” He’s Batman.
Less fun is a tacked on final post-credit scene where Jason Momoa shows up as a very drunk Arthur Curry. We suppose it’s meant to remind you that Aquaman: The Last Kingdom is still coming in December.
Is This Ending (and George Clooney) the New DC Universe Canon?
As previously mentioned, The Flash was originally meant to be a pivot point for the DCEU, a chance to change tracks after many fans and most WB executives were underwhelmed by the so-called Snyderverse. Those plans have changed, but new DC Studios co-head James Gunn left the door open to this being canon for the rechristened DC Universe going forward when he said earlier this year,“[The Flash] is a fantastic movie that I really loved that resets the entire DC Universe.”
So could this mean the ending of The Flash has reset the DCEU into Gunn’s DC Universe… and that means Clooney is Batman now? Could we even get yet another Clooney and Robin movie with Gunn’s announced The Brave and the Bold reboot of the Batman franchise?!
It’s a funny idea, but we find it highly unlikely. And if you even parse out Gunn’s earlier quote, he simply said The Flash resets “the DC Universe.” He did not say it sets up his DC Universe. Rather it could have reset the DCEU, a concept that is still over (at least it will be after this December’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which also gets a shout out in a tacked on post-credits scene).
Additionally, there’ve been rumors in the gossip mill that suggest the curtain is coming down on everything we’ve watched for the last 10 years. The Wrap’s Umberto Gonzalez, for instance, seemed to confirm a rumor spread by YouTuber Grace Randolph that the last scene of the movie was reshot in 2023 at Gunn’s request, taking out both Calle and Keaton who were supposed to appear in the final sequence.
This would make sense because when Calle and Keaton were both cast, the latter appeared poised to become the DCEU Batman going forward, even filming scenes in Batgirl before it was scrapped for a WB write-off. Set photos from 2021 also seem to confirm a different ending was shot with Keaton as Bruce Wayne. Calle was also supposed to get a Supergirl movie, but word about that project went quiet before Gunn announced earlier this year that he was developing his own Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow. Shortly after announcing the project, Gunn and Peter Safran dodged questions about if Calle might appear in it.
A more likely scenario is that everything we know about the DCEU is coming to an end, and Gunn’s apparent request that the ending be changed was a way to find a fun resolution to a movie that is the end of the road for these versions of these characters instead of a new beginning.
Another way to look at it, though, is if the timeline Barry the Older spends most of his time in during The Flash is an alternate reality created by him saving his mother’s life, then he is now trapped in yet another alternate reality because he still moved that camera to exonerate his father. He made things slightly less timey-wimey, which opened the door for Gunn’s DC Universe… but Miller’s version of the Flash doesn’t get to live there. Of course, Miller could always run back in time and change things again.
However, given Miller’s real-life controversies, and Gunn’s apparent desire to turn the page, we have our doubts that will be the case. This is a shame for at least Calle (whose Supergirl might be consigned to the same ash heap David Zaslav banished Leslie Grace’s Batgirl). But another way to look at it, in-universe, is Barry won his dad’s freedom and had to trade out Affleck for Clooney in the process. That’s probably a fair price to him, and now what remains of the DCEU exists in a world where George Clooney’s Batman is hanging out with Ezra Miller and Henry Cavill. It seems pretty just. The end.