‘The Flash’ (2023) Ending, Explained: Did Barry Restore The DCEU Prime Timeline?

The gate of the DC Multiverse opens with a strike of lightning, and not for the first time. Although the concept of the multiverse as a plot device is being liberally used by media adaptations of almost every major comic franchise, a proper exploration of it began with the CW’s TV series The Flash in the Arrowverse, and the silver screen debut of the Scarlet Speedster is the latest one to do so. Funnily enough, the introduction of multiple universes in fictional literature was done by none other than the fastest man alive himself during the 1960s, which says enough about how much the concept of the space-time continuum has been associated with the character from the beginning.

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However, despite dealing with sci-fi intrigues like time travel, alternate realities, the ripple effect, and the multiverse, DCEU’s 13th entry, The Flash, gains its momentum from the palpable emotional core acting as the backbone of the movie—something that we feel is increasingly missing from modern-day superhero flicks. Taking the titular speedster through a journey to the most crucial moment of his life, The Flash examines human causality through a perennial man vs. destiny narrative, and the fate of the prime timeline of the live-action DC universe is put into question.

Spoilers Ahead

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Janitor Of Justice League: What Is Barry Up To After ‘Justice League’?

Despite being literally the fastest man alive, life is anything but easy for Barry Allen, both in his professional and superhero careers. As the movie begins, we meet Barry having a hard time in daily life as his superspeed still doesn’t compensate for his clumsiness. It has been some time since he was inducted as a member of the Justice League by Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, and helped to save the world by running backward in time (yes, Snyder Cut is canon in the DCEU), but that hasn’t helped him much in his hero profile, as he still feels himself to be the lackey of the super-team. However, Barry’s bond with Bruce as a mentor-student has grown stronger since they first met, and Barry has also received a brand new super-suit, which looks closer to the character’s New 52 iteration attire. At the beginning of the movie, during a particularly tricky situation involving Falcone Jr. stealing a deadly virus in Gotham City, Barry assists Bruce and rescues people out of a collapsing hospital. A surprising cameo appearance by Wonder Woman triggers funny banter among the League members, and over the comms, Alfred doesn’t forget to mention that he is proud of Barry’s heroics.


A Painful Recollection: Why Does Barry Revisit His Past?

Barry might have gotten speed-oriented superpowers in his late teens, but he has been running from his past right from childhood. During his childhood, Barry’s mother, Nora, was murdered, and his father, Henry, was wrongfully convicted and eventually incarcerated for the crime, leading to him practically being an orphan since then. In the present time, the date of Henry’s court appeal is approaching, and with the help of Bruce, Barry has unearthed video evidence but knows that it isn’t enough to prove Henry’s innocence. On the fateful day of her murder, Nora had asked Henry to bring a can of tomatoes from a nearby department store, which she previously forgot to bring, and the murder happened during Henry’s absence, and young Barry wasn’t by his mother’s side either. The department store’s security footage never shows Henry’s face to prove his claims of innocence. Barry also meets his childhood friend, Iris West, and during their conversation, he is reminded of the fact that the world still sees his father as guilty.

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In the present time, Barry calls his father, who is incarcerated at the Iron Heights prison, and shares the worrisome news about the lack of evidence. Knowing that they are fighting a losing battle, Henry asks his son to let go of the past, but an anguished Barry isn’t ready to do so. An emotionally charged moment after visiting his childhood home leads Barry to run really fast—the fastest he has run so far—and he accidentally accesses the chronosphere with the help of Speedforce, a timeline maneuvering mechanism through which he can access the past and future.

Barry shares every detail about his experience with Bruce and his plan to fix things by going back in time. Bruce isn’t too fond of that idea and warns Barry about the consequences of tampering with the delicate fabric of space-time. Bruce also adds that the wounds of the past make them what they are—something Barry needs to come to terms with. However, another conversation with Iris makes Barry wonder whether, with the bare minimum of interaction in the past, he can change the course of time. Stopping the perpetrator could prove to be too much of an interaction, which could jeopardize reality. He instead plans to simply put the can of tomatoes inside Nora’s basket while she is visiting the store. Barry does exactly as planned by going back in time, and as he runs back into the present, he sees that his handiwork has resulted in Nora’s survival as well. However, before he can reach the present, he is knocked out of the chronosphere by a malicious-looking Speedster.

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Where In The Timestream Did Barry End Up?

Barry meets with his parents in this altered timeline and surprisingly discovers that a version of him is already living in this period. Confused, Barry interrogates this version of himself (alt-Barry) and realizes that he has arrived in the year 2013. Even more problematic is that he has arrived at the exact date he would have gotten his powers, and unless he can replicate that with Alt Barry now, he might not return to the present at all.

