What if in an infinity of parallel realities, on an infinity of other planets, so many alternate versions of yourselves had one day made a decision or had an encounter that would have caused 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-Verse, directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, bases its plot on a clash of different realities that coexist, driving multiple versions of the universe. 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 follow-up to 2018's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The latter has not only been acclaimed for its dynamic direction and original graphics, but also for taking advantage of 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 live action film 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.
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 film The Flash, which is scheduled for release on 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 Best Picture Oscar winner worn by acting 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 got started in 2016 with a secondary character from its catalog, Doctor Strange, then with the Loki series (2021), in which Thor's brother is resurrected. Faced with critical and commercial success, Marvel Studio finally assumed a few years later by subtitling the second Doctor Strange film (2022) "Multiverse of Madness", offering the miniseries What if..I? (" And if… ? "). All Marvel films and series planned for the period 2021-2026 are even now officially referred to as The Multiverse Saga.
But cinema didn't invent everything: the multiverse has governed comic book superheroic cosmologies for decades. "It's DC [publishing house of Batman and Superman] which first resorts to the multiverse", resituates Lise Benkemoun, deputy editor-in-chief of Comic Box, a French magazine of comic cultures, which has devoted an entire issue to this theme. . Thus, in 1953, Wonder Woman met her alter ego from a parallel world, but "it was above all, in 1961, Flash no. 123 that made an impression", 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. Initially 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; the interpretation of multiple worlds by the American physicist Hugh Everett 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, "to materialize a global vision of Marvel and DC, to develop their characters at 360 degrees both in cinema, on television and in 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 is "ending the consequences" in the characters' chain of action and decision-making, and robbing their adventures of meaning. "If death isn't permanent, it's worthless," he said. Before adding that "if fiction must say something about the real world, it cannot do so if the choices of the characters do not matter".
However, this is not an easy solution, nor a joker for the screenwriters, defends Lise Benkemoun. “I can understand people saying that it allows you to do anything and everything, but the publishers are, on the contrary, very careful about 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 it gives them a lot of headaches! »