25.4 C
Munich
Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Flash: How Does Time Travel Work In the DC Movie?

Must read

Warning: Full spoilers follow for The Flash movie.


The Flash is the latest in a long line of blockbuster movies to deal with the concept of time travel. And one thing that hasn’t changed since the days of Back to the Future and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is that time travel gets very confusing, very quickly. Even Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne and his bowl of pasta could only do so much to straighten things out.

So how does time travel work in The Flash? What exactly is a fixed point in time? And what happened to characters like Keaton’s Batman and Sasha Calle’s Supergirl once Ezra Miller’s Barry restored the timeline? Let’s try and settle these questions once and for all.

The Flash: Every Cameo in the DC Film

Making Sense of Batman’s Pasta Metaphor in The Flash

The Flash relies on Keaton’s Bruce Wayne to illustrate the rules of time travel by using a bowl of pasta as a visual aid. Essentially, reality exists as a mass of different strands of time (or noodles of pasta) that flow alongside each other and sometimes crossover or intersect. With so many strands flowing in and out of one another, it’s all but impossible to know where one timeline begins and ends. That’s why Barry’s trip back in time is so dangerous. He’s meddling with forces his mind can’t fully comprehend.

The movie makes it clear that time travel doesn’t have a linear effect on the timeline. A time traveler doesn’t simply create a branching timeline when they change a historical event. Rather, their actions reverberate forward and backward across time, causing rippling changes in both directions, past and future. That’s why Barry’s trip back to 2001 caused changes that extend back even further, such as bringing Keaton’s Batman into his world and causing Kara Zor-El rather than Kal-El to crash on Earth. Move one pasta noodle in the bowl and the other noodles twist and warp alongside it.

Their actions reverberate forward and backward across time, causing rippling changes in both directions, past and future.


The DC Timeline: What Are Fixed Points?

The Flash’s use of time travel also hinges heavily on the concept of fixed points in time – events that happen the same way in all timelines and can’t easily be altered. Barry becoming the Flash is a fixed point. A Kryptonian coming to Earth is a fixed point. Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered is a fixed point. Even though Barry altered time, these key events still happened, if not in quite the same way as in the original timeline. This concept is similar to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’s “canon events,” which explains why nearly every version of Spidey was bitten by a radioactive spider and mourns the loss of a loved one like Uncle Ben.

Alternate Universes vs. Alternate Timelines

One concept the movie perhaps doesn’t convey as clearly as it should is the idea that alternate universes and alternate timelines are not the same things. The DC Universe exists as a myriad of possible timelines, each created when a key event happened differently and one noodle becomes two. The comics refer to this bundle of timelines and possibilities as Hypertime.

The DCEU – or DCU or whatever you want to call this universe now – has at least three different timelines where Ben Affleck, Michael Keaton and George Clooney’s Batman sprang into existence. We never get a firm explanation for why there’s so much potential variation in terms of Batman’s appearance, yet Aquaman is apparently the same in every timeline. Perhaps a lot depends on when the Waynes meet and get married.

The multiverse, on the other hand, is something different. The worlds of the DC multiverse don’t exist as a jumbled mess of pasta noodles, but as a more orderly structure where each version of Earth vibrates at a different harmonic frequency. Timelines can sometimes be radically different from one another, but ultimately they’re bound by the same basic rules and series of events. There’s no limit to how different alternate universes can be from one another. They might have alternate versions of characters like Flash, Batman and Superman, or those characters may not exist at all. Each alternate universe has its own set of timelines and its own fixed points.

Barry doesn’t actually travel to another universe in The Flash. He sees other universes in the climax when he races through the Chronobowl and catches glimpses of Christopher Reeve’s Superman, Adam West’s Batman and the others. But those other universes remain separate and distinct from Barry’s own. He merely creates a different timeline when he races back in time and steals the can of tomatoes, one that draws in fragments of other timelines and distorts into something new. And he eliminates that timeline when he goes back and fixes his mistake, though the ending with Clooney’s Bruce Wayne makes it clear Barry hasn’t fully restored his original timeline.

Was Michael Keaton’s Batman From the Tim Burton Movies?

The distinction between alternate timelines and alternate universes raises some interesting questions about the nature of Keaton’s Batman in The Flash. Why does the movie treat so many other classic cinematic heroes – Reeves’ Superman, West’s Batman, Helen Slater’s Supergirl, Nic Cage’s Superman (though he never really got the chance to be classic), etc. – as denizens of alternate universes but Keaton’s Batman is instead part of a divergent timeline? Does this mean the world of Tim Burton’s Batman movies doesn’t exist as its own, distinct universe?