Barry takes his alternate version to the Central City PD forensics lab, where he recreates the accident where a lightning strike struck him and doused him with chemicals in the process, resulting in him having speed-based superpowers. However, a confusing situation causes the lightning to pass through Barry and strike Alt Barry, which leads to the latter gaining powers while Barry becomes powerless.

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A Repeat Of The Black Zero Event: Whom Did Barry Ask for Help?

After gaining superpowers, alt-Barry starts causing mayhem in his own delirious way, and Barry has a hard time stopping him from getting overly excited. However, the duo’s boisterous banter will soon be put to a halt when Barry realizes that 2013 is also the year when the Black Zero Event happened—the ruthless Kryptonian General Dru Zod invaded Earth in search of Kal-El, aka Superman, and the battle between the duo wrecked almost the entirety of Metropolis. Zod also wanted to terraform the Earth, and Superman had to take the evil despot down to prevent that from happening. At that point in time, Barry, who was barely accustomed to his powers, couldn’t do much except save a kid, something that had left him in a guilt-ridden state ever since. This time around, Barry isn’t willing for the past to repeat itself and wants to assist by assembling the Justice League.

However, Barry soon realizes that his actions in tinkering with the timeline have had a massive impact, as in this altered timeline, there are no metahumans to be found. Diana is missing, Arthur is absent, and Victor hasn’t become a cyborg either. During the conversation with Alt Barry’s friends, Barry gets to know that Batman exists in this altered reality, and he takes his annoying counterpart with him to seek help from his friend, Bruce.

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However, upon arriving at Wayne Manor, the duo find a different version of Bruce (played by Michael Keaton) to be present there, a more jaded, elder one at that, who has retired from crimefighting. Barry struggles to understand how his actions can even alter the past reality as well, and Bruce explains to him that changing an inevitable intersection point of time results in the timeline branching totally apart from the main timeline, which in its most expansive form also results in the creation of the multiverse as well. Bruce also mentions that certain points of time in the timestream cannot be altered, ones that would lead to people or events drawing close to each other in a perennial cycle, which explains the reason why even in the altered timeline, Barry finds much in common with the prime one. However, Bruce doesn’t want to be involved in any form of battle to stop the alien invasion, as his personal tragedies have already taken a heavy toll on him, enough to lower his spirit. Barry and Alt-Barry decide to break into the Batcave anyway, and using the technology at Bruce’s disposal, Barry decides to search for any Kryptonian lifeform that might have appeared on Earth earlier, as Superman is their only hope to even stand a chance against Zod and his troops.


World’s Finest, With A Twist: Is The New Justice League Strong Enough To Battle Zod?

While investigating Kal-El’s whereabouts, Barry sympathizes with Keaton Bruce’s plight, who, aside from losing his parents in childhood, has lost his guardian, Alfred, as well. Barry’s earnest appeal helps Bruce once again remember the vow he made in memory of his parents, and he returns, donning his classic Batsuit once again.

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Using Bruce’s intel hacked from NASA; the trio finds out Kal-El has been held in a Russian prison since his arrival on Earth. They decide to break into the facility but find a frail, skeletal female inside the holding cell. While Bruce is of the opinion that they should leave, Barry decides to help the unknown captive and takes her with them. The captive turns out to be a Kryptonian, who gains strength from the sunlight outside and helps the team escape the prison by laying waste to all the Russian soldiers.

The team regroups at Wayne Manor, and the female captive introduces herself as Kara Zor-El, the elder cousin of Kal-El, who was sent to Earth along with an infant Kal. Turns out, baby Kal’s space pod never arrived on Earth; instead, Kara’s arrived and was taken into custody by human beings. Kara, who already has an idea about the person that Zod is, thanks to her experience in Krypton, learns about his invasion and leaves Barry’s side to apprehend him. Her traumatizing experience at the hands of humans has led her to be distrustful of the lot.

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With Kara gone, Barry is left with only one option left to consider: regaining his powers by recreating the lightning accident. Bruce asks Barry privately why he is so keen on saving this particular timeline, if he could have traveled into any, and learns the reason behind Barry’s actions: to prevent his mother’s death from happening. Barry hadn’t told Alt Barry about this, who, unbeknownst to them, overheard the conversation. Bruce and Alt-Barry help him to do so but fail on their first attempt, leaving Barry severely injured. Meanwhile, Kara, who witnesses Zod’s atrocities against humans, reconsiders her decision, returns to help the team, and helps Barry regain his powers by taking him above the clouds. A makeshift Justice League is formed, consisting of the Flash, Batman, and Supergirl, and they prepare to go to battle with Zod.


