The DCEU is coming to an end. Warner Bros. hired James Gunn and Pete Safran as co-CEOs to lead the superhero franchise into a new, more unified DCU. While that will soon mean an entirely different Superman, the two aren’t starting over entirely from scratch. The Flash‘s time travel adventure is a bridge between the two eras, with Barry Allen’s foray into the past changing the present and future forever.
Ultimately, The Flash didn’t deliver the definitive hard reset some expected. It certainly changed things in a big way, but rather than establish the DCU outright, The Flash instead provided the blueprint for how it might happen eventually.
How Does Time Travel Work in The Flash?
As Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne explained, time is not linear in the world of The Flash. If you go back to a specific point in the past and change what happened you don’t merely change the events that follow that moment—you also change what happened before it. In this superhero franchise, there’s no clean split from the timeline into an alternate one.
Back to the Future, which The Flash vaguely referenced with its spaghetti scene, would be fundamentally different if it had the same rules of time travel as The Flash. It would mean when Biff gets the Sports Almanac in the original 1955 timeline, the original timeline no longer exists. The new one would simply share a single point with the old one the moment Biff got the almanac.
That’s why Barry’s time travel resulted in the world getting an entirely different, much older Bruce Wayne than the one he knew. When Barry saved his mom it altered the future along with everything that happened long before that day. In that alternate reality Bruce Wayne was born much earlier. Just as Kal-El was not the Kryptonian who safely made his way to Earth, a place without Aquaman or Wonder Woman.
The results of Barry’s actions didn’t just change history and even people. It nearly doomed the entire world.
How Did Barry Allen Fix the Timeline in The Flash?
Once Barry understood his mother had to die to save the world, he went back to the moment he saved her. (That was the single cross point between the original timeline and the new one he created.) Once there, he removed the can of tomatoes he’d previously placed in her shopping cart. Her death was the only way to save the world from General Zod and restore things as they were. It was tragic for Barry, but also necessary. He’d seen firsthand from Dark Barry, who’d spent countless lifetimes futilely trying to keep their mom alive without destroying the planet, that some things simply cannot be changed
Only, the original Barry couldn’t help but alter one thing in the past. And while it didn’t lead to the end of the world, it did lead to the beginning of the end for the old DCEU.
Why Did George Clooney Replace Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne?
Barry’s goal in the present was to exonerate his father Henry (Ron Livingston). Barry thought he finally had evidence to prove his dad didn’t kill his wife, but it was insufficient. Henry had been shopping during his wife’s murder, and Bruce Wayne used his technology to clean up the previously useless corrupted store security footage. Only Henry never looked up high enough for the camera to capture his face. Without that clear shot to establish his alibi he’d be doomed to a life behind bars.
So instead, moments after removing the life-saving/world-destroying can of tomatoes from his mother’s cart, Barry rearranged all the cans. He made it so the specific variety his father needed would be on the top shelf. That meant Henry would look up high enough so that camera could capture his face. He did, resulting in him going free in the present.
Henry Allen walked out of court a free man. And outside that court Barry Allen discovered what else he’d done by moving those tomato cans. His friend (played by Ben Affleck) had once again been replaced as Bruce Wayne. Instead of the Caped Crusader who helped Barry get his dad out of jail, the Flash found a different, quite dapper Bruce Wayne instead. “Who the f***” was it? It was George Clooney, who originally played the role in 1997’s much maligned Batman & Robin.
Why The Flash Did Not Fully Establish the DCU
The Batfleck is (seemingly) gone, but Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is not. Barry explained to his very drunk fellow Justice League member about what he’d done to the timeline and to Bruce in the film’s only post-credits scene. (Which established both that Barry didn’t undo his tomato can switch and that no one else in this new timeline remembers the old Bruce.)
Clearly the franchise is not the same one it was before The Flash started. But there’s probably a zero percent chance 62-year-old George Clooney is going to be the DCU’s new Bruce Wayne either, so clearly the movie did not end with a total reset.
Something else (or elses) is going to lead to whomever ends up as Batman in the DCU eventually. That means Momoa’s presence only confirms he’s still Aquaman for now. (He does have a sequel coming after all.) Clearly lots more will change eventually, we just don’t know when they will. We just know how they might.
How The Flash Paved the Way for the DCU
The DCEU/DCU is a place of countless dimensions and timelines. Multiple Supermans and Batmans all exist at the same time on many parallel worlds. And Barry Allen can change or destroy all of them by going back in time. He could seemingly even make it so he’s a totally different human in his own timeline, just as he changed Bruce Wayne.
So while The Flash didn’t entirely bid farewell to its old franchise anymore than it said hello to its new one, whenever James Gunn and Peter Safran decide to fully establish their new superhero era they have a very fast way to do it.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.