Why did The Flash’s multiverse scene leave us cold?

If you were watching The Flash closely and happened to remember a face you haven’t seen in a very long time, you may have caught an Arrowverse cameo during the movie’s big multiverse moment. But it wasn’t the one any of us expected, and it was part of an otherwise very strange peek into the multiverse. It felt jokey and weird, but without the love that examples like Spider-Man: Into to Spider-Verse, The CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series, or even Titansquick peek offered. Everything that follows after this will be spoilers for a major aspect of the film’s end sequence, so only keep scrolling if you’re ready.

(UPDATE: At the time of writing, it was reported that the Jay Garrick character in The Flash was played by Teddy Sears, but Teddy Sears has since confirmed that this is not true on social media (via TVLine). We still stand by the overall statement of the article.)

As Barry Allen–the one from the alternate earth–begins to focus harder on using his time travel abilities to save everyone, things start to get weird. Our Barry can only watch as this other Barry races through time over and over, becoming increasingly frayed with each pass, and the multiverse starts to tear open as the younger speedster puts heavy strain on the timeline. We get a peek into the version of the multiverse that director Andy Muschietti and the writers behind the movie imagined surrounding Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen, and it felt really weird to say the least.

The Arrowverse cameo in particular zooms in on who else, but Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-2, with his winged saucer helmet and asymmetrical flight jacket. But it’s not John Wesley Shipp, the guy who played both Garrick and the Flash of Earth-90 for the Arrowverse from The Flash Season 2 forward, up until the very last episode of Season 9. Instead, they cast Teddy Sears in the role–the actor who played Hunter Zolomon in that season, posing as Jay Garrick, while Garrick himself was imprisoned in an iron mask.

It was just one cameo out of a bunch that left us going “Wait, what? That? Why?

Superhero multiverse movies are, ultimately and inescapably, always fanservice. Maybe just a little, maybe just a lot. Some movies can handle it with grace and aplomb, and others have no idea what to do with it. The Flash, unfortunately, is one of the latter.

Teddy Sears is probably a cool guy, and I have no problem with him. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d been Jay Garrick throughout the nine-season run of The Flash tv series, but I also liked the twist that put John Wesley Shipp into the role and made Jay Garrick into DC’s most huggable speedster dad. If Muschietti and the producers were casting Sears in the role, there’s no way they weren’t aware of his Arrowverse connection–the chances are astronomical. But if they were casting an Arrowverse actor, why not Shipp?

Almost every choice they made in that sequence felt like the weirdest possible choice. When they cut to Superman, it wasn’t Man of Steel‘s Cavill, it wasn’t Superman Returns’ Routh, and it wasn’t Tyler Hoechlin–the only currently-active live-action Superman. Instead, they went with ghoulish CGI of Christopher Reeves’ Superman and Helen Slater’s Supergirl from the hydrogen bomb that was the 1984 Supergirl film.

Even if we all agreed that Reeves is the best Superman–they did a great job on their first try, for sure–Reeves has also been dead for nearly 20 years. It felt downright ghoulish to see him standing there, a form of fanservice that assumes the worst of fans.

In the same sequence, we saw a version of Superman played by Nicolas Cage. Longtime DC fans will remember that, at one point, Nicolas Cage was to star as Superman in a Tim Burton-directed, Kevin Smith-written Superman film. It ultimately never happened, and there’s a documentary all about it. There’s a shot in The Flash of Cage’s Superman fighting a giant gothic-looking spider thing.

You could think of this as a nice throwback to a Superman that never was, but Cage’s spot in popular culture turned the whole sequence into an awkward comedic moment. Cage was a fairly serious actor back then, but in more recent years he’s become pretty unpredictable. For every Mandy or Pig, there’s a Wicker Man or Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. He’s almost a walking meme, to the point where he played a heightened version of himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. It felt more like it was meant to be a joke than a throwback Easter egg.

