With the exception of 2018's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the Multiverse is relatively new to the world of film, with the new trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home marking a major step forward for the MCU, and the upcoming Flashpoint being the DCEU's answer to the reality-bending concept. But the truth is, the Multiverse has always been on the table. In comic books, it has been used as a means to introduce other 'versions' of a superhero. And to no surprise, it's a concept that's been used by both Marvel and DC comics for a long time, with DC being the first to have introduced it, way back in the '70s.
As such, it's only natural that the Multiverse is now making its way onto the silver screen. However, it has already been used in television, largely by DC, with the 2019-2020 Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, which not only united shows such as Supergirl, Batwoman, Arrow, The Flash, and The Legends of Tomorrow, but called upon ‘veteran' Superman actors too, such as Smallville's Tom Welling and Superman Returns' Brandon Routh (who also plays Atom in The Legends of Tomorrow), and Ezra Miller as the DCEU's Flash. Even Burt Ward reprised his role as Dick Grayson from the ‘60s Batman show!
Marvel might be a little bit behind in terms of television, though a Multiverse was heavily teased in WandaVision on Disney+, when actor Evan Peters featured in a small role, who previously played Quicksilver in the X-Men franchise, while his Kick-Ass co-star Aaron Taylor Johnson played the MCU version of that character, alongside Elizabeth Olsen, in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Fans were far happier than they were confused, as it seemed like the MCU had finally decided to take steps forward in bringing other non-MCU Marvel franchises into their own continuity - in this case, X-Men.
Wanda even acknowledged that her ‘brother' looked very different – and there was another fourth-wall Kick-Ass joke thrown in for good measure too. But theories were quickly squandered when Peters' character was revealed to be anyone but Quicksilver - a very cheap move on the show's part. And this is something many fans are forgetting – that the MCU isn't a stranger to such tricks (does anyone remembers the trailer for Iron Man 3 and its fake Mandarin?). But is the introduction of the Multiverse just another cheap move? Are the studios now relying on nostalgia to sell tickets? We're looking at you too, DCEU…
While it's been teased for some time, especially after seeing J.K. Simmons pop up as J. Jonah Jameson at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, things have changed, especially following the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer, in which Peter Parker and Doctor Strange open the Multiverse, from which we get to see Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films emerge, along with Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin, while Jamie Foxx has also been confirmed as Electro, as seen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, another entirely different Spider-Man continuity altogether.
Meanwhile, Flashpoint, which will see Ezra Miller reprise his role as The Flash, will see the return of Michael Keaton as Batman, reprising his role from the Tim Burton movies, but this time donning the cape and cowl within the DCEU universe, after The Flash – Barry Allen – somehow opens its own Multiverse. According to rumors, Flashpoint will be used as a way of 'resetting' the heavily criticized DCEU, much, in the same way, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek and X-Men: Days of Future Past did. And we all know how those franchises worked out. But we can't pretend we're not excited to see Keaton back as the Bat.
Where exactly each studio intends to draw the line, though, remains to be seen, and while it's certainly lighting the flames of nostalgia for many superhero fans and cinemagoers alike – which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because who doesn't love a bit of nostalgia - are Marvel and DC simply relying too much on it? The short answer is yes. But let it be said that these new movies have nothing to do with how the pandemic has left movie theaters on a knife's edge – both MCU and DCEU projects were in production long before the pandemic even started, so this new trend is no knee-jerk to the current climate.
Nevertheless, the sudden acknowledgment that ‘other' universes exist within each of these franchises – with those universes being other film franchises – is an odd move. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse at least created its own alternate realities, rather than drawing on existing ones (even if it did have a lot of fun with Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man references). Looking specifically at the MCU, though, which, since 2008 has worked hard to build a robust multi-movie franchise, and now with a number of TV shows under its belt too, it's strange to think that it's now happy to bring less-respected franchises into the fold.
While of course, we may be jumping the gun, as we're yet to see exactly how this will play out, there's no denying that it's bringing in villains from other Spider-Man timelines, and will undoubtedly bring in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield too. But even though it seems like the MCU is evolving - a respectable choice for any franchise - this is an idea that was previously toyed with on the other side of the fence too, as Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man was originally supposed to feature a glimpse of Stark Tower. There's also still a lot of debate around which version of Spider-Man exists within the Venom film universe.
As for the DCEU, let's face it – it's all a bit of a mess anyway. Outside of the core Snyder-trilogy – Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Justice League: The Snydercut – the word ‘canon' should be taken with a pinch of salt. Birds of Prey might have included Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn, yet it was full of fourth-wall jokes that take you right out of the film, while Shazam! even joked around with the idea of recasting Superman, following the departure of Henry Cavill.
But it seems the MCU might be getting just as messy. It was recently confirmed that Deadpool 3 will be a part of the MCU, now that Disney owns Fox. But the Deadpool movies rely heavily on fourth-wall references, so how will Deadpool end up in the MCU? The likely answer is the Multiverse, but even if that's the case, and the first two are to be considered canon, we can't forget the references Deadpool makes to X-Men actors, as well as Ryan Reynolds himself. There are even rumors of Hugh Jackman returning as Wolverine in theMCU – which would also require the Multiverse to work.
On the other hand, what the MCU has achieved is hugely impressive, to say the least. And we'd be surprised if it didn't have some smart storytelling tricks up its sleeve, by way of navigating this Multiverse concept without making too much of a mess, or involving any other franchises besides the two previous Spider-Man ones. Or perhaps the MCU's Spidey-Sense is tingling, as it detects the possibility of audiences slowly retreating from the MCU, owing largely to the finality of Avengers: Endgame, and perhaps fatigue too, with the prospect of an entirely new phase of movies to invest in.
So, it would seem that Marvel and DC are indeed relying heavily on nostalgia to sell tickets. And maybe we're being taken for fools. And fools we can be where films are concerned - all it takes is a whiff of those old-school fumes, and our wallets are open faster than you can say Barry Allen. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. It would be a lie to say that, seeing heroes and villains from other continuities brought into the fold, whether it's in the MCU or the DCEU, is going to be pretty awesome, and something we never, ever imagined seeing in the cinema.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the idea of a Multiverse, though, is that the idea of infinite versions of, say, Spider-Man, really devalues the whole idea of Spider-Man himself. Sorry, Peter – but apparently you aren't that special! What works in comic books might not necessarily translate well to film. The trouble is that the box office really does say otherwise. Nevertheless, whether the final product is, at surface level, awesome or not, we're sure that Deadpool would agree that it's still just lazy writing.