Over the past few years, a certain trend has been on the rise in mainstream genre cinema – multiverse film. The concept of the multiverse is far from new in fiction, especially in the science fiction genre. However, never before have so many big-name films focused on the idea in such a short space of time, popularizing parallel universe stories like never before.
This trend was heralded by the resounding success of the 2018 anime hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Versebut it is particularly picked up over the past year. Spider-Man: No Coming Home, Everything everywhere all at onceand Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness all hitting theaters in the span of just a few months. It’s safe to say that multiverse movies are the next big thing in genre movies. The question is, why are we seeing so many of them right now, and why is everyone loving them?
Like so many Hollywood trends of the past decade, the popularity of multiverse stories can probably be attributed to the superhero genre. Parallel universes have been a mainstay of superhero comics since 1961, when Barry Allen, the Flash of Earth-1, met his Earth-2 counterpart Jay Garrick. Garrick was actually the original Flash, which was removed after Allen’s introduction. But thanks to the introduction of the DC Multiverse, both iterations of the character were able to coexist simultaneously. Since then, the Multiverse has been a crucial aspect of DC and Marvel Comics lore, with countless stories focusing on alternate timelines and multiversal journeys. However, superhero movies won’t explore the concept of the multiverse until 2018, when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hit theaters.
Now it’s almost a cliché to sing the praises of spider worms for its impressive visuals and expertly crafted story, but the film also deserves credit for having a plot that focuses on multiversal journeys without ever feeling bloated or convoluted. spider worms uses its multi-versal elements to support its story and themes, not the other way around. And because of that, he’s able to explore the concept of the multiverse in a fun, imaginative, and easily digestible way. But of course, spider worms wouldn’t be the last Marvel adaptation to delve into the multiverse. 2021 Loki The TV series was the first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to explore alternate timelines, establishing the MCU’s own multiverse while setting the stage for the arrival of Kang the Conqueror, the MCU’s next big bad. And sure enough, it wasn’t long before this newfound focus on parallel universes spilled over into the MCU movies.
2021 Spider-Man: No Coming Home sees Tom Holland’s Peter Parker team up with his big-screen predecessors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men to take on a returning cast of villains led by Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. And of course, right after No coming home has come Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, in which Stephen Strange is chased through parallel worlds by the Scarlet Witch. Along the way, he encounters the Illuminati, a group of otherworldly heroes that includes Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and John Krasinski as Mr. Fantastic. Both characters haven’t been properly introduced to the MCU yet, but they can still appear alongside Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange thanks to the endless possibilities of the multiverse.
More than 60 years after Barry Allen first met Jay Garrick in the comics, parallel worlds are still used to allow superheroes to team up with alternate incarnations of familiar characters. Even the next Glow The film was said to feature a team-up between the Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton versions of Batman. As such, the cynical explanation for the popularity of multiverse movies is that it’s a cheap gimmick to enable snappy fanservice. However, this is not the only side of the story.
Of all the recent multiverse films of the past few years, one in particular stands out for its lack of ties to the superhero genre – or any big-budget franchise. 2022 Everything everywhere all at once is a genre-blending sleeper hit that combines action, comedy, drama and of course sci-fi. The film centers on Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a middle-aged immigrant with a failing laundry, a dysfunctional family, and no particular passion or talent in life. But one day, Evelyn is visited by a parallel version of her husband Waymond from an alternate timeline, who enlists her help in stopping an all-powerful multiversal entity from destroying all existence.
The alternate Waymond grants Evelyn the ability to “Jump Verse”, accessing the skills of her alternate timeline counterparts, from martial arts to sign twirling. Not only is the verse jump a creative way to facilitate the film’s many fight scenes, it also plays a crucial thematic role, allowing Evelyn to confront the problems of her own life by showing her the various other paths her life could have borrowed. The multiverse is a prism that shows Evelyn her own reflection, highlighting both her greatest weaknesses and her potential for greatness. And as it happens, Everywhere isn’t the only movie to use the multiverse in this way.
The multiverse is a perfect thematic tool for stories focused on the hero’s quest for identity. In all of the films previously discussed, the protagonist finds his purpose in seeing him reflected in his alternate self. By witnessing the consequences of his variants’ arrogance, Doctor Strange is able to trust others instead of trying to control everything himself. With advice from his other selves, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker spares the Green Goblin, saying that being Spider-Man means fighting to save everyone. And with the parallel Spideys as mentors, Miles Morales finds the resolve to take on the Kingpin – even if the leap of faith is one he must take alone.
Even for moviegoers who aren’t superhero fans, Everywhere proves that the multiverse is more than just a marketing ploy. It is a storytelling tool that can be used to explore themes of identity, existentialism, and hope and compassion in the face of an indifferent reality. Ultimately, it’s the film’s cosmic reach that allows its message to hit as hard as it does. Like his superhero contemporaries, Everywhere isn’t just a movie about the multiverse, it’s a story that uses the concept of the multiverse to support its deeper themes.
Marvel Studios recently revealed that the MCU’s Phase 4 is the start of the brand new Multiverse Saga – it goes without saying that the Multiverse movies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While some may worry that audiences will soon find themselves exhausted from multiverse fatigue, multiverse movies are good for so much more than cheap fanservice. At best, the multiverse and its associated tropes can be used to elevate a story’s themes to phenomenal effect. When they can combine cosmic, realistic action with hard-hitting drama and character development, it’s not hard to see why moviegoers can’t seem to get enough of multiverse movies.
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