SPOILER ALERT: The following article contains major spoilers for The Flash. We recommend reading it only after you’ve seen the film.
What makes someone a hero, and what makes them a villain? In superhero films, it’s usually easy to tell. The hero is the person trying to save everyone, while the villain is trying to wreck everything. However, if you’ve seen it, you know that The Flash is no ordinary superhero film. Dark Flash might seem like a villain, but if you break down his actions, he almost seems heroic. In light of that, let’s take a moment to explore 2013-Barry’s journey, and how he became Dark Flash.
Throughout the movie, we’re seeing things from 2023-Barry’s perspective, which means we’re on his side during the final act. When 2023-Barry realizes he must restore the original timeline, we’re emotionally there with him. If you’ve read the original Flashpoint story, then this idea is already in your head.
In contrast, 2013-Barry is presented as overly emotional and very unpredictable—something that sets up his progression into Dark Flash. As Dark Flash, 2013-Barry doesn’t listen to reason, and his arrogance almost destroys the multiverse. But was it arrogance, or was it heroism? Dark Flash is one of the most complex villains I’ve ever seen in a DC film, mostly because his motivation seems heroic once you step back.
Let’s try to forget everything you know about the Speed Force, the multiverse, time travel, and the original Flashpoint storyline. Once you’ve done that, try to see things from 2013-Barry’s perspective. You’re eighteen years old, enjoying college life and you finally have a date with your attractive classmate. Then one day an older version of yourself shows up and tells you that you’re destined to become a hero.
After gaining superpowers, you’re told that you need to fight an alien conqueror named General Zod and to do that, you need to break into a highly secure Russian black site to rescue an alien with the powers to take Zod down. Give 2013-Barry a lot of credit because he doesn’t hesitate, even after he finds out that his older self comes from a world where his mother was murdered.
Unfortunately, the fight against doesn’t go well, and our heroes lose. Batman and Supergirl are both killed.
It’s shocking, but if you’re 2013-Barry, then that isn’t a problem. After all, you have the power to go back in time and try again. Yes, as an audience we know 2013-Barry is destroying the fabric of the multiverse every time he travels through time, but for him he’s only trying to save his world.
Meanwhile, 2023-Barry quickly realizes that there is no way to stop Zod, and he has to go back in time to undo the events that saved his mother’s life. But think about things from 2013-Barry’s perspective for a minute. Imagine how you would react. Would you let your older self cause the death of your mother, or would you keep trying to stop Zod? When it comes down to it, all 2013-Barry wants is to stop Zod, save the planet and prevent his mother’s death. That sounds like a pretty heroic motivation to me.
Unfortunately, it proves to be impossible and somewhere along the way, 2013-Barry becomes Dark Flash after years of trying to stop Zod. We’re meant to be horrified and shocked, but we should also take a moment to consider what this must have been like for him. Dark Flash was in a literal never-ending battle, but he never gave up or lost his resolve. Weaker men would’ve broken or needed a break, but Dark Flash kept on fighting to save his world.
I apologize if it sounds like I’m showing too much sympathy for the bad guy here, but I’m starting to think Dark Flash might not be a villain after all. Sure, he gets a bit evil at the end. He ignores the dangers of his actions, even as 2023-Barry shows him the multiverse unraveling. Plus, he tries to kill 2023-Barry, which is pretty evil—if we take his actions at face value.
By the film’s climax, there are three Barrys in the Chronobowl: 2023-Barry, 2013-Barry and Dark Flash. Please keep in mind that what I’m presenting is just a theory, but I don’t think Dark Flash ever intended to kill 2023-Flash. As Dark Flash goes in for the kill, 2013-Barry steps in front of his blade, sacrificing himself to save his older counterpart. 2013-Barry dies a hero, saving a man’s live, even if it meant the death of his mother. If 2013-Barry had let Dark Flash succeed, then he could have continued trying to stop Zod in an endless loop, and possibly save his mother. But 2013-Barry won’t let anyone die, because he’s a hero.
I think Dark Flash knew this would happen. My theory is that he realized the inevitability of the endless loop he was in, but he didn’t have the courage to stop. Giving up the fight to stop Zod would mean dooming Batman, Supergirl, his mother and the entire world. He can’t bring himself to stop, but he knows he must. So, he pretended to attack 2023-Flash, knowing his 2013 counterpart—who was him, after all—would take the hit. (Paradoxes can be confusing, but I think you’re following).
This is A LOT for someone who was a happy college freshman earlier in the film, so maybe we should show some sympathy for 2013-Barry. He became a hero without hesitation, and he was told to give up everything he loved. And possibly, depending on whether you buy into my theory, he was willing to destroy himself to fix everything. The younger Barry might seem like a goofball for most of the movie, but his journey is something that shouldn’t be ignored.
Some people cringe with embarrassment when they look at their eighteen-year-old selves. However, I think Flash can look at his younger self with pride. His actions as Dark Flash may have been questionable, but there was no denying that 2013-Barry had the heart of a hero.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.