And then there’s the final reveal: After Barry returns and manipulates time to get his (innocent) dad exonerated in court, he meets up with Bruce Wayne… played by George Clooney. This definitely is meant to be a joke. Clooney is widely regarded, even by himself, as the worst Batman, so this was a wink and nod to that. A moment of “Oh no, Barry did it again!!” to end the movie on a silly note.

Trying to perceive the logic behind these choices is difficult. If we look back at the Arrowverse’s multiverse sequences, it’s pretty clear that the showrunners were just going for who they could work with. That’s why Robert Wuhl reprised his role as Batman‘s Alexander Knox, for example, rather than Keaton appearing as Bruce Wayne. It made the whole Ezra Miller cameo moment in that mini-series that much more shocking.

If you look at Keaton, Clooney, and the CGI Reeves and Cage, it seems like they only wanted to use movie characters in their version of the multiverse. But that doesn’t explain why they also used a short clip of the 1966 Batman played by Adam West, or the original Superman played by George Reeves. Okay, maybe they wanted to only use iconic portrayals of these characters. But then why Clooney and Cage, why Sears as Jay Garrick, a character that only Flash fans really know in any meaningful way beyond a vague pop culture silhouette?

Our casting choices may not have worked for any number of reasons. We’d love to have seen Grant Gustin, Tyler Hoechlin, and Melissa Benoist pop up as their versions of Flash, Superman, and Supergirl. We can imagine that Christian Bale probably wasn’t interested in putting on either the Batsuit or the Bruce Wayne suit (which is just a suit), and putting Pattinson in there would’ve made an explicit connection to the current Batman that the filmmakers didn’t want questioned. In that case, Clooney is the only remaining option–unless they’d gone with the reportedly filmed scene that has Keaton standing in for Clooney.

If we put aside how strange it feels for the movie to ignore the Arrowverse when the Arrowverse explicitly included Miller, and any logic we can guess at that might explain some of the choices, the end result that we did get in the movie feels so different from the other multiverses we’ve seen. Just a month ago, Titans ended a four-season run, and the episode “Dude, Where’s My Gar?” focused in on Beast Boy and his connection to one of DC’s metaphysical realms, The Red.

The whole episode culminated into this peek into the multiverse that included Grant Gustin (kind of), Beast Boy from Teen Titans! Go!, Cesar Romero’s Joker from the 1966 Batman movie/series, the DCEU’s Shazam, Kaley Cuoco’s Harley Quinn from her animated series, and more. It mixed media between live action and animation, film and television, and it wasn’t worried about showing us just Beast Boy or just characters we knew. Grant Morrison, the comics writer who mapped out the DC multiverse, even had an appearance.

The CW’s Crisis miniseries, meanwhile, took a kitchen sink approach. We saw Arrowverse characters living and dead, Smallville characters, characters from every show on DC Universe/HBO Max/Max/Whatever It’s Called In A Year, the aforementioned Robert Wuhl, Burt Ward as Dick Grayson, Lucifer from the NBC/Netflix show, and even a pretty meaty role, comparatively speaking, for the late Kevin Conroy, perhaps the single most iconic Batman for many comic fans. They managed to fit a creator in there, too, giving a cameo to writer Marv Wolfman,  Everyone was there.

These don’t necessarily make more sense than the casting choices in the Flash movie’s multiverse sequence, but they do feel different. Similar to the Spider-Verse movies, they’re done with glee and love for the characters that feels far less calculated. They’re fast and fun and delightful, and it never feels like they’re making fun of us or trying to ignore inconvenient parts of DC’s history, instead embracing as many parts as they can and calling all of them canon.

There was a lot to like about The Flash. Ezra Miller’s comedic performance, the action scenes with both Batmen, the way the movie used Keaton’s Batman in place of the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne Batman so effectively–we found a ton of stuff to love in that movie. But the multiverse sequence surprised us mostly by how cold it left us feeling.