Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse
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Credit: Sony Pictures

Have we reached peak multiverse content?

Contributed by
May 6, 2019

Warning: This contains spoilers from Avengers: Endgame.

Hollywood has this tendency of releasing movies around the same time that have more than a passing resemblance to each other. There was that time that we had two movies about Winston Churchill come out, or remember when Lily Collins and Kristen Stewart played Snow White on the big screen in the same year? Well, I’ve been noticing a pattern of storytelling in cinema over the last year or so, and it concerns parallel universes.

Just today, the latest Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer confirmed a multiverse narrative with Jake Gyllenhaal's Mysterio arriving from another Earth. "The Snap tore a hole in our dimension," Nick Fury tells Peter Parker, and Spidey seems just as excited about the concept as the thousands of fans on social media who are eager to see what other heroes this will bring to the MCU.

Now, I love a multiverse concept. I used to watch Quantum Leap and Sliders religiously when I was younger. I loved seeing Sam Beckett fix historical mistakes in random people’s bodies, as well as Quinn Mallory and his crew dealing with the drama of different worlds while waiting for the right vortex to take them back to Earth Prime. Of course, parallel universes were employed in fiction well before these '90s TV shows. One of the earliest examples on record was written in 1666. The Blazing World, written by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, tells the story of a woman who passes into a world with talking animals via a portal near the North Pole.

Books, comics, film, TV, radio, and video games have made brilliant use of this science fiction trope in the centuries since, and last year brought one of the best examples to the silver screen through Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Sony’s sensational animated feature follows young Miles Morales, who is bitten by a radioactive spider similar to the one Peter Parker gained his Spider-Man powers from, and comes across the particle accelerator called "The Super-Collider" that Kingpin has built in order to find alternative versions of his dead wife and son in the parallel universes it accesses. This doesn’t go as planned, but forces Miles to team up with the alternate versions of Spider-Man from various realities in order to stop Kingpin from succeeding.

Happy Death Day 2U

Universal Pictures

Like most studios in control of a superhero brand, franchising is the ultimate goal. So with this parallel universe concept, Sony is able to develop an endless number of sequels and spin-offs featuring the likes of Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, and the plethora of Spider-people from across the multiverse. The fact that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was both a critical and commercial hit pretty much ensured that future movies will be greenlit.

Universal also capitalized on the success of its 2017 horror movie Happy Death Day to deliver a sequel. Happy Death Day 2U picked up pretty much straightaway from where the original movie left off, with college student Tree Gelbman once again having to relive the same day while a killer is on the loose, but this time in a different dimension, where certain things are slightly different from her own reality. Adding this sci-fi element allowed the writers to find a way to expand Tree’s story, but ultimately she’s still stuck in a time loop, still dying repeatedly and still having to find out who the killer is.

That’s when I started to notice just how many movies and TV shows were employing parallel universes. Isn’t It Romantic centers on Rebel Wilson, who after a fall wakes up in a world that plays out like a textbook rom-com. Several Netflix Originals utilize the concept: Stranger Things with the Upside Down; Russian Doll; The OA; The Cloverfield Paradox. Of course, Star Trek: Discovery continues the use of the long-running space series' Mirror Universe.

Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis’ Yesterday will soon be in cinemas, which follows a young man who wakes up in a world where the Beatles don’t exist and decides to start his own music career with their back catalog. Avengers: Endgame ends with Captain America seemingly creating a parallel universe by remaining in the past after returning the Infinity Stones to each time branch. “If Cap were to go back into the past and live there, he would create a branched reality,” Joe Russo told EW. “The question then becomes, how is he back in this reality to give the shield away?”

Avengers Endgame Captain America crying

Captain America creates a time branch (Credit: Marvel Studios)

“Interesting question, right?” Joe added. “Maybe there’s a story there. There’s a lot of layers built into this movie, and we spent three years thinking through it, so it’s fun to talk about it and hopefully fill in holes for people so they understand what we’re thinking.”

Thanks to the Far From Home trailer, we now know that the MCU will be exploring the multiverse even further and diving head first into the myriad narrative possibilities that Tony Stark and Scott Lang’s harnessing of the Quantum Realm created. It would certainly provide an easy way to introduce the X-Men in a few years.

That said, is there such a thing as too much multiverse? Hollywood doesn’t seem to think so. Like A&Rs in the music industry delivering similar girl groups or singer-songwriters to be the next Fifth Harmony or Ed Sheeran, studio executives seem to use the same logic. That’s why there are so many superhero movies being made, why animated toy films are picking up steam off the back of The Lego Movie, and the reason movie musicals are making a comeback thanks to titles like Mamma Mia!

This habit of cinema repeating itself often ends up with a dip in quality of storytelling and original concepts being ignored. So we can only hope that Hollywood recognizes this and that it's not to the detriment of original filmmaking and innovative writing.

Three cheers to the parallel universe where this has already happened.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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