Until recently, shared Universes had been rare in cinema, and unheard-of to this extent, but the MCU has, of course, been a phenomenal commercial success. Audiences are happy to be tangled in its ever-more elaborate web of interlinked stories, and Disney has had similar success with its Star Wars shared Universe, while numerous rival studios have tried (though mostly failed) to follow suit with their own. But why stop there? If a corporation can swallow up the rights to every screen incarnation of Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man, it can thrill fans by squeezing them into the same film. That is, it can progress from shared universe to multiverse. There is no need to stick to superheroes, either. Warner Bros loves to put all of its intellectual property into one basket, and so luminaries from the Harry Potter and The Matrix fictional universes make guest appearances in The Lego Batman Movie.
On one level, multiversal films evoke our freewheeling childhood games and conversations, in which we (or the geeks among us, anyway) pondered whether Han Solo could out-shoot Indiana Jones. On another level, these films are the result of narrative escalation. How do you raise the stakes after the entire cosmos has been in peril? Where is there left to go? But the trend may have deeper reasons behind it, too. It could be a response to the feeling, so often expressed on social media, that our own reality is so absurd and dystopian that there must be a better timeline out there somewhere. It could also be a response to the information overload of the internet, and the sense that incalculable universes are competing for our attention every time we log on. That was certainly one of the thoughts that led to Everything Everywhere All at Once. “We wanted the maximalism of the movie to connect with what it’s like to scroll through an infinite amount of stuff,” Scheinert told Slash Film, “which is something we’re all doing too much.”
The Daniels’ wonderfully zany yet touching film – imagine The Matrix as remade by Michel Gondry – may have a smaller budget than a Marvel blockbuster, but it is larger than most of them in terms of heart and soul. Beyond all the extravagant fight scenes, the raccoon puppets, and the animated googly-eyed rocks, Everything Everywhere All at Once is about the decisions we make that send our lives off in wildly different directions – and the knowledge that while there may be endless parallel universes, we’re always going to be stuck in one of them.
It’s unlikely that any multiversal film will top the Daniels’ gonzo masterpiece, but, as superhero comics have proven over the decades, there are many more worlds to explore. It’s almost inevitable that Disney (the owner of Marvel’s superheroes) will do a deal with Warner Bros (the owner of DC’s superheroes) and we’ll one day have a film in which Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Hulk and Spider-Man bump into DC’s Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Who knows, maybe they’ll bump into Michelle Yeoh while they’re at it. If it doesn’t happen in this Universe, it’s bound to happen in another.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is released in the UK on 5 May and in the US on 6 May. Everything Everywhere All at Once is out now in the US and is released in the UK on 13 May.
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