Why do some multiverses work while others don’t?

In another version of our universe, you read this same article, but the title is “When will pop culture embrace the idea of ​​a multiverse?” Michael Keaton is still playing Batman, Tobey Maguire is still Spider-Man, and Adult Swim’s hit show is Doc and Marty, a time travel spin-off from Back to the Future.

But you’re in this universe, and we’re drowning in multiverses, from TV and streaming to blockbusters and independent cinema. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Everything Everywhere All At Once are Academy Award-winning films that won Best Animated Feature and Best Picture, respectively – some of the most prestigious awards available for each of the films. Over the past few years, we’ve seen DC embrace the multiverse on every level, with the Arrowverse perhaps the most important and now the next The Flash potentially smashing it to pieces.

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A few years later, however, it seems like everyone is getting burned out with the concept. For good reason too. It’s a lot of work to keep a mental record of which characters come from which universe, what happens when someone travels between universes and all that. And yet, multiverse films continue to win awards.

So what makes one multiverse work and another breaks down? What gives meaning to one and empties the other of meaning? When we step back and look how each medium uses its multiverse, we can start to see what’s going on.

While this writer is still on board for the Marvel movies, many people claim to have quit chatting altogether, and there’s a simple reason for that: it all feels like homework. Once, many years ago, the MCU was an experiment. The idea that the standalone Iron Man movie could connect to the Avengers was exciting and fresh, and it was totally unprecedented in cinema. There seemed to be a generally high bar for Marvel movies at the time, which didn’t hurt. They might not all be great, but they were almost all amusing and they mostly looked really good.

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It’s easier to see the gears of the Marvel Studios machine these days. There are Marvel shows and movies, and they all – with very few exceptions – have mid- and post-credits scenes that tease the future of the MCU. And if we look back through these scenes, there’s a Frost Beast still chasing after Thor 2. Baron Mordo still plans to kill all wizards, like a post-Doctor Strange MCU John Wick. There are a bunch of these scenes that sit unfinished with seemingly no plan to follow them.

And even among those that are finally made, they’re no longer a tease for an experience, but now the promise of future content – ​​more movies and shows you’ll need to watch and hang out. If you’re a nerd who likes to do homework for homework, the MCU still has plenty of fun things to do. But to many people, it looks like wasted potential and broken promises fueling a monstrous profit machine.

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DC, meanwhile, is doing something very different. DC doesn’t have a single unified multiverse the way Marvel does, but DC is still in love with multiverses. The upcoming Flash movie features the DCEU’s Batman, played by Ben Affleck, as well as Micheal Keaton’s Batman from the 1989 film and its sequel. And there is no Superman, but there is a Supergirl (Sasha Calle). The streaming show Titans introduced the multiverse in this final season when Gar – better known as Beast Boy – walked into the Red, where he saw the Arrowverse’s Flash, Stargirl, the Beast Boy of the cartoon original Teen Titans anime, and even (strangely) comic book writer and multiverse mapper Grant Morrison. The CW’s Arrowverse spent a decade creating an interconnected universe of shows and characters that became a multiverse when it introduced Supergirl and Black Lightning, and would eventually encompass all of DC’s movies and TV shows thanks to a montage during the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover.

The Arrowverse in particular has a bit of the same problem as the MCU, in that it started losing viewers over the years when they couldn’t keep up with so many shows, but it also handles the multiverse itself in a very different way. All three multiverses – Flash, Titans, and Arrowverse – strive to include stories that were never meant to be in the multiverse. Nor does he try to make sense of it. None of these stories attempt to weave complex narratives out of the multiverse. The Arrowverse connected to the 1989 Michael Keaton Batman movie with a cameo, while The Flash goes all-in with Michael Keaton reprising the character. The Arrowverse also included the 1966 Batman and 1990s Flash TV series. The Titans’ ride through the multiverse was short, but it did attract the DC Universe series Swamp Thing and the original Teen Titans cartoons. None of these properties were created with connecting to a multiverse in mind.

DC’s goal in these multiverses is often just to show fans that, yes, their version of Batman, Superman, the Titans, or whoever, still matters even if there’s a new actor under the mask or a new animation style for the character. It’s fan service in the most literal and heartwarming sense, without being so flattering. Recognizing the multiverse, DC takes his cake and eats it too. When you say that all versions of Batman are canonical in their own way, that gives fans and writers license to use the character however they see fit. It’s an inclusive multiverse in that all fans are welcome, as are their versions of their heroes.

While it’s inclusive, that also means it introduces tons of confusion. The MCU takes a lot of work, but 15 years later, it’s still a contiguous universe, despite all its flaws. DC tried to make the same work with its movies, but is on its second reboot, while the comics have also rebooted their characters multiple times. Meanwhile, The Arrowverse has used the multiverse to retcon elements of some of its characters on more than one occasion. This can make things hard to follow if you don’t read the monthly ones with practical consistency, although with movies it mostly means you can get in without watching a dozen other movies first.

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Finally, the multiverses of Spider-Man: Into (and Across) the Spider-Verse and Everything Everywhere All At Once. Despite their differences, they have similar goals in mind. You don’t need to know anything about entering either – no homework required. Even though Miles Morales is a relatively new Spider-Man character, the movie tells you everything you need to know. EEAAO is entirely original. Both films do their entire world-building in mere minutes, establishing that there is a group of Spider-People and a group of Evelyns in parallel universes, giving them license to use versions of their characters. that enhance the story.

The Spider-Verse movies are a bit different in that they pull from existing material. There are countless variations of Spider-Man across the Spider-Verse, from comic books to TV shows to commercials. Spider-Verse is a license to shoot any of these characters and use them for mischief or to enhance the story.

Either way, none of these films are interested in hooking you up for more content or playing on your nostalgia. Their multiverses are purely meant to tell a heartfelt and often silly character-driven story. Through Spider-Verse, Miles Morales learns that he’s never alone and that whatever you’ve been through, someone else has been through it too. That someone else lost their family, someone else went through strange changes, and someone else was just as scared.

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In EEAAO, Evelyn sees all the different people she could have been and how they all feel regret and pain. Glamorous kung fu star Evelyn regrets leaving Waymond behind. Hot-Dog-Finger Evelyn shows her that even her worst enemy is someone she might love in another universe, and that being gay isn’t so weird. Both characters come out stronger, feeling more connected to their own world through their experiences with other worlds, while telling a lot of very silly little jokes, like Noir Spider-Man stealing a Rubik’s Cube or Evelyn fighting guys with things like that, uh, let’s move on.

We’re inundated with multiverses, yes, but we’re also inundated with plenty of other tired tropes. We’re just used to so many of them that the wear on this new one is more noticeable. A multiverse is not just a thing with a single purpose. It’s not just a way to undo plot points, excuse inconsistencies, or trick people into buying movie tickets just to avoid FOMO. They can be used to tell deep and satisfying stories about fully realized characters in unique and artfully designed settings. So while there may be too many of them right now, we can at least understand that they’re all so different, and many of them approach the concept in unique ways.

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