Ending Explained: How Did Barry Restore The DCEU Prime Timeline?

The reason Zod arrived on Earth was to harvest the genetic archive of Krypton, the Codex, and use that to transform Earth into a new Krypton. Zod had learned that the Codex was supposed to be imbued in the DNA of Kal-El, and therefore, in this timeline, Zod and his crew intercepted the space pod of baby Kal and killed him, but couldn’t harvest the Codex from him because, as it turns out, in the altered timeline it was imbued inside Kara’s DNA. After learning Kal’s fate, Kara rains a heavy assault on Zod, while Keaton Bats assists the team, and Barry shows the ropes to his younger counterpart during the battle. But even their combined effort proves to be falling short, and both Kara and Bruce die in the battle, leaving the fate of the Earth doomed.

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The alt Barry, who has so far learned about the time-travel shenanigans from his more experienced counterpart, rushes and accesses the chronosphere, ignoring Barry’s warnings. Barry follows him, and the duo enters the battle anew. Changing the pivotal decisions, Alt Barry wishes to change the outcome of the battle in their favor, but even then, the deaths of Bruce and Kara can’t be avoided. Once again, the two Flashes run to the chronosphere and start anew, but Barry now realizes the inevitability of the situation. Like Keaton Bruce told him, this is a fixed point in time that cannot be altered, and Barry’s actions of altering the past have led to the creation of this ever-doomed alternate timeline. Barry tries to reason with the alt-Barry and lets him know that to rectify his past mistake, Barry has to let his mother, Nora, die, but the alt-Barry is too driven and headstrong to consider other options. In the meantime, the former evil Speedster appears in the chronosphere and is revealed to be a corrupted future version of Alt Barry. Trying to change the course of history forever, this Speedster, Dark Flash, was engaged in a futile attempt to save this alternate doomed timeline, and by knocking Barry out in the year 2013 in the first place, he allowed himself to be created, thereby living as a time paradox. The repeated attempts of alt Barry to save the alternate timeline causes a rupture in the fabric of the multiverse, and the different universes containing Sir Christopher Reeves’ version of Superman and Helen Slater’s Supergirl, Adam West’s Batman, Teddy Sears’ Jay Garrick, George Reeves’ Superman, and Nicholas Cage’s version of Superman start colliding with each other.

Barry knows what he has to do to stop the entire multiverse from collapsing and prepares to run back in time to let Nora die, but is stopped in his tracks by the Dark Flash, who lunges to kill him. Alt Barry sacrifices himself while saving Barry and, in the process, removes his future version, Dark Flash, from existence as well. Barry returns to the department store and almost breaks down seeing Nora in front of him, and the kind lady tries to comfort him, not knowing that her own son is standing in front of her. Moving at extraordinary speed, Barry repositions the can of tomatoes, takes one last look at his mother, and utters a parting message addressed to her. Even though Barry is unable to save his mother for all his good intentions, at least he gains a sense of closure by meeting with her one last time, bidding her an emotional farewell, and knowing that at least in some timeline she might have lived.

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As Barry returns to prime timeline, he appears at his father’s court appeal, and his action of a bit of tweaking with the positioning of the tomato now highlights Henry’s face in the video footage, thus proving his innocence. Bruce, who has been assisting Barry in this entire ordeal, congratulates Barry and comes to meet with him, but even the slightest change in the past has once again altered the course of history. To both the viewers’ and Barry’s surprise, instead of the DCEU prime timeline version of Batman and Bruce, played by Ben Affleck, George Clooney is seen to be Bruce Wayne, who seems visibly confused when Barry questions him about his secret identity. Does that mean the prime DCEU continuity has already transformed to suit James Gunn’s upcoming DCU? The post-credits scene makes the situation even more confusing.


What Does The Post-Credits Scene Imply?

The Flash‘s post-credits scene probably takes place sometime after the events of the film. We see Barry and a drunken Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, walking out from a bar where Barry is trying to explain to him everything about his multiversal shenanigans. Arthur is too hammered to care or understand anything Barry is saying and falls into a puddle headfirst. Barry comments that Arthur will be fine and heads back to his apartment. Whether the last line was, a direct comment on the situation or a metaphor for Aquaman’s role in the DCU remains unknown. It seems that even in this slightly altered timeline, Arthur exists as Aquaman, and with the sequel to Aquaman to be released later this year, the connection with The Flash should be mentioned as well. And to answer whether the new timeline is the initiation of the DCU or it will take place on a totally clean slate, we have to wait for official confirmation or further explanation in the upcoming DC movies like Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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