“The Flash” is racing in to give the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) its final installment. It arrives around the 10th anniversary of “Man of Steel” (2013), the first entry in the DCEU franchise. There’s a lot riding on the success of “The Flash,” which has a lot of power over in-world events of the DC Universe due to dealing with time travel and the multiverse. According to James Gunn, co-chairman and co-CEO of DC Studios, the film will “reset everything” — a radical move that could risk DC’s legacy.
Following the decade of films that make up the current DCEU franchise, Warner Bros.-owned DC Studios is planning a major reboot for which “The Flash” will provide in-universe explanations. It’s a lot to put on a film that may or may not be a success. There are controversies, a divided fanbase, and some major DC universe shakeups attached to this film. Let’s look at why “The Flash” can make or break the DCEU and what that means for the future of DC.
The Current Convoluted DCEU
The DCEU has long divided critics and fans, many saying the franchise was troubled from the start. Since “Man of Steel,” the DCEU has followed a complicated in-universe chronology compared to the release order of the films, with plenty of in-franchise references and character crossovers — not to mention stand-alone “Elseworlds” films that don’t relate to the main continuity. Director Zack Snyder, who was the creative leader through most of the DCEU era, has always been a subject of debate among DC fans. Some appreciate his darker, grittier tone that sometimes left questions unanswered or took characters in unexpected directions. Critics believe Snyder’s style was more appropriate for his 2009 genre-subverting cult hit “Watchmen” than it is for such beloved comic series adaptations.
DC Studios' concern, however, is that DCEU films have consistently failed to rival its competitor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), in box office sales. Some have accused the studio of trying too hard to emulate the MCU. However, the reboot and choice to distance the franchise from Snyder’s work may push them even further in that direction.
The Timeline Change
In “The Flash,” Barry Allen, aka the Flash (Ezra Miller), is a highly intelligent forensic investigator whose father is in prison after being accused of murdering his mother. Barry maintains his father’s innocence but mourns for his mother. When he discovers a way to travel back in time, he decides to undo his mother's death. The consequences of this change are far-reaching, and suddenly old friends have become deadly enemies.
In this new version of the multiverse, Flash must enlist the help of his fellow superheroes to save the world from the now-restored General Zod (Michael Shannon). We’ll see plenty of favorite DC characters make appearances, including both Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton reprising their roles as Batman.
Because the effects of this timeline change can transform relationships, resurrect characters, and undo past events, it leaves a lot of leeway for the new DCEU to write the stories it wants. If executed well, the timeline change could be a useful device for the continuity of DC films going forward. It’s also clear that DC doesn’t plan to abandon everything in the rebooted universe, as some of the franchise’s favorite actors, such as “Suicide Squad’s” Viola Davis, have already signed on to reprise their roles.
DC Studios Reboot
When the film for “The Flash” was conceived, Snyder was still the creative force behind the franchise. Snyder left his position during his work on 2017’s “Justice League” following the devastating suicide of his daughter. However, fans were dissatisfied with the 2017 cut of the film, leading to Snyder returning in 2021 to release “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” which a loyal following believes to be the actual canon version. The studio has definitively said that the original cut is the true version. It failed to include characters from Snyder’s cut in other films, which many read as evidence of it further distancing itself from his work.
The higher-ups at DC have a different vision for the studio’s future. After Snyder’s departure, they hired James Gunn and Peter Safran as co-chairmen and co-CEOs to lead the company in a rebranding effort called The New 52. Since their takeover, “The Flash” has been positioned to end what fans call the “Snyderverse.” There are currently four upcoming movies on the horizon following the reboot: “The Flash,” “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” “Blue Beetle,” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”
The story of the new DCU is divided into chapters, starting with “Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters,” which will begin in 2024 with the animated series “Creature Commandos.” Gunn and Safran consider the chapter's first film, “Superman: Legacy” (2025), to be the real beginning of the DCU.
Controversy Surrounding the Film
There’s something else casting a shadow over the release of “The Flash,” and that’s star Ezra Miller’s off-screen controversies. While always eccentric, the 30-year-old actor has suffered a chaotic downward spiral in the last year.
They were arrested in the spring of 2022 for disorderly conduct and harassment following a physical altercation at a karaoke bar and then again three weeks later after reportedly throwing a chair that hit a woman at a private gathering. In June, Miller was served a restraining order by the parents of 18-year-old Standing Rock Sioux activist Tokata Iron Eyes, who accused the actor of using emotional and psychological manipulation to groom their daughter from age 12.
In August, Miller was charged with felony burglary after trespassing at a private home to steal alcohol. In Vermont, they were allegedly housing a mother and three children whom child services is now searching for following reports of haphazard firearms on the property. Apart from legal run-ins, there have also been strange reports of the actor wearing bulletproof vests and carrying guns, behaving inappropriately toward children, and claiming to be a Messiah to the Native American people.
The widespread bad publicity resulting from Miller’s mental health and legal issues is a PR nightmare for the film. The situation has resulted in a scaled-down premiere and excluding Miller from many promotional events. The film will serve as a fiscal experiment on how powerful “cancel culture” can affect box office numbers.
What This Means for the DCU
What “The Flash” means for the DCU depends on how well written the in-universe explanations are and how well received the film is by fans. We’re hopeful, since the film received positive reactions from early audiences and critics. If done right, “The Flash” can achieve what DC hopes it will, providing a tidy ending to the DCEU while leaving the playing field wide open for bold creative decisions in the future. If not, it could undo everything that has happened in the DCEU franchise against fans’ wishes.
Keep in mind there were enough supporters of Snyder’s work to divide the fanbase over the correct cut of “Justice League.” Imagine the anger of those same Snyderverse fans if the new franchise destroys the legacy of the films they love. We’ll find out how it all plays out following the theatrical release of “The Flash” on June 16. It will be available to stream on Max in the fall.
In the meantime, you can stream all of the current DCEU films on Max. Check out our Max review if you’re considering subscribing.