Into the Everything-verse: Reviewing my two favourite multiverse movies, all at once
Spider-man has been through so many onscreen iterations that audiences are — if not confused — bored of watching Uncle Ben die. Yawn! Toby Maguire donned the mask, Andrew Garfield dropped Gwen Stacy, and Tom Holland brought Spidey into the MCU. There’ve been video games too; most recently, a brand new Peter Parker on the PS4. What better time to poke fun at this unending franchise and all its recurring reboots?
Drawing on our fascination with parallel cinematic universes, there’s a new kid on the block — with a clean slate — and it's already exhausting. Everything Everywhere All At Once bombards us with whacky imagery, hyperactive sound design, and high-concept ideas. Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan employ a complex visual language that develops over the course of the film — resorting to chaotic shorthand in the form of flashes, nudges, winks, and subtle cues. While Evelyn traverses different universes from inside her own mind, she argues with her daughter and reconnects with her husband while filing her tax returns.
Whereas, Into The Spider-verse chronicles what happens when parallel worlds collide as one, each bringing their own friendly neighbourhood Spider-man along for the ride: the radioactive spider has bitten Gwen instead, it’s trapped in a Japanese robot, and in one case, it’s replaced entirely by a radioactive pig. This may seem gimmicky — maybe it is — but the film doesn’t lean too heavily on any one idea. Directors Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman have gone a long way to ensure that all the characters have depth, a perfect amount of screen time, and a genuinely satisfying story arc.
Unlike that other Marvel adaption, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (a nonsensical, lackadaisical, snore-fest), Everything Everywhere truly takes the multiverse concept and goes all in. It seems to me that a live-action project of this magnitude — both in terms of what we see and what we’re asked to process emotionally — hasn’t been perfected until now. Perhaps Luc Besson’s Lucy had a stab at it but, apart from a few very cool visuals, that felt like an emotional dud. Cartoons like Rick and Morty have better luck exploring this sort of thing because, as we know, animation is more malleable for directors dabbling in the minutiae and magnificence of concepts such as time travel and the multiverse.
And animating his way to the forefront: Myles Morales — the comics’ first black Spider-man. His is above and beyond the most engaging superhero origin story I’ve borne witness to. In Into The Spider-verse, the key interplay between Myles, his father, and his uncle gives the script a dramatic edge; each decision (and mistake) he makes stems from his own personal struggles. The whole ‘ordeal’ is delightfully character-driven — refreshing in an age where I’ve grown used to set pieces and info-dumps. Neither of these films is — yet — a commercial exercise in franchise building.
Of course, if you’re throwing Everything Everywhere at the wall, some won’t stick. Parts don’t really work (or shouldn’t really work), such as the film’s unending fascination with dildos and butt plugs, as well as stretches that are accompanied by a forever swelling emotional soundtrack with no let-up, but it all knits together nicely with a strong, sentimental core. As with anything potentially mind-boggling (I’m looking at you, Lost), character-driven narratives are the only way to go; there must be a clear voice through which the story is told. Anything else renders everything a plot-centric mess.
And speaking of voices, Into The Spider-verse features those of Nicolas Cage, Hailee Steinfeld, John Mulaney, and Jake Johnson, who plays not one but two Peter Parkers. Myles is voiced with passion and humour by Shameik Moore, who serves up effortless banter. Jokes stem directly from the action, fueling frantic forward momentum, so keep an eye on every little fast-moving detail. Whatever you spot is definitely there on purpose, and it’s all tied to the plot, because — quite clearly — these adventures have been painstakingly crafted by artists who care deeply for the craft, comic books, and about these characters’ legacies.
It all makes sense and matters, and yet simultaneously, none of it matters or makes sense in the slightest. But it’s quite clear here what anchors the audience. For example, Evelyn’s survival depends on kindness in the face of multiverse-wide fear and confusion. Everything Everywhere says: that’s life! We’re all terrified, and we all ruminate.
But this is our timeline.
Let’s own it.