A recent report shocked fans everywhere when it was revealed that Batman alum Michael Keaton is in talks to reprise his 1989 Bruce Wayne for a supporting role in DC’s upcoming The Flash film. For a film that seemed to be cursed with director shakeups and creative difficulties, the Keaton news finally shed some light on what The Flash had in store for fans, as well as what Warner Brothers has in store for the rest of the DC Extended Universe.
While the DCEU has been in a sort of stand-still recently, projects continue to move forward with characters that were introduced in a tonally different franchise. With films like Aquaman, Shazam!, and the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984, Warner Bros. appears to have foregone the interconnected universe to focus on making good stand alone films. A good strategy, but now this means there are issues of contradicting canon and character histories that will always follow the DCEU.
Now that The Flash is confirming the existence of the multiverse, it seems as if the iconic character's first live-action film is poised to be DC’s new universal anchor point. As Barry Allen deals with time travel and alternate universes, potentially creating a new continuity in the process, there’s a huge opportunity for The Flash to clear up some of the DCEU’s numerous continuity issues, tonal inconsistencies, and questions of canon. Below are just some of the explanations we at The Direct expect to see DC and Warner Brothers acknowledge in 2022's The Flash.
MICHAEL KEATON IS STILL BATMAN
Tim Burton’s Batman made superhero film history when it was released in 1989. By reimagining the iconic Caped Crusader for the big screen with a much darker tone than general audiences were used to, Burton was able to usher in a new Golden Age for the Dark Knight, the superhero film genre in general, and the career of the adaptation’s star Michael Keaton. While the actor’s iteration only spawned one sequel with Batman Returns, Michael Keaton has remained one of the best on-screen versions of Bruce Wayne.
Fans were then very pleased to hear that Keaton was in talks to don the cowl once more for The Flash, and possibly other DC films to follow. Sources say that The Flash will see Barry Allen attempt to go back in time and save his mother from being murdered, but the action will accidentally create an alternate universe protected by a weathered version of Keaton’s Batman. Keaton will act as a mentor figure to Barry, and most likely aid in his efforts to bring balance back to the Multiverse.
While it's been almost thirty years since Michael Keaton’s Batman last graced the silver screen, The Flash will surely provide every answer about what Burton’s version of the Dark Knight has been up to since Batman Returns. Bruce Wayne seems to still be protecting Gotham City/ the world, and whether the billionaire is still actively prowling the streets of Gotham or watching over everything from the Batcave, it’s nice to know that 1989 Batman has always continued to exist out there in another universe.
THE MULTIVERSE EXISTS
It’s something Arrowverse fans have known for years, but the DCEU is finally catching up. Even though Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen had a brief cameo in The Flash television show’s most recent crossover event, it was still unknown how much, if at all, the film’s continuity would confirm Barry’s knowledge of the multiverse. However, after the news of Keaton circling a Batman return, it was apparent that The Flash film was diving deep into the idea of multiple universes.
The multiverse has been a staple of DC Comics for decades, after years of different continuities presented the unique opportunity to establish the idea that every version of every hero fans had ever read all existed simultaneously in the same multiverse. DC was able to explore some pretty interesting storylines because of this, such as Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Elseworlds series, and even the more recent Doomsday Clock event. Now, it seems Warner Bros. will capitalize on their decades of alternate incarnations of DC’s characters by confirming them to be different universes within the DCEU’s multiverse.
This opens up an entirely new outlet for DC to more freely explore the future of their film slate. Attempting to make every superhero’s film take place within the same universe for an eventual Justice League type team-up hasn’t been working as well as Warner hoped. Instead of trying to correct course while the shared universe flies full speed ahead, WB can just focus on making good films that don’t need to exist within a complicated canon. The possibility of bringing all the characters together still exists, and now that team-up would be an unprecedented multiversal mega crossover event. DC’s film future just got much more infinite.
ZACK SNYDER’S DCEU and THE SNYDER CUT
Zack Snyder started the DCEU with Man of Steel, and the director seemed to be given full reign to further establish a shared universe to his liking. Unfortunately, Snyder’s second outing in his DC franchise (Batman v. Superman) bombed critically, the film that attempted to mirror his grim tone (Suicide Squad) also failed to perform, and the team-up that he had always been building towards (Justice League) was a troubled production that, due to many terrible circumstances, resulted in a mediocre product. Though characters Snyder introduced like Wonder Woman and Aquaman have gone off to have successful franchises of their own, Warner Brothers seems to be veering away from Zack Snyder’s original vision for DC’s shared universe.
How far away from that original vision still remains to be seen. Zack Snyder’s style and tone is a recognizable staple of the filmmaker’s language, and with the director launching a world through that stylized lens, any film that doesn’t utilize the same tone feels like an inconsistency. Obviously DC and Warner Brothers want the freedom to tell stories that don’t all include dark lighting and slow-mo, but the in-universe explanation as to why characters and locations seem to tonally shift from film to film is still needed.
The Flash could do a lot to fix the contradictory tones and characterizations of DC’s superheroes. While it isn’t necessary to completely erase Snyder’s films from existence, certain plot points and character elements could be omitted from canon in order to give future DC films more creative freedom. Adversely, The Flash could also possibly add things into canon, such as the upcoming Snyder Cut of Justice League, if doing so creates a more consistent story for the first half of the shared universe. Even though the filmmaker isn’t actively involved in the DCEU’s future, the franchise is still strongly tied to the films and characters Zack Snyder introduced, so a definitive and simplified canon from The Flash could really help DC blast off into a clearer future.