Past DC stories indicate that the Burtonverse does indeed exist as a separate branch of the vast DC multiverse. According to a map featured in Dark Crisis: Big Bang, both Keaton’s Batman and Reeves’ Superman exist on Earth-789 of DC’s comic book multiverse. The Arrowverse’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, meanwhile, suggests that the Burtonverse is Earth-89 in DC’s live-action multiverse and features a cameo from Robert Wuhl’s Alexander Knox.

The Flash argues that the Burtonverse is merely an alternate timeline within the scope of the DCEU, not its own, distinct universe.


However, The Flash argues that the Burtonverse is merely an alternate timeline within the scope of the DCEU, not its own, distinct universe. This kind of discrepancy is nothing new for DC. In the past, Frank Miller’s iconic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns has been treated as both an alternate future timeline and a separate universe. Perhaps we should assume the Burtonverse exists in more than one form – both as its own branch of DC’s vast multiverse and a potential alternate timeline that intersects with Barry Allen’s own timeline.

So when it comes to the question of whether Keaton’s Batman as seen in The Flash is the same character as the one from 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns, the answer seems to be open to interpretation. It could all be the same Batman, or there could be another version of Keaton’s Bruce who exists independently of the DCEU and its tangled timelines. It’s left to fans to decide which is true.

The Fates of Batman and Supergirl

In the climax of The Flash, the two Barrys hit a major roadblock when they discover that Batman and Supergirl’s deaths are another fixed point in time. No matter how fast he runs, Barry can’t stop his new friends from being brutally killed during Zod’s attack. That truth is what ultimately drives Past Barry insane, as he spends decades in the Speed Force trying to prevent the inevitable and morphs into the Dark Flash.

This is what prompts Present Barry to finally accept that some things can’t be changed and undo his time meddling. He restores the DCEU to how it previously existed (give or take one Bruce Wayne), but we never actually see Calle’s Supergirl or Keaton’s Batman after that point. The film doesn’t definitively reveal what happened to these characters after the timeline was fixed. Barry fixing his mistake means that he untangled the timelines he previously fused together. Presumably, Kara and Bruce are back in their original realities as if nothing happened. They may not have any memory of meeting the two Barrys in the first place.

Unfortunately, this also means Kara is almost certainly doomed. Unlike her cousin, who spent a lifetime absorbing the sun’s yellow radiation, she isn’t strong enough to fend off Zod’s forces, even with Batman and two Flashes backing her up. There’s no reason to assume she’d fare better without them as allies. In her normal timeline, Kara is likely destined to always fail against Zod, assuming she ever even breaks free from the prison on her own.

As for Batman, his fate may depend entirely on whether his and Kara’s timelines were meant to be separate or not. If the arrival of the Kryptonians in 2013 is an inevitable part of his reality, then Batman is probably also destined to die defending Earth. But if his regular timeline was never meant to have Kryptonians or speedsters at all, then we can assume Keaton’s Bruce simply lives out the rest of his days eating pasta in Wayne Manor. We’ll leave it up to you as far as which is the better fate for this lonely hermit of a Batman.

How the Batgirl Movie Fits In

Making things more confusing is the fact that both Calle and Keaton were once expected to have recurring roles in the DCEU. DC had been developing a Supergirl movie starring Calle, while Keaton was reportedly being positioned as a Nick Fury-esque figure appearing in several future DC movies. That includes the now-canceled Batgirl movie and the upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Clearly, the intent was originally to have both characters survive the events of The Flash and remain in play even after Barry repaired his timeline.

Based on what little we’ve seen of Batgirl, it seems Keaton’s Batman was meant to be an aged mentor to Leslie Grace’s rookie Barbara Gordon, almost akin to a Batman Beyond movie without the futuristic setting. It’s worth noting that Warners was at one point developing an actual Batman Beyond movie starring Keaton as well. But we know the film wasn’t set in the Burtonverse, as it featured J.K. Simmons reprising the role of Commissioner Gordon. Instead, Batgirl appears to have been set in a post-Flash DCEU where Keaton’s Batman has permanently replaced Affleck’s Batman.

But now Warner Bros. Discovery is moving in a completely different direction with the DC line, and the Batgirl movie isn’t likely to ever see the light of day. The Flash will probably be the last time we see Michael Keaton wearing the cape and cowl. It’s just as well the film gives the Caped Crusader a fitting sendoff.

For more on The Flash, check out every cameo in the new DC movie and learn how Keaton's Batman went from flop to phenomenon.


Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.

- Advertisement -

More articles

- Advertisement -

Latest article