“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”: the multiverse, boon or gimmick for superhero movies?

What if, in an infinity of parallel realities, on an infinity of other planets, as many alternative versions of yourselves had one day made a decision or made an encounter that would have led them to live lives totally different from yours? This is the principle of the multiverse, particularly used in recent years in cinema blockbusters. Released in theaters Wednesday, May 31, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Versedirected by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, bases its plot on a clash of different realities that coexist, leading to multiple versions of the spider-man to share the poster.

This isn’t the first time Miles Morales, Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy and more have mixed their adventures on the big screen. The animated feature is the sequel to Spider-Man: Next Generation released in 2018. The latter was not only acclaimed for its dynamic staging and original graphics, but also for taking advantage of the concept of the multiverse. And allowed to come out of the boxes, sometimes with humor, sometimes with tenderness, more or less crazy variations of the character.

The project also inspired the film in live action Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) which brought together Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland, the three actors who have worn the costume since the 2000s, thus creating a cinematic continuum. Which had the good fortune to please fans, nostalgics and the general public alike. The film has surpassed $1.5 billion in worldwide box office receipts.

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For its part, its competitor DC, with the films produced by Warner, brings Michael Keaton back as Batman, more than thirty years after Tim Burton’s adaptations. In the movie The Flash, whose release is scheduled for June 14, he will play Bruce Wayne alongside… another Bruce Wayne, interpreted by Ben Affleck. And it’s not just superheroes: Everything Everywhere All at Once, the 2023 Oscar for best film worn by the actor duo Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, also tells stories of the multiverse.

A concept used for decades in comics

Perhaps because it is too complex to grasp on the big screen or too specific to the codes of comics, superhero cinema has long kept away from this narrative spring. Marvel only started there in 2016 with a secondary character from its catalog, Doctor Strange, then with the series Loki (2021) in which Thor’s brother is resurrected. Faced with critical and commercial success, Marvel Studio ended up assuming a few years later by subtitling the second film Doctor Strange (2022) “Multiverse of Madness”offering the miniseries What if..I? (” And if… ? “). All the Marvel films and series planned for the period 2021-2026 are even today officially referred to as The Multiverse Saga.

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But the cinema did not invent everything: the multiverse has governed superheroic cosmologies in comics for decades. “It’s DC (publisher of Batman And Superman) who first resorts to the multiverse”repositions Lise Benkemoun, deputy editor-in-chief of comic box, French magazine of comic cultures, which devoted an entire issue to this theme. Thus, in 1953, Wonder Woman meets her alter ego from a parallel world, but “It was above all, in 1961, the Flash notoh 123 which marks the spirits”, explains the journalist. The multiverse then makes it possible to justify the existence in its rays of two Flashes: the original, embodied by the character of Jay Garrick, and the one created in 1956, Barry Allen. First limited to the principle of two earths, it will expand to an infinity of planets. Marvel will follow suit and devote the principle of divergent lands which offer a multiplicity of scenarios. The fiction here echoes the scientific debates of its time; American physicist Hugh Everett’s interpretation of the many worlds dates from the late 1950s.

Fighting viewer fatigue

This central concept is in any case very practical to allow old fictional characters to keep their legitimacy and their universality in the face of new screenplay experiments. And thus satisfy the most conservative readers while attracting new audiences with stories in tune with the times. In the cinema, he can also fight the effect of weariness felt by the spectators in the face of two decades of blockbusters of heroes in tights. It also has the advantage of being able, according to Lise Benkemoun, “carrying out an overarching vision for Marvel and DC to develop their characters 360 degrees across film, television, and video games.”

Others are much less enthusiastic, like the youtuber Le Tropeur, a specialist in pop culture. In a video devoted to the subject in 2022, he worries that the multiverse “end the consequences” in the characters’ chain of action and decision-making, and voids their adventures of their meaning. “If death is not permanent, it is worthless”, he believes. Before adding that “if fiction is going to say something about the real world, it can’t if the characters’ choices don’t matter”.

However, this is not an easy solution, nor a joker for screenwriters, defends Lise Benkemoun. “I can understand that people say that it allows you to do anything and everything, but the publishers take great care, on the contrary, of the cohesion of the universe. They are careful that the authors insert themselves correctly and respect a bible. There is a lot of preparation. I even think that it causes them a lot of migraines! »

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