TWO SUICIDE SQUADS
One of the most intriguing films on DC’s future lineup is James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. The sequel/ soft reboot/ total reboot/ reimagining has been shrouded in tons of secrecy. Certain actors are returning to reprise their roles from David Ayer’s initial Suicide Squad film, such as Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), and Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag). The new film is also adding a stacked new cast to join the original crew, with Idris Elba, John Cena, Nathan Fillion, Pete Davidson, and Taika Waititi all on board.
Even though the returning characters seemed to point towards The Suicide Squad being a sequel to the first film, David Ayer has stated that James Gunn’s film is on it’s own continuity. From the “the” in front of “Suicide Squad”, to colorfully redesigned costumes and production design, it’s apparent that The Suicide Squad is forging its own path. This of course begs the question: Canonically, how does this all work?
While James Gunn may provide an in-universe explanation as to the completely new continuity his film is based in, if The Suicide Squad never addresses this, The Flash just might. The Flashpoint comic did end with Barry Allen creating a new continuity for DC Comics in the form of the New 52. If The Flash film does the same, then The Suicide Squad may exist within that new timeline Barry creates. If this is the case, The Suicide Squad has an opportunity to showcase a reality that might be a bit different than the DCEU of old, and The Flash can then come in and explain why a separate continuity even exists in the first place.
AN OFFICIAL STATUS FOR THE BATMAN AND JOKER
2019’s Joker was an incredibly impactful moment in DC’s film history. Aside from being an unprecedented critical success, garnering numerous Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Joker was also the first time DC invested in an adaptation that would not be connected to their shared universe since 2011’s Green Lantern. The Batman followed suit, as the once Ben Affleck sequel became a stand-alone reboot with Robert Pattinson in the titular role.
While the two films currently exist in their own separate universes, The Flash could actually fold Pattinson’s Batman and Phoenix’s Joker into official DCEU continuity, or at least give firm in-universe confirmations that these two characters do exist within DC’s burgeoning multiverse. This could then give Warner Brothers freedom to produce even more stand-alone versions of characters, but with the added benefit of being able to bring them to a crossover if necessary.
As Michael Keaton makes an unprecedented return to a character he retired decades ago, it’s not a far leap to think that Joaquin Phoenix or Robert Pattinson could make an appearance or receive a shout-out in The Flash as well. By establishing the existence of the multiverse, The Flash opens up a whole world of possibilities for how Warner Brothers can approach the future of their interconnected and stand-alone films. If The Batman does well, Warner and DC might be producing a lot more stand-alone features very soon.
WONDER WOMAN, AQUAMAN, and SHAZAM
The DCEU hasn’t been all bad, though. The three characters that have had the most critical and financial success recently have been Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam. Wonder Woman shattered box office records and received rave reviews when it premiered in 2016, and soon after, Aquaman and Shazam! both provided outrageously fun comic book adaptations by fully embodying (and even parodying) the absurd nature of their source materials.
Each of these three characters now have their own franchises in different phases of development. Wonder Woman 1984 is nearing its October release date, and Aquaman 2 and Shazam! 2 are both slated for a 2022 release. By spawning their own sequels, these three heroes have achieved a DCEU feat not even the Man of Steel could, and while the trio initially existed within the continuity of DC’s shared universe, it still remains to be seen how connected they actually are in the future.
Wonder Woman has suffered the most from her ties to the DCEU. Even though Diana stated in Batman v. Superman that she had been inactive for almost a hundred years, Wonder Woman 1984 completely contradicts that, no matter how many security cameras she breaks. As far as Aquaman goes, the world of Atlantis and the backstory of Arthur Curry also shift from Justice League to Aquaman. And while Shazam! features numerous references to DCEU superheroes, Billy Batson might actually benefit by being more distant from the rest of the DCEU. The Flash is the perfect opportunity to set the record straight with the three characters, specifying which parts of their histories are still canon, and hopefully providing the universal clean slate needed for these sequels to succeed without having to adhere to an inconsistent world and backstory.
HENRY CAVILL’S SUPERMAN
Henry Cavill has had a strenuous history with the Man of Steel. From meager box office performances, to overbearing studio interferences, to a moustache-war that’s stranger than fiction, Cavill’s Superman has unfortunately suffered from the circumstances around him. While it was initially uncertain if the actor would portray Clark Kent again after Justice League, a recent report revealed that Cavill was actually in talks to reprise the role for future DC films.
While a Man of Steel sequel is reportedly nowhere near production, fans have speculated that the recent deal between Warner Brothers and J.J. Abrams’ production company will lead to the Star Wars director getting a chance to bring his talents to a possible Superman solo film. Abrams had previously written a canceled Superman feature for Warner Brothers in the early 2000s, but the director’s massive success in the decades since then may have convinced WB to give Abrams another shot at redefining their most iconic hero.
This means that there could potentially be two different versions of Superman flying around Metropolis at the same time somewhere in the future. The Flash would open the door for such a possibility, while also confirming which Superman is the DCEU’s definitive Man of Steel. The upcoming Flash film could also hopefully clean up some of the tonal inconsistencies in Superman’s previous portrayals, and allow Henry Cavill to shine as he continues to fly forward with the iconic character.