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Why is the movie ‘multiverse’ the new cinematic trend?


Popular cinema has always been built on the idea of genre cycles as trends come and go out of fashion with staggering haste, such as the dominance of western cinema 1950s or the slasher obsession with bloodthirsty teenagers in the 1980s. Often reflecting the zeitgeist of the contemporary era, such cycles extract some sort of urgent need in the modern world, thriving from this necessity to bring to life a vigorous new form of filmmaking. 

The vigour of the superhero genre is something quite extraordinary, however, having risen to popularity over a decade ago in 2008 with the release of Marvel’s Iron Man and DC’s The Dark Knight, whilst still proving to be the most profitable form of storytelling for modern Hollywood.

Disregarding the noisy neighbours for just a second, in just 14 years the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has fundamentally changed the way that modern blockbusters are consumed, releasing 27 films that each form a singular serialised network of content, supported by TV shows and cartoons that feed into one cinematic behemoth. Each segment of the continued comic-book-inspired story relies on the previous instalment in the series, maintaining a momentum of consistent quality that never dips below a standard average; a well-oil machine preserved by a reliable formulaic lubricant. 

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Mixing one part comedy to two parts action before finishing off the potion with a tantalising post-credit sequence, Disney has created a formula that has been used time and time again for consistent box-office results. This has been self-evident ever since the release of Iron Man, with The Avengers in 2012, Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 and The Eternals in 2021 utilising this very same formula for success. 

Like with any and all genre cycles, however, there comes a time when the familiar gears need changing, when fans crave something new, different and original, with this period often coming after a period of satire that helps the genre recognise its shortcomings. 

Bizarrely, in an act of self-sabotage, the DC universe, that has long been mishandled by Warner Bros, provided the basis for such change with their consistently poor superhero movies that demonstrated the antithesis to Marvel. Dark, drab, unfunny and unloved, these movies worked to highlight the positivity of the MCU whilst illustrating, to a comical degree, the shortcomings of a genre that had begun to become tired. 

Recognising this stagnation, occurring shortly after the epic release of Marvel’s ‘final chapter’ Avengers: Endgame in 2019, Disney and Marvel allocated their efforts into naturally progressing superhero movies into their next phase; the multiverse. 

First teased in the 2018 movie Ant-Man and the Wasp, ideas of the multiverse now find themselves rife in Marvel cinema in films such as Spider-Man: No Way Home, as well as the upcoming DC movie The Flash. Incorporating different characters from different franchises entirely, these movies break the boundaries of the perceived blockbuster and allow it to be something else far more limitless. 

In many ways, this new trend is simply a progression of the serialised franchise that Marvel has created, with the whole series feeling like one elongated TV programme rather than an adaptive set of movies. Having built such a wealth of content over the past 13 years, a multiverse story that demands such pre-existing material comes naturally to audiences who have seen every ‘episode’ in the ongoing series. With the MCU at the very top of the blockbuster monopoly, why not squeeze every one of their most valuable assets on the same screen to achieve intimidating box-office supremacy? 

Things get a little more complicated when you consider that Marvel and DC aren’t the only ones thriving in this limitless multiverse, with Star Trek: Discovery having long explored the concept along with Rick and Morty and the brand new independent film Everything Everywhere All at Once from A24. Such creates a more profound reason for the brand new cinematic trend, after all, why now? 

On one side of the spectrum of reason, you could see the influx of multiverse concepts come as a result of different filmmakers wanting to produce a variety of different stories about the same characters, offering further diversity in modern moviemaking. Such is demonstrated in the rumours for a Miles Morales story to be included in the future of the live-action Spider-Man series, a move that would see the character in its first black depiction for the first time in non-animated cinema. 

Or, consider that the various multiverse stories come as the result of living in a society that constantly bombards the individual with a flurry of content and fake news, suggesting separate realities that seem more real than we each care to believe. As if we’re falling down a multidimensional wormhole, it’s hard to make up the top from the bottom and reality from sparkling fiction, making the cinematic multiverse something of a decoy to distract from narrative shortcomings. ‘Don’t worry about the story, look at Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland!’

What’s for certain is that the multiverse is here to stay, with everyone from Marvel, DC, Star Trek, Rick and Morty and many more opting for the science-fiction structure. The only thing left to decide is if we’re willing to leap down the wormhole with them, or risk falling behind and becoming confused in the thick fog of their contrails.

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