Earlier today, at their Comic-Con panel in Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center, Warner Bros. announced a slate of films set in their burgeoning DC Extended Universe to be released over the next several years. Among these movies were Wonder Woman 2, Suicide Squad 2, Justice League Dark, and a Green Lantern Corps movie featuring fan favorite lantern John Stewart in one of the lead roles. Perhaps the most eye-popping announcement, however, came from the revelation that the Flash solo film that’s been in development for several years now has been retooled into an adaptation of 2011’s seminal comics storyline, Flashpoint.
Despite how recently the story debuted, Flashpoint’s profile has increased in the past year due to its loose adaptation in the premiere of the most recent season of The CW’s The Flash. (The story ended up being drastically changed for its television adaptation.) The story was also adapted into an animated film, The Flashpoint Paradox back in 2013, a movie that served as a reboot for DC’s long-running series of animated features.
[Spoilers for 2011's Flashpoint follow.]
For those who may not be aware, Flashpoint, written by DC’s then-Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, is a storyline in which Barry Allen wakes up one day and discovers that the world around him has changed drastically, having transformed into something profoundly different from the DC Universe that fans know and love. The world he finds is one in which Superman doesn’t exist, Themyscira and Atlantis’ armies (led by Wonder Woman and Aquaman, respectively) are at war, and Batman is a gun-wielding murderer dispatching criminals in Gotham with little remorse. Perhaps most significantly for Barry, he discovers that he no longer possesses his powers, as The Flash has apparently never existed, meaning that Captain Cold (in the Flashpoint universe, “Citizen Cold”) has become the savior of Central City. Also, Barry’s mother, who was murdered when he was a child, is alive.
Over the course of the story, as Barry attempts to discern what could have possibly taken place to change the world he knows so drastically, he ends up partnering with Batman, revealed to be Thomas Wayne (in the Flashpoint universe, Bruce and Martha were shot in the alley, and Bruce died as a result), in order to find a way to restore his powers as well as his old reality. Over time, he traces the cause of this massive shift to his nemesis, Eobard Thawne – the Reverse-Flash, who he believes went back in time and changed the course of history, thus creating this new alternate timeline. It’s only upon confronting Thawne in the midst of the final battle between Atlantis and Themyscira that Barry learns the truth – it was Barry himself that changed the timeline. Having reached his lowest point, he went back in time to prevent his mother’s death, and in doing so, changed the very course of human history.
Even though it was only published six years ago, Flashpoint has left an indelible mark upon comics history, mostly due to its ramifications: the story concludes with Barry returning to the past in order to ensure that his mother, does, in fact, meet her end at the hands of the Reverse-Flash. Rather than restoring the timeline to the state it was in before his initial interference, however, this ends up resulting in the creation of an entirely new iteration of the DC universe – the reality that launched the publishing initiative known as the New 52, and the reality in which DC’s main line of comics has taken place to this day.
The New 52 was controversial because it was essentially a soft reboot of DC continuity. This was a reality in which the DC Universe was still beginning to grasp the notion of the existence of superheroes, in which the Justice League was a newly formed team struggling to prove itself in the world. Superman was younger, his marriage to Lois Lane retconned out of existence. Characters such as Wonder Woman had their previous backstories called into question. Team dynamics that had defined the DC Universe up to that point, such as the bond between Green Arrow and Black Canary, had never existed in the continuity of the New 52. It was designed to be a fresh start for new readers, relinquishing some of the “baggage” of DC’s past while making way for its future.
When the news broke earlier today that DC was planning to adapt Flashpoint as the focus of Ezra Miller’s first solo Flash movie, reactions seemed to span a wide range of emotions. Some were excited, as the storyline, despite the mixed reception to its aftermath, is considered one of the most iconic stories of the past decade. Some were confused, as the events of Flashpoint would only seem to work in the context of a universe that had existed for years, if not decades – certainly not the DCEU, which has only released a total of four movies in four years and hasn’t even brought the Justice League together for the first time. It seems like a bizarre move, to say the least.
However, if done right, an adaptation of Flashpoint could be Warner Bros.’ most shrewd decision since the DCEU’s inception.
It’s no secret that the DCEU has been… controversial, at best. Of the four movies released so far, only one seems universally beloved by fans (Wonder Woman), while another remains divisive (Man of Steel), and the other two were panned by critics and DC devotees alike (Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad). Even when acknowledging the goodwill built by Wonder Woman, which has the benefit of being the DCEU’s most recent release, fans’ optimism about the future of this fledging cinematic universe is on shaky ground. Justice League, which, in an ideal world, would be stirring Avengers-levels of excitement, seems to be largely inspiring cautious optimism, as fans are hesitant to put their faith in director Zack Snyder following Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, both of which previewed strongly in trailers prior to their release.
There’s also the numerous shake-ups that have occurred behind the scenes of DCEU films currently in development. The upcoming Batman solo film, currently titled The Batman, was originally meant to be directed by star Ben Affleck, working with a script co-authored by Affleck and Geoff Johns. In the past several months, however, Affleck has stepped down from directing, now replaced by Cloverfield and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves, and that script has reportedly been thrown out the window. Suicide Squad director David Ayer has declined to direct the sequel in development, instead choosing to dedicate his attentions to Gotham City Sirens, a film starring Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Catwoman. A sequel to Man of Steel has been in development hell since the movie’s release in 2013. The Flash, prior to its announcement as a Flashpoint film, has lost two directors, and there is still no word on who will end up taking the reins.
In the aftermath of Batman v. Superman’s poor reception, Geoff Johns, writer of Flashpoint and Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment, was appointed to co-helm the DCEU with film executive Jon Berg, playing a role similar to the one Kevin Feige plays at Marvel, steering the universe forward for the next several years. At the time Johns took over, Suicide Squad was nearing the tail-end of development and production had just begun on Wonder Woman and Justice League, both in stages where it was too late for any major interference or retooling of either project. There were many, at the time, who believed Johns had been placed at the helm of a sinking ship, a perception that has only slightly wavered since, and only thanks to the success of Wonder Woman.
That film’s success helped to stem the tide of fans proclaiming DC’s downfall, if only temporarily, but the reality is that, even if Justice League is a success, the foundation upon which the DCEU has been built is tainted. Despite actors who have been well-cast in the roles they’ve been appointed to, as well as a mostly-promising visual language established throughout the films, with a few exceptions, the scripts haven’t lived up to either the actors’ potential or the source material the films are based on. Superman, a symbol of hope and brightness in worlds both fictional and real, has been portrayed as a brooding, doubtful visitor to our planet who was unsure whether heroism was a worthy endeavor to undertake. Batman’s cynicism and anger were taken to new heights in Batman v. Superman, to the point where he actively murders several people in that movie, breaking one of the established core tenets of the character. That movie alone tore through several unworthy adaptations of famous DC storylines, perhaps most notably The Death of Superman, which was crammed into the last half-an-hour of Batman v. Superman with little regard to the magnitude of the event.
It can be reasoned that the slate of films announced today is likely the product of Johns’ first year as architect of the future of the DCEU, and it can also be reasoned that the decision to adapt Flashpoint into a film was likely an idea that originated from Johns himself. And, once considered, it’s a fairly genius move. Like the comics storyline that bore its name, the film could be used to selectively alter elements of DC continuity without sacrificing the things that have worked for them so far: namely, some inspired casting choices and… well, the entirety of Wonder Woman. Hypothetically, depending on how bold Warner Bros. executives are willing to be, Flashpoint could result in the creation of a world in which Batman v. Superman, or individual events contained within said film, never took place. Imagine that Barry repairs the timeline and Henry Cavill’s Superman is suddenly a ray of hope along the lines of his comic book counterpart, Jimmy Olsen is alive and well, and Batman is the ambiguously-received symbol of justice that he should be in Gotham, rather than an outright murderer who brands the occasional criminal with a batarang.
(Coincidentally, Flashpoint could also be an easy way to transition Ben Affleck out of the DCEU, if this week’s rumors surrounding his impending departure turn out to true. It wouldn’t be hard to have Barry return home to his native reality and come face-to-face with a younger Batman played by a different actor and explain it away as a ramification of his adventures.)
It helps that the Flashpoint film won’t have to carry the burden of establishing Ezra Miller’s Flash itself – that task will have been completed by the conclusion of this November’s Justice League film. Barry Allen’s core struggles, such as the wrongful imprisonment of his father for the murder of his mother, are confirmed to be addressed in Justice League, so viewers will have the necessary context for the reasons he makes the decision to travel back in time by the time Flashpoint hits theaters, whenever that may be.
There are so many ways that Warner Bros. could fumble this move. They could refuse to go the extra mile with Flashpoint, taking the route that the television show did and only committing to slight, inconsequential changes. They could decide (again, as the TV show did) to isolate the events of Flashpoint to solely Barry’s life, and keep the remainder of the DCEU timeline intact. But as of right now, the possibilities suggested by the potential existence of a Flashpoint movie are endless and exciting, and could allow Johns to give this cinematic universe what it so desperately needs:
A fresh start.
Or, some